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Modifying a Load Bearing Wall

I remember the first load bearing wall I modified. I was in my early twenties and had never done it before. It was in a massive old home in Clifton, an inner city suburb in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I was working as a sub-contractor for a remodeling company and knew just enough to be extremely dangerous. Fast forward . . . The house didn't collapse and in fact the enlarged opening I created has not sagged to this day. But I must tell you I had lots of luck that day. All sorts of things could have gone wrong.

Knowing the Loads

Creating archways or openings in bearing walls can almost always be accomplished. It simply becomes a matter of where the loads are going to be concentrated. A typical bearing wall tends to transmit a fairly equal amount of load down to the floor below via the wall studs.

If you decide to create a large opening in the wall, then the loads above the opening must be shifted to the sides of the opening using a properly sized beam. Will a double 2 x 6 be enough? How about a single 2 x 12?

The truth is, only experienced carpenters who have successfully installed beams, or structural engineers who are trained to size and specify beams, should make the call. Do not try to conjure up your mystic powers and guess.

Temporary Support

If you want to install a beam in an existing bearing wall, there are all sorts of tricks and methods. If it is an interior wall, there is a cool way to install a beam without building any temporary support walls.

You need to have access to both sides of the wall into which the beam is going to be placed. All that you do is simply install half of the beam at a time. You make 1.5 inch deep notches at the top of one side of the wall and slide the beam into this recess. Add the king studs at each end of the beam that run from top plate to bottom plate. You then add the jack studs next to the king studs.

These framing members actually support the load from the beam. If the rough opening of the new beam is 72 inches or less, you generally only need one jack stud at each end. Once all of this is in place and the jack studs are solidly supported from beneath, you can take out the remaining old notched wall studs as the weight of the wall will be carried by the one half of the beam that is secure and in place.

Be sure to have the second half of the beam already cut and ready to slide in place!

When You Need One

Often you can't do the cool trick I described. Perhaps you are working on an outside wall and want to salvage the wall finish on the exterior side of the new beam. You need to build a temporary wall 3 feet back from the existing bearing wall.

But stop! Before you start to build the wall, you must build the beam and lay it on the floor next to the existing wall. Why? Many a rookie carpenter has built the temporary wall, created the hole in the existing wall only to find out they can't get the beam threaded into the narrow space between the old and temporary walls!

The temporary support wall needs to have a top and bottom plate, and the studs of this wall need to fall as closely as possible under and above the floor and ceiling joists. The studs are cut tight so they have to be tapped in place. I simply add a few toe nails that just penetrate partially into the top and bottom plates. Be careful about ruining finished floors and ceilings!

Masonry Walls

Don't even think about creating an opening in a masonry wall without help from a professional. Masonry walls are very heavy. The weight from steel roof members and floor loads can be enormous.

Column B397


22 Responses to Modifying a Load Bearing Wall

  1. I am trying to build an opening in a load-bearing wall, which divides our kitchen and another room that would be a great addition for a larger dining table. the wall area is 18 ft. The plan is to make an opening approx 10 ft. ANY ADVISE IS GREATLY APPRECIATED.

  2. I too am working on opening up a load bearing wall. The full opening size will 12'. I own a single story ranch type home and the attic is not used. Is a beam constructed of 2 2x10' with a plywood sandwiched between them enough for that span?

  3. How much would it cost to have a professional come in and put an arch in a load bearing wall (including materials)?

  4. Ever have to put a recess header under a beam in a load bearing wall? The header replaces the king and one of the two jack studs. Beam is 3 2 x 12 x 10. Can this be done and anything special to account for?

  5. I have a 17'4" bearing wall I want to replace with a steel beam. Its a 2 store home. with the bedroom wall above it. How big will the beam have to be? I can spread the side load up to 2 feet for support!

    • Hmmmmmmm. I'll have to go back and look at this column - I'm in the backend of the comment approval section. I could have sworn I offered advice that you MUST ENGAGE a structural engineer to size beams. This ALWAYS entails a visit to the job site so the engineer can see all the loads and take all the necessary measurements. You don't size beams based on emails and hunches.

  6. I am replacing a 9 ft french doors with glass panels unit that is on the outside wall of my kitchen opening to a deck. The new unit is 1/2 inch too wide and the opening needs to be enlarged. The jack studs are holding up a header for the 2nd floor. How do I enlarge the opening?

  7. I would like to replace two exterior windows separated by 65" with a gang of four windows. The span will be approx 120 inches and I don't want to bother with engineered lumber, so I was planning on placing a king stud and side-by-side jack studs in between each window. Where each window is 26" wide (four in total), is it ok to have king studs every 30.5" o.c.? Further info: The snow load is 30 psf and the house width is 30 ft. The IBC specifies individual spans, but I was wondering if multiple spans are treated differently.

  8. I have a 2x4 structural wall that support the roof truss along it's axis. This wall is also the wall that covers the 'under-stair well' space on my first floor. Just took out the drywall and realized that it assists with supporting the truss above.

    Looking to redistribute the load from three center section studs to make a built-in cabinet opening.

    Looking to place a 2x8 header in place and two 2x4 jack studs to support the header.

    Think this will be good to go?

    How may I go about providing a temporary support while the three center studs are removed?

    Thank you in advance.

  9. I need to expand
    two door openings to my den. One is a load bearing and one is not. The load bearing wall I anticipate to expand 20 additional inches. How much support would I need. I live in a ranch style house.

    • Since my mystic powers do not include x-ray vision and ESP, I can't tell you without a visit to your home to see what CONCENTRATED LOADS are on that wall at that location.

  10. I am installing a loadbearing beam on of which one end goes into the outside wall and the other into a wall that's inside the house. I got an engineer to calculate it all for a steel beam and for an LVL. He also gave instructions for the columns for LVL (3ply 2x6). If I go with the steel beam I'll just use steel columns. But here's my question(s): do I need, in addition to the columns (in both cases), a king stud at each end? Just on the interior of the house end? or not at all? What about on the side of the columns - do I need studs next to them to prevent lateral movement?

  11. Hey Tim,
    Great thread! Your article was exactly the bit of reference I was looking for. I was wondering if you might refine your knowledge into my specific situation. I would also appreciate the word of advice of just getting a pro, if need be.
    I just bought a house that is a fixer upper.... It's a 50' x50' box house with a pyramid peak roof. All four exterior walls are the load bearing wall. So, at some point a home owner cut out a small window and installed a new larger widow with out a header or vertical support, pretty much in the center of the wall. Here we are a decade or so later and the wall has bulged above the window, right at the top plate, about 2-3 inches. I get the temp load bearing wall and beam header with vertical supports.... But how do I bring the wall back in to plumb? Chain and come-a-long 😉 or just tear out wall and start over?

  12. Hey wondering if you could give me some advice I had some framers build a wall a foot too high what is the best way to fix it without demoing the entire wall I figured I could cut the bottom out a foot to rectify the situation but how the heck do i lower the wall or what procedures should I follow to get it done I was told I had 2.5 hours to complete any advice

  13. Lousy builder in 1980. Or maybe unpermitted renos.
    I'm an engineer, but not a certified professional in my state. So I know how to read codes and calculate loads. We bought this house and removed some non-structural walls (I climbed in the attic to verify trusses and spans). As we have gone along fixing the damage of 16 cats, 3 dogs, and a pot grow house...we have found hundreds of basic code violations. Two big ones are staring us in the face though. It seems as if the exterior doors were framed or added with out headers. Did I mention this is 2 story, with trusses carrying loads down the exterior walls?

    We have a 4' wide front door with side panel windows, and a rear 8' slider patio door. We KNOW the header over the patio door stopped mid span because we had to open up part of that wall to fix leaky plumbing. We partially fized it, but not by installing a real header. It was just supposed to be a patch until we got a permit to do othe work. Now we notice joint fatigue in the sheet rock over the front door, and "squash lines" in the space between the door and windows. Hmmmm. so we tap ve the door. Yup, hollow.
    Did I mention I removed an over sized soaker tub from the upstairs bathroom that used to sit above the front entry...unsupported? Day one in house, my boys climbed in, filled tub, water came out at front door and entry light. Appears the tub may not have ever been used before us, but there was evidence of plumbing leaks elsewhere. I mention this because we later checked the spans in bathroom flooring, 2x6's as I recall on 16" OC. I did some quick mental math and said tub with water, no suppot, too heavy.
    The stairs also look modified, like maybe there used to be posts at the end of the stairwell run, which opens about 4' from the front door. Now that area is open and unsupported.
    My thought is....if there is no header where those 2'6s would land above the door, and nothing floor to ground at staris....what the hell is holding that up?
    So how can I tell short of ripping out walls and re-framing? This house has already eaten my lunch with bad stuff we couldnt see in the walls with just a standard inspection (i.e. gas plumbing not to code, failing and molding water pipes...headers....)
    It's mostly 2x4 exterior walls, so I'm thinking about just adding another wall in front to provide the support, or maybe some rustic looking post and beam deal where the header should be. But then it would be off from carrying the exterior load?????
    Thoughts are appreciated!

  14. I am making about a 12 foot long opening 8 feet high inside a warehouse on the interior metal stud offices built inside this warehouse. Do I need anything special or is it dangerous to leave open. I am just gonna cap the ends with a header on top. Do I still need to load the weight off to the sides before I cut my opening. Or do you think this is too big of an opening without real professional help. Metal framing goes up to the top of the ware house about 30 feet high?

  15. Using the old 2x4 studs and notching them for temporary beam support is pure genius! Regarding all the Q's re: beam size and strength, if you're too "thrifty" to engage the services of an engineer who consults on such matters professionally and still want to tackle this on your own, then I suggest installing a beam that is approx. TWICE as strong as you think you need.

  16. Need to replace a 24 foot load bearing wall with a beam. Single flow house. Nothing in the attic. Any suggestions on what type of beam to use. Thanks

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