27 Feb 2019

Structural walls bear the load of your home and support weight, including trusses, upper level floors and the roof.  With the popularity of open-concept renovations in Ottawa, it is essential to understand which walls in your home are load-bearing prior to starting any renovation. Since these are the essential supports for your home, you cannot just remove these walls during an open concept renovation without proper planning. Let’s take a deeper look at structural walls, how to identify them, and the options available to you during an open-concept renovation.

Non-load-bearing walls

Walls that are only holding themselves up are non-load bearing. Often referred to as partition walls, these can be easily removed during a renovation as they do not support the weight of the house. However, before you try to start removing walls, it is best to look for evidence that your wall is indeed not structural.

How to determine if a wall is load-bearing

Never try to remove a wall on your own. Structural engineers and experienced contractors should be consulted prior to starting any renovation on the walls of your home. In the meantime, there are some items you can look for to get an idea about whether a wall is structural:

  • Floor joist layout: is the wall perpendicular to the support joists? Most often, if a wall is not perpendicular to the support joists, it is likely not load bearing. This is because load bearing walls require the support of the floor joists to hold the weight of the home and so they will run across these joists for support.
  • Is the wall an exterior wall? Walls that run the perimeter of your house are almost always load-bearing as they support the structure of the home
  • Are there supports found in the basement under the wall in question? If the wall in question has support beams, columns, posts or another basement wall directly underneath, then it is load bearing.
  • Is the wall continuous, spanning the length of the room? An uninterrupted wall often means that it is load-bearing

Structural walls and older homes

If you have an older home that is very open-concept, it is possible that renovations were done by the previous owner. Look for telltale signs that walls may have been removed and have a qualified contractor, engineer or inspector have a look to make sure it was done properly. Some signs of wall removal or renovation include: open concept or very large rooms in an old home, leftover seams that are apparent on ceilings and floors where walls may once have been, floor trim and baseboards that don’t match or aren’t continuous.

 Removing structural walls

Qualified contractors can remove structural walls during an open concept renovation, but proper supports must first be in place prior to removal, and structural beams will then need to be installed to hold the weight the wall was previously tasked with. This all must be planned properly all the way down to the foundation to account for the weight of the home, including the weight of the roof and all snow accumulation in the winter. If you are planning an open-concept renovation, always speak with an experienced renovations team first.