Reston, VA

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve all seen the reality T.V. home remodeling shows. Half way through, there’s what we call an ‘HGTV moment’ when it happens, “We just discovered this is a load-bearing wall. That’s going to be another hit to your budget so we have to take something else out of your remodel or increase your budget to cover the cost.”

No-one wants to be in this position. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for your home remodeler. The reality is any qualified and experienced home remodeler should have figured out if there is a load-bearing wall in play well before anyone comes near your home with a sledge hammer. Undoubtedly, removing a load-bearing wall adds cost to your home remodeling plans because it requires alternate suitable support, but a little careful exploration upfront should tell you at the outset of your remodel what’s really going on with that wall between your kitchen and dining room.

Be prepared, your chosen or prospective home remodeler may have to poke a few holes in your drywall at the beginning of the process to see what’s going on behind the scenes. This is normal practice — but will require patching if you decide not to proceed with your home remodel.

So, what are the telltale signs that might indicate if a wall is load-bearing or not?

Disclaimer alert! ALWAYS get an expert’s opinion before you decide to remove ANY wall in your home!

Look at the Joists

Do the joists run parallel or perpendicular to the wall you’re thinking of removing? In general, if the joists run perpendicular to the wall, it’s a sign it might be a load-bearing wall. In the example below, the red X shows what a load-bearing wall looks like behind the drywall. However, there are some instances when joists run parallel but the wall is load-bearing because the builder has aligned the wall under a single joist or the weight is being supported by blocking between two neighboring joists, so always get a professional opinion.

Photo Credit: Alexander Jenkins

Got an Unfinished Basement or Crawl Space?

If you have an unfinished basement or crawl space below your kitchen (or other first floor room you want to remodel), take a peek in the ceiling at what is going beneath the room above. If there are any type of structures (such as columns, supports, beams, etc.) that follow the same path as the wall above, it’s a sign of support needed for a load-bearing wall.

Don’t Make Assumptions About Knee-walls or Part Walls

Just because you have a partition wall, it doesn’t mean it’s not load-bearing. We’ve had this occur in quite a few home remodels over the years. A load-bearing beam or other structure may be hiding behind the drywall of a part wall or a knee-wall with a column between two rooms. If your remodeling goal is a more open concept, a load-bearing beam may be required when you remove a part or knee-wall, so due diligence up front will ensure you know exactly what you’re dealing with before construction starts.

Case Study: A Reston Townhouse Transformation

This month’s featured remodel is the first floor remodel of a lake-fronted townhouse in Reston. The existing layout and finishes made the first floor feel dark, small and closed-in. Preferring a contemporary look and a more open concept, our clients were ready to make the changes needed to make the home their own and better reflect their design aesthetic.

However, the wall separating the dining room and kitchen was load-bearing. We removed it along with a non load-bearing faux painted pillar (seen on the left of the Before photo). This is a great example of how things were not as you might expect — the column was decorative only so it was easily removed, but a load-bearing beam was required to replace the wall between the kitchen and dining room.

The result? With the wall and pillar gone, the energy of the whole first floor is now totally transformed. The spaces flow from one to the next and the entire area feels bigger. We also replaced the sliding doors to the deck and a picture window off a sunroom to make the most of the gorgeous water views from the rear of the house. It’s now a modern and tranquil space with lots of room for the couple and their family and friends to enjoy.

Ready to start your hassle-free remodel with a company who can help you figure all of this out? Get in touch for your free, no obligation consultation about your home remodeling plans!

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