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Question DetailsAsked on 8/13/2015

Who determines whether a wall is load bearing and how to remove it? Architect? Structural Engineer?

I recently purchased my first investment property, with the intention of updating/fixing it up and reselling it within the next several months. I have the ability to do much of the finish work, but there are several things I have no business doing myself. I have been very frustrated in finding a general contractor to handle my main project, which is to expand the current kitchen into what is a sunroom addition. The sunroom was probably added on in the 1980s and appears to be a concrete foundation (so I wonder if it was originally a concrete porch). They obviously removed a great deal of the original exterior wall when they added it. I am left with about 3 feet of floor to ceiling brick wall, then maybe 6 feet of a half wall (brick still) and then an open path of 4 feet. I want to remove all remaining brick to make it one big space. Who do I need to consult to ensure that I am properly supporting what is above, or would this have had to been done when the addition was made? Thx!

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4 Answers


When they built the addition they would have been required to obtain a permit to complete the job. An inspector should have been in to authorize continuing the build after approving the structure. That does not mean that a permit was pulled or the job was done correctly if it wasn't. You can check with the city to see if permits were pulled and approved.

A structural engineer can determine what is and is not load bearing, as well as give you specific requirements (type of beam/strength/size, etc) needed if it is load bearing. Any load bearing wall removal requires a permit. If it is beyond the scope of your abilities, the engineer should have a list of contractors they recommend. Call some and ask questions. They'll give you an idea of what you can expect and how much they charge.

Answered 4 years ago by DriverNerd


Good comment by Guest 9266236.

Two thoughts that came to mind in reading that response:

1) if doing a total remodel (especially if involving load-bearing structure, rather than just a spruce-up) an architect can be very helpful, and an architect's plans are probably mandatory to get a building permit (and very useful in giving bidders and ultimate selected contractor definitive plans of what is to be done). For the structural beam part he will use a structural engineer or structural-qualified architect to design the needed support for the wall you want to take out - and as comment said, in almost all areas if taking out a load-bearing wall, you WILL need a plan from an architect or structural engineer to get a building permit or for most contractors to touch it.

2) On the structural inspection part, two things to also have him consider - whether the half-wall was left to provide lateral support to the house (which could be replaced with a moment-capacity column-and-beam frame around the opening, but requires different design than just a gravity-bearing post and beam construction over the opening), and also whether the sunroom is suitable to extend the kitchen into. Many sunrooms are physically detached from the house (except for the siding) and are built on a slab on grade which is not up to code for general house framing construction, either for thickness and/or for depth below frost line - they are commonly built as an "outbuilding" isolated from the main house. This could cause issues in extending the kitchen out there - both code compliance, need to allow for utility movement at teh interface, and possibly eventual cracking and separation of the walls and roof at the connection area between house and sunroom.

One other thought from a flipper standpoint - if the opening is adequately supported now from a structural standpoint, with the 4 foot opening plus 6 foot halfwall (assuming the engineer says the halfwall is not providing needed lateral support) it might be a lot cheaper and not too instrusive to leave the 3 feet of brick if needed for lateral or vertical load support, perhaps just turning it into an architectural element or wrapping it in cabinet space or book/DVD shelves or such rather than paying thousands to gain 3 more feet of opening width.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Good comments by Guest_9266236 and LCD. A couple of thoughts to add. I'm a structural engineer and deal with this kind of thing all the time. Most architects I know wouldn't (or couldn't) do some of the calculations involved in removing/altering load bearing walls. Your best bet is to call a structural engineer.

Most of the time a half wall ("pony wall") wouldn't really provide much lateral support. Walls typically have to be connected at the top and bottom to be considered a "shear wall."

But you never know what was done correctly (designed, permitted, and constructed correctly). So call a structural engineer and they can look at your specific situation to help you determine what is best.


Answered 4 years ago by arxengineering


True what arxengineering said ab out shear walls almost always being full height.

One other thing he intimated - I rashly assumed the existing opening was properly done, so the structural engineer should assess both the current suitability (if you are looking at taking out just the halfwall but leaving the 3' width of brick), as well as the open it wide open option for you.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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