How to Remove a Portion of an Exterior Wall

Exterior Wall Removal

During a home renovation, there could be many reasons that the homeowner would want to remove a portion of the exterior wall.  The exterior wall of most commonly framed residential homes is a load bearing wall. This means that the wall is a supporting structure for the structural integrity of the total home and not something that can be simply removed.   

Thinking about the construction of the home, from the roof down to the foundation, is the easiest method of visualizing the loading and structural integrity of the home.

The roof has a weight, due to the materials required to construct the roof, such as roof rafters, plywood, shingles or any other roofing material. This weight is the first element that must be supported by the structure below. If the home is a two or three story home, then each successive floor must be supported by the structure below.  This is called “ dead load” and consists of all the elements of the structure that are held up by the structures below them.

To add to the forces that must be supported, is the element of the “ live load”, or the load that must be supported due to the elements, such as rain, ice, snow as well as the people occupying the structure.  In addition to all of this, are the loads such as furniture, appliances, etc. To make the element of “ dead loads and live loads “ easier to equate, the building code allows a certain amount of weight per square foot of building.  This could be 70 pounds of dead load and 100 pounds of live load. Although this is an average for various areas of the country, the loading is normally identified with a specific element of safety, or a safety factor that is added to the design of the structure.

Once the entire structure is erected, loaded with furniture and other live load weighted items, the individuals residing the home are in place, the entire structure and each supporting element of the structure is now loaded and supporting all of these loads or weights on the structure.  This loading is the weight that is carried or supported by the bearing walls of the structure.

In almost all situations, the exterior walls, in a residential home, are bearing walls, therefore the removal of the exterior walls will require procedures that address the bearing issue of these walls.

Why would you want to remove an exterior wall?

There are a number of reasons that this could be considered.

  1. An addition has been constructed on the other side of this exterior wall and an entry is needed from the primary structure.
  2. Additional windows are desired in an exterior wall to introduce additional light into an existing space or change the architectural look of the space.
  3. Add an exit door from the existing space or a larger type sliding, or french door to accommodate a new porch or other new construction needing access.
  4. Accommodate a new masonry or metal fireplace that will be constructed on the exterior wall.
  5. To accommodate the entry to a new garage space, new family room or even an open atrium area that has been established to introduce the exterior landscaping to the interior living space.

The need to open an exterior wall can be associated with any number of creative ideas, or new architectural features, that will require the modification of the exterior wall.

What can be expected if an exterior wall is to be removed?

  1. The opening of an exterior wall is considerably more complicated than the removal of an interior wall.  The exterior wall, will normally be a heavier constructed assembly consisting of interior sheetrock, plaster or other interior finishings, insulation, exterior studs or supporting elements, exterior sheathing as well as whatever siding is on the structure.  All these elements will need to be patched back and reintegrated into the total assembly of the exterior skin of the structure.
  2. The removal of a section of exterior wall , due to its load bearing characteristics, will require the accommodation of the loads imposed on this section of exterior wall.  Therefore the need for a professional builder or engineer is highly recommended.
  3. A new and engineered assembly will be required to support the loads imposed on this portion of the exterior wall.  This assembly will include the installation of a designed header or beam and the required columns or jacks that will be required to transfer the load to whatever element is below this portion of the exterior wall.
  4. When the exterior wall is removed, not only the perimeter of this opening will be rough and in need of finishing, but the floor and ceiling area will require additional finish work to blend the removal of the wall into the final look that is required.

The removal of a portion of exterior wall, due to its probable bearing characteristics, is something that should be properly evaluated by a professional builder or structural engineer.

Anything is possible, however, it must be understood that the exterior wall in a residential structure is in most cases a bearing wall and its removal is more than cosmetic.  

Have fun, but always consider what you are actually doing, and consult the proper professionals to ensure safety and final satisfaction.

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