With home prices continuing to rise, many homeowners are looking to upgrade their existing homes rather than move to a different location entirely. For those looking to sell, keeping a home updated is essential to getting the best possible price.
In either situation, expanding the floor plan can give any house a serious facelift. Because of certain home-improvement shows like Fixer Upper, having an open floor plan has become a new norm for up-to-date homes. Open floor plans often feel more inclusive by bringing multiple spaces together, like the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. Gone are the days of separating roles and purposes! The modern home is about being together.
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Can you expand?
So you’re on board for an open floor plan, but your current home has traditional sectioning. Where do you start?
Of course, it can be fun to imagine the space with new paint or even start shopping for some updated cheap furniture online, but the first step is to find out if your home is even a candidate for an open floor plan. Once you’ve decided what area you’d like to expand, you need to see what’s in the way. Walk through the area that you’d like to enlarge and make note of all of the walls that would need to be removed in order to make your dream a reality. If your plans necessitate removing a primary guest bathroom or laundry room, you may need to rethink your strategy a bit so you don’t end up losing an essential area.
If only a few walls stand in the way, the next step is to find out if they are load-bearing. Load-bearing walls, as the name suggests, are simply walls that are integral to the structure of your home. They do more than separate rooms: they keep your roof from collapsing or your second floor from becoming one with your first floor. Load-bearing walls are also the primary obstacle to an open floor plan.
Before hiring an expensive contractor, there are a few simple steps you can take to get an idea of whether a wall is load-bearing or not.
Step 1: Go to the basement
It may feel like you need to know what’s above a wall to know what it is holding up, but the opposite is actually a better indicator. To get started, grab a flashlight and measuring tape and head to your basement or crawlspace.
Most homes are built with outer walls (obviously load-bearing) supported by floor joists. For those new to construction terminology, a joist is just a wide board that is turned up on its edge and supports something else above it. These joists will all run a single direction. The first th ing to take note of is which direction those joists are traveling. From your basement or crawlspace, you should be able to see where they connect to the wall. Very few load-bearing walls travel the same direction as the joists, so if the walls you need to remove travel in the same direction, you’re one step closer to that open floor plan! There are a few more things to consider first:
Step 2: Find the beam
While poking around in your basement or crawl space, see if you can locate a primary beam. It will be a very large, thick piece of wood (or multiple pieces put together) running down the center of your home. This beam is normally held up by pillars that run directly into the ground. Floor joists will also connect to it from either side, so it should be pretty hard to miss.
This beam, like your exterior foundation walls, is absolutely integral to your home’s structure. If a wall is situated directly above that beam, it is almost certainly load bearing. Any walls that intersect with this beam, no matter which way they run, also have the potential for carrying part of your home’s load, but not always. It’s important that you take note of any walls that come in contact with the central beam as you decide if an open floor plan will work for your situation.
Step 3: Measure and Compare
After you’ve taken note of which way those joists run, use your measuring tape to measure the distance from an outside wall to the central beam. Once you’ve jotted that down, head back upstairs.
Starting from the same wall that you measured against in the basement, measure along your floor in the same direction the joists travel. That measurement marks the location of the central beam.
Let’s say that you measured the central beam from the south exterior wall of your home at 16 feet. Go upstairs and, making sure to start from the same south wall, measure 16 feet into the room you’d like to expand. If that measurement stops on a wall, then you can be sure that it’s a load-bearing wall.
If the wall you want to remove doesn’t contact the central beam at all, congratulations! Your open floor plan is about to become a reality in the easiest, least expensive way possible. If the wall you want to replace runs parallel to the floor joists but still crosses the beam, it’s time to talk to your contractor. It’s possible that the wall is not load bearing, but it is also possible that where the wall crosses the beam may require a single post to keep the house stable. Finally, if the wall you want to remove runs along the beam perpendicular to the joists, you can be sure that it is a structurally significant wall.
There are still options to open up a wall like this, like making the opening smaller and adding a beam above it, but those options start getting way more expensive very quickly. Long story short, if you proceed in this situation, make sure you’ve got the budget and a trustworthy contractor to do the job right.
Now that you’ve got the tools you need to see if your home is ready for an open floor plan, you’ll be able to plan your project ahead of time. By the time your contractor gets there, he’ll be surprised at all of the work that you’ve saved him!