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Column and Beam Construction

Column and Beam Construction TIPS

Week In Week Out

Every week I get an email from a homeowner who wants to tear down a wall or she/he's contemplating some other structural modification to their abode.

In every case they want me to wave my magic wand and size a beam for them. If they only knew how complex beams and columns were!

My answer is ALWAYS the same. Hire a local structural engineer. You do this to prevent a collapse!

Complex Math

The reason for this is simple. For one thing, each situation is different. The loads above the beam location can be significant or there may be very little load. Just about every situation is different.

Structural engineers need to look at your home or plans and calculate all the loads that will be carried by the beams. Don't underestimate the complexity of this.

Then they have to decide what material to use that will support the loads. It's not easy.

You don't just email someone and expect an answer.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers.

Columns = Concentrated Loads

The column locations at each end and under the beam are critical as well. Columns concentrate beam loads. These concentrated loads must rest on solid materials.

A rookie homeowner often forgets this vital aspect of beam construction.

For example, a rookie may nail two or three studs together that support a giant double 2x12 header beam.

These vertical studs are nailed to a wall bottom plate but there's nothing but air under the OSB, plywood or 1x6 flooring.

Over time the bottom plate sags and can, in the worst cases, punch through the bottom plate and floor.

Here's a great shot of a triple laminated beam. The columns supporting it are solid wood 2x6's. You can see them packed together on the far wall and the corner where the two exterior walls meet. What we can't see in the photo is if the carpenter put extra blocking under the exterior bottom wall plate so the load is transferred to the poured, or cast, concrete foundation wall. The floor joists for the second floor will hang off this beam using galvanized joist hangers. This photo also shows three other beams in the exterior walls. They're made from 2x10s and pieces of OSB. They're over each window or door opening in the photo. © 2017 Tim Carter

Continuous Path

Structural engineers and great builders know all about continuous load pathways. 

This is a fancy phrase for creating a solid bearing pathway from the bottom of the beam all the way down to the soil under the footing of the structure.

This pathway can be complex and circuitous where columns rest on top of beams below. Believe me, you never want to guess so always hire a structural engineer to create your structural drawing of what needs to happen so your home doesn't collapse.

Beams Galore

There are many different materials that can be used to create beams. Here are a just a few common ones:

  • solid wood 2x material
  • engineered lumber of all sorts
  • steel
  • steel sandwiched with wood 2X material
  • steel-reinforced concrete
  • brick and stone arches

Bearing Wall Video

This is a video I shot inside my New Hampshire home. I was lucky enough to have halfway-decent plans that the previous owner gave me at the closing.

I didn't build the house in New Hampshire. But watch this video to see how beams and columns can be hidden and partially exposed in a home.

Pay close attention to the blueprints part of the video. Count your lucky stars if you have pages like I did!!

Floor Joists

A simple beam that most people forget about is a traditional floor joist. The normal floor system you may have in your home is simply a collection of beams that span between two points.

Windows and Doors

Over each exterior window and door in your home you'll almost always have a beam. It might be as small as two 2x6s nailed together with a piece of 1/2-inch oriented strand board (OSB) or plywood in between them. Or, it could be three long 2x12s spanning 12, or more, feet!

Span & Species Tables

Beams are complicated beasts. If you decide to use lumber, not all lumber will support the same weight for a given size and species of lumber.

Douglas Fir lumber is stronger than hemlock. There are vast beam sizing tables that allow you to size lumber according to its species and grade. Leave this to professionals. Don't try to do it yourself.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers.

Different Beams

The last home I built for my family contained three different types of beams.

It had:

  • 10-inch-high W10 x 31 steel basement I-beams
  • Laminated veneer engineered lumber beams
  • 2x sandwich beams over windows and doors

Laminated Lumber

Laminated lumber beams are made by gluing 2x material on top of one another. Imagine stacking 10 or more 2 x 6's on top of one another.

These beams can be made to enormous sizes and can often be seen as architectural beams in public buildings. St. Vincent Ferrer church in Cincinnati, Ohio had massive laminated beams that supported a massive roof.

Solid Timbers

You can also use a giant sawn timber as a beam. These are found in post and beam construction you'd see in old barns or a simple log home.

My 10-Inch Beams

That is why I chose to use 10-inch-high steel beams in my basement. I don't have steel columns every nine feet in my basement. My steel beams span 15 feet or more without support.

To make sure I didn't hit my head in the basement, I also poured nine foot four inch high foundation walls. This gives me plenty of clearance under my steel beams.

These are steel beams in my own home I built in Amberley Village, Ohio. The beams are 10 inches tall and weigh 31 pounds per linear foot. You can span up to 14 feet with these! © 2017 Tim Carter

Flitch Beams

Imagine taking a 1/2 inch steel plate and putting it between two 2x10's. This is a flitch beam. You get the benefit of working with wood but the strength of a steel I-beam.

The steel comes from the fabricator with 9/16th-inch holes punched in it. You trace the hole locations onto the 2x material that will be on either side of the steel.

Taking your time to drill countersink holes, you create pockets to install carriage bolts with washers and nuts. You make it all work so the bolt ends are flush with the surface of the 2x material.

Box Beams

You can make a simple box beam by taking plywood and nailing and gluing it to 2x4's or 2x6's. This is called a box beam. I don't like using these unless an engineer calls for it.

Steel is King

The strongest of all beam materials is steel. You can span greater distances given the same beam height using steel in lieu of any other material.

The taller the steel beam, the longer distance it can span between columns.

All too often I see small 8-inch-tall steel beams in the basement of homes with steel columns every 8 or 9 feet. This isn't necessary if you go with a taller beam.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers.

Related Articles:  Removing a Load Bearing Wall, Column to Beam ConnectionBeam InstallationHeaders, Beams and Wall Sensors

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25 Responses to Column and Beam Construction

  1. sir,
    I have query regarding construction of pillars in a house which was not constructed with pillars. Can we construct pillars in house that has no pillars?

    • Yes you can! The thing I can't tell you, is HOW MUCH weight that beam will support and not fail! You need an engineer to help you. It's all a function of the wood species, grade of lumber, etc. Don't guess or else the beam may fail.

  2. Hi i have a question regarding columns and beam. im building a house. I already have signed plans for it but im just curious. I have 6 columns all on the sides some at 3m and some at 6m apart with no column in the middle of the house.. and on the 2nd floor the slab is extended .5m and 1m on some location. When i saw the plans, i saw that the beams for the 2nd floor are located on the outer part of the slab. Meaning its is .5 and 1m away from the column. Then the planted columns are all on top of the beam ( .5 to 1m away from column). And also the planted columns will carry the weight of the roof beams and roofing.. My question is is this structuraly safe? Thanks in advance.

    • Joe,

      The only way one can answer this question is to do structural calculations after looking at the plans. I could just guess from thousands of miles away, but that wouldn't be prudent.

  3. Thanks tim.. to be honest i dont do structural calculations. Im not sure if i can.. would you design sometjing like that? Is there like a common practice or anuthing? Thanks

  4. Hi Sir, I had 2 questions to ask you, I had a single floor house,I want to make it as duplex one by cutting the slab at safe area, my 1st question is that, can i cut the slab, if i cut so, will it be structurally safe for minimum 20 years. And my 2nd question is that can we I construct walls on 1st floor without columns. Thanks in advance

  5. Hi. I know very little about construction but we bought a new house and chose the company for their good reputation and solid feel to the construction of their model homes. We have noticed that the I beam in our basement does not extend all the way across the basement. It's supported by a thinner metal post of some sort at its one end beside our stairs (not extending to the garage cement wall) but we have already had issues with an upstairs door getting stuck and some floor bumps/creaks/possible minor buckling. Is this normal? Is this going to cause more problems down the road? We are disappointed that it doesn't seem as solid, right off the bat, as what we thought it should.

  6. Hi. My question is:

    Can I spam a beam and set it over a header for a sliding glass door? The beam will extend from a load bearing wall on the top floor which supports the roof.

  7. hi
    i want to build a sheet shed with 2.5' brick wall on terrace. but the terrace has 5 feet balcony. the terrace is on the second floor. the bacony has pillars in under floor. but i dont know how strong ther are.
    can i build a 2.5' wall on that side of the balcony. other 3 sides are safe

  8. I am planning to construct one more floor on existing first floor. But the building was constructed without pillars. What are the steps to be taken to do so.? Can I raise coulmns from the base and do it or can i Build without pillars also?

  9. i have an 100 year old house that has a 2 foot crawl space running from one end of the house to the other end of the house, it is 1000 sq feet, i need support columns under my house cause half of the columns fell down, i am trying to find out how to build and place the foundation columns

  10. i have constructed a house but i did not put beam for the roof and now i want to construct a room in the roof .so how do i put the beam without breaking the roof?

  11. I am planning to construct a duplex house with columns. I would like to know If I can construct another floor/house on top of the duplex house if I plan now with regards to structure beams and columns.

    The site is rocky with big boulder stones.

  12. Hey
    I would like to know that I have a extra piller on the first floor of my house it's middle of my hall so I was planning to extend my hall so I want to know that could I remove the piller from the 1st floor

  13. Hi,

    We want to build a wall on first floor which will not have a wall at its base on ground floor. It will not be a wall over wall but a stand alone wall at first floor. The approximate length will be 20 foot. Is this possible ?? Will it remain strong?

  14. Dear Sir,

    We have bought a 4 cent house 30*60 around 900 Sq ft. The building lifetime is 20 Years today as on. We wished to construct the first floor. But they have not raised pillars before twenty years. Whether we can demolish the house & do the fresh house plan. Kindly advise. And one more thing the building is not properly built as per vastu.

  15. bought a house roof needs support added as is all the weight bears on the oute walls causing some bowing of a outer wall how can we add support to take the weight off the outer walls

    • Trudy,

      Go back above in the column. See all those TEXT link sentences where I say to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local structural engineers?

      Well CLICK THAT LINK...... He/she is the ONLY person qualified to see what's wrong and how to best fix it.

  16. we are buying a home in the attic the home inspector notice an extra support beam for the roof wanted to know if this is normal or was the roof starting to sag. and by placing the extra beam it fixed it?

    • The only clue you have is the color and species of the two pieces of lumber. If they match, it's original....

      You say *beam*, wondering if you mean support post / column.

      Very rare for rafters to sit on top of a beam at the ridge. Normally the rafters terminate into a ridge beam. It's extremely difficult to sister on a second ridge beam after the fact.

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