There is something about performing one’s own demolition work at the start of a small remodeling project that can give a homeowner a great sense of cathartic satisfaction. But before reaching for that sledgehammer, it is a good idea to make sure that the walls being removed are not taking adjacent framing down with them.
There is a lot of new construction on the market in Chicago but it is great to check out older homes and dream about remodeling them to suit your families’ needs. Or if you are not in the market to purchase a new home, a remodeling project on your existing residence just may be the ticket to give it a new look and feel. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Tap into those early childhood experiences with Lincoln logs, Legos and building blocks to be mindful of basic fundamentals of building supports. Walls can be “bearing” (supporting ceiling joists, walls above the joists or roof rafters). It is ok to take off the drywall, lath and plaster or other surfacing materials from bearing wall studs (though a word of caution not to remove any plywood, which may be contributing structural support and stability to stud bearing wall construction), but leave the studs themselves in place until the structure the studs are supporting can be supported in a temporary or alternative way before the stud removal. “Non-bearing” walls can be taken down without structural consequences.
Knowing the difference. If it is not clear whether the wall to be removed is bearing or non-bearing, perform some “exploratory surgery” by removing any paneling, drywall or lath and plaster to expose the framing at critical locations, such as where walls meet ceilings. Determine the ceiling joists direction and observe whether the joists are resting (bearing) onto the wood wall plate (usually a pair of flat 2×4’s running along the top of the vertical wood studs). If the joists are bearing onto the wall plate, the wall is most probably a bearing wall and not to be removed without first “shoring up” the ceiling joists, ideally on both sides of the wall, with temporary stud framing until a new horizontal beam and vertical posts (or columns) can be installed to replace the support of the wall being removed.
Not all bearing conditions are as obvious. It is always a good idea to consult with an architect or structural engineer before removing any construction other than the surface materials. Existing plan drawings may be helpful but they are no guarantee that the building was actually built the way it is shown on the plans. Once all the bearing and non-bearing conditions are confirmed, take your sledge hammer and have at it!
Principal architect and firm owner, Allan J. Grant, A.I.A., has been in practice for more than two decades, specializing in custom residential work. He attained his degree in Fine Arts (Interior Design) from Syracuse University and in Architecture from Illinois Institute of Technology. His work has been published in Chicago Home Book, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Designer Magazine, Residential Architect, Kitchen and Bath Concepts, and Luxe Magazine. One of the residences Mr. Grant designed was featured on the cover of Custom Home Magazine’s millennium issue. He has also appeared on segments of House and Garden Television (HGTV).