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QUESTION: Hi.  Can you tell me if it's impossible to remove load-baring walls, or is it just expensive?  Thanks

ANSWER: DJ,

It is possible to replace any bearing wall with a post and beam (or header).
The amount of dead weight (weight of materials) and live load (prescriptive weight of furniture, people, snow, etc.) must be combined together within the tributary area over the new header that will allow for a large opening within the bearing wall.  This is fairly simple until you consider that the design load (let's say 5,000 pounds for example), need to be transferred equally to both ends of the header.  That 2,500 pounds may need to be transferred through a column system all the way down to the basement floor.  At that point, it is prudent to saw cut the concrete floor and insert a concrete pad footing.  This is typically the most discouraging point of the project.  It is also possible that this bearing wall to be removed will have air supply ducts, plumbing waste and water, and electrical wiring.  All of which needs to be carefully rerouted around the new opening.

Good luck.

Richard Burton, AIA
Registered Architect is some other State
ICC Certified Plan Reviewer
www.arrow-architecture.com

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: But, can it be done in a high-rise condominium?

Answer
While the laws of physics allows you to replace any bearing wall in a high-rise condominium with a post and beam system (or header), the association for the condominium may be a bigger obstacle than the laws of physics.  

A true high-rise according to the definition of the International Building Code is most likely going to be constructed with steel-reinforced concrete columns.  According to 2009 IBC Table 503, no other type of construction is likely to be used for a building more than 75 feet in height (the definition of a high-rise).  Therefore, all other walls within those concrete columns are typically non-load-bearing partition walls.  If you treat the concrete columns as something "sacred" then there is hope that all other walls are simply there to define the rooms.

As an owner of a small chunk within that large high-rise, you should have access to the public records within your local building permit department.  I would recommend that you first obtain a copy of the structural plans from your local building department, then find a structural engineer who is willing to take a look at those drawings (and the wall to be removed) for as little as $500.  If he is willing to take responsibility for designing a header that will distribute incidental loads around the new opening and down to your floor-slab system, then approach your condominium association with the assurance that you are ready to hire someone who knows something more than they do about safe building structures.  If they give you their blessing, then offer to pay the structural engineer another $500 to provide a drawing along with his structural seal and signature.

Richard Burton, AIA
Registered Architect is some other State
ICC Certified Plan Reviewer
www.arrow-architecture.com

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Richard Burton AIA

Expertise

A combined total of 25 years experience with construction, architecture, and building code enforcement. Ask me about residential and commercial design. Ask me about design aesthetics, structural methods, and building something that will withstand severe weather conditions. Ask me my opinion about YOUR design ideas and I will tell you the merits of good design and challenge your thinking about practical issues. Ask me how to best find and work with your local architect and approach general contractors to get the most value for the least amount of headaches. You can ask me about improving your energy efficiency and things that are both green and practical. But don't ask me about solar panels and wind turbines unless you are currently paying your utility company 35 cents per Kilowatt. Otherwise the math does not justify the initial cost and return on investment. Ask me any building code question and how to get a building permit from the most difficult enforcement agencies.

Experience

Here in the midwest, we design and build "green" in ways that make sense. My construction methods prioritize weather resistance, ease of maintenance and durability. While a graduate student in San Diego, I taught drafting and history of architecture. After working ten years for other architecture firms, I have started my firm Arrow Architecture in 2008. More than half of my work involves commercial office buildings. But my portfolio of work also includes custom homes, residential additions, home remodels, and second story additions.

Organizations
President-Elect of American Institute of Architects - Lincoln, NE

Education/Credentials
B.S. Architecture - (Interior Design) University of Nebraska Lincoln 1997 Master of Architecture - (Urban Design and Professional Practice) NewSchool of Architecture - San Diego 2004 Graduated Summa Cum Laude ICC Certified Building Plans Examiner

Awards and Honors
AIA Henry Adams Medal and Certificate

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