Can I safely remove a load bearing wall?

Answered by Brett ~ April 14, 2012 ~ Comments

The existing living room in my small cottage house is an old porch add-on. I would like to remove the wall that separates the ad-on living room from the rest of the house and replace the load bearing wall with a large header, which will open up the entire floor plan. Unfortunately because of the low ceiling height, I don't think I have enough head room for the header. Is there a way to bury the header in the ceiling cavity?

Frank ~ Trevor, Wisconsin

Brett Kulina

Frank, depending on your home's roof rafters and the existing wall framing, there may be a way to bury a new header within the ceiling cavity, which would help preserve enough head room within the new opening in your home's wall. Of course, anytime you alter or remove a load bearing wall, there is a risk of weakening the overall structural integrity of your home, which is why you must seek some advice from a structural engineer or an experienced home builder before you begin your project.

Before you can determine if a new header can be installed in to your home's ceiling cavity, you need to know what size header you are dealing with. The thickness of the header is going to depend on the span of the new opening and the type of header material you choose. While a large wood beam, or a Glu-lam beam, is a common choice for a header, you may not have the needed head room for these types of material. (for example, a 6" x 8" beam could be used to span a 12-foot opening, but would eat up at least 8-inches of clearance). In some situations, you can use a steel girder as a header, which offers the advantage of being smaller and stronger, but the downside of a steel header might be the difficulty of connecting it to the rafters and wall framing.

Due to the complexity of your project, you should consult an experienced contractor, as well as your local building department, so that you can be assured that your project is completed safely and correctly. If it is determined that there is no way to safely install a header while maintaining enough head room beneath it, then you may want to consider using some interior glass panels. Glass panels could be installed into the existing wall and would visually connect the two rooms and allow more sunlight into your house. Good luck with your project!

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