The Biggest Obstacle for Women Renovators

The podcast for women who want to create income and a life they love through renovating

Join serial renovator Bernadette Janson as she explores the ins and outs of renovating for profit!

Bernadette has over 30 years of experience in the renovating for profit business. She’s a registered nurse, a renovator, a mum, and a teacher.

24 – How To Tell If A Wall Is Load Bearing

On today’s episode,

Bernadette is with her husband, Stephen Janson to share with us the huge add value of determining if a wall in your property is load bearing. How to figure out the system of removing it without compromising the integrity of the property.

Listen to Episode 24: How To Tell If A Wall Is Load Bearing

Bernadette covers,

  • How to tell if a wall in your property is load bearing
  • The most common type of renovation is a cosmetic plus
  • Outlining the technicalities that are involved in removing a wall
  • Stephen explains how to determine if a wall is load bearing
  • Who designs the support structure
  • The considerations that you need to plan for before you make the decision of taking out a wall
  • Important things to look for when you have an apartment building in determining how to put your beams in for your wall
  • Why a having a good builder can add great value when you are doing this project
  • How to work through masonry walls in order to give a good finish
  • The costs of removing a wall
  • What to consider when dealing with old properties


Episode highlights

01:32 – A cosmetic plus renovation

01:51 – One between the kitchen and the living area

02:45 – A few technicalities to removing an internal wall

04:10 – When you bring your builder in what do they actually do?

06:39 – Who designs the support structure?

07:14 – A qualified carpenter

08:00 – No one wants their building or their investment to be compromised

08:42 – Can you match the corners? How are you going to treat that.

09:18 – This depends more on the roof structure

09:44 – If you’re in an apartment building

10:03 – A really good builder

11:12 – If you’ve got a masonry wall

12:36 – Removing large load bearing masonry walls.

12:48 – Give you some idea of costs

14:34 – In old properties you really do need to expect the worst


“Generally a carpenter, a qualified carpenter can actually design a beam or a load bearing member, again and this is all about the opening. Obviously, if you’re taking out almost like the back wall of the house and putting in a 6 metre wide opening, you’re going to need an engineer to design that for you.”

Hello it’s Bernadette. And in today’s episode we’re going to be talking about removing an internal wall. Now this is a very common modification to be made in a renovation. The most common type of renovation we do is called a cosmetic plus. So it’s a predominantly cosmetic renovation, but with some edge or improvement in the livability of the home. To not only make it look better, but also to push up the profitability. And the most common wall that we would remove is one between the kitchen and the living area, to open the kitchen up to the general living area for a more open plan. Now why is this such a value add? Well, it really modernizes the layout. So the eating kitchen definitely is a thing of the past and our modern lifestyle calls for there to be an opportunity to, I guess mingle with your guests when you’re preparing a meal. So rather than being locked away in the kitchen while everyone’s out in the living area having a good time without you, the cook can be drawn into that. And I think the term we use is hang out ability and it creates a sense of space, so the whole area looks much much bigger. But of course there are a few technicalities to removing an internal wall and they’re what we’re going to cover today.

The reason I decided to record this episode was because I was recently looking at a property with one of our students that was a very space challenged one bedder. We were looking at whether we could take the wall out between the kitchen and the living area, to open it up and she had mentioned that someone she’d brought through had actually tapped on the wall, decided that it was a stud wall and then from that deduced that it would not be load bearing. And that’s actually not the case. So when I mean not the case the fact that a stud wall can’t be load bearing so I decided that there was value in you know recording an episode that outlined some of the technicalities of removing a wall and for this episode I’ve brought in Stephen. So Stephen is my husband. He is a partner in our business and he has been in the construction industry for over 40 years. As you would have gathered, he started as a toddler and he has been the source of my education in terms of construction and I have asked him to come along today to fill in some of the gaps.

Bernadette: So what is actually involved in finding out if it is load bearing or not? When you bring your builder in what do they actually do?

Stephen: Well the builder needs to determine is, what if anything is bearing on the particular piece of wall that you’re looking to remove. And there’s really only two ways they can investigate that. If its a single storey building and it would be in the roof structure, they may be able to gain access into the roof, if it’s not a flat roof and they could then take some photographs, inspect what’s actually sitting on the portion of wall concerned and then determine what the next steps are. And how they would prop that wall or change the bearing or put/install lintels beams and things like that in order to determine.

If it’s an area where you can’t gain access into the ceiling, is the same maybe with a flat roof or alternatively if it is an area that there is a structure up above it, you can’t get in there. Really the only other thing to do, is to actually cut a hole in the ceiling and create an area large enough that you can sort of get up and have a look around or take photographs of the space up there and then determine what needs to be done from that point of view. And that is the same even with a masonry wall as well. You need to work out again what is sitting on it and if you can’t get above it or access a roof space up above. Then you really have only one option, that’s to cut a hole in the ceiling and take it from there.

Sometimes where it is in an apartment, and there is actually no ceiling space and that is quite common where the feet of the slab has just been rendered or somehow was done with the vermiculite spray or something like that. There is actually no opportunity to inspect what’s going up above. You would need to obtain plans or your engineer would need to obtain plans of the floors up above and then determine structurally what would be required to remove that wall. Assuming again that it is still load bearing, but the only way you can determine that is to work out what is above it and whether there is similar loads being directly imposed from above. But again that would require the engineer to do that.

Bernadette: That just reminded me that apartment I was talking about, just recently when we were over there you mentioned taking out the skylight because it was adjacent to the wall that you could possibly be able to see what’s above it.

So many ways to achieve the result. Okay, so let’s say we’ve determined that the wall, if the wall is not load bearing, there is pretty much no issue other than the approvals required to remove it.

Stephen: That’s correct.

Bernadette: So that’s great. But let’s say it is. So who actually designs the support structure?

Stephen: Well generally, if it’s in a masonry wall, you would need to have an engineer involved in that and it also does depend a lot on the size of the opening. Quite often small openings which are when I say small and not just a traditional door, an 800 or 900 millimeter wide opening. There are lintels which you can get off the shelf which you can buy. You can install, generally with minimal problem, again you would need to get the builders to do that. But if it’s a stud wall and again depending on the size of the opening.

Generally a carpenter, a qualified carpenter can actually design a beam or a load bearing member, again and this is all about the opening. Obviously, if you’re taking out almost like the back wall of the house and putting in a 6 metre wide opening, you’re going to need an engineer to design that for you. But if it’s again putting in a door or even if it’s maybe opening something up to a couple of metres wide, the carpenters can often use what’s known as the light timber framing code. Which is an Australian standard and they can work out the beam sizes and capacity of the loads based on that information and again whether it’s a single story or double story, anything which is being done in an apartment. As I said earlier does require structural engineer mind. Because it’s around the integrity of the remainder of the building and no one wants their building or their investment to be compromised as a result of some work which has been done on a lower floor which impacts their property.

Bernadette: Okay. So some other things that we need to think about when we’re looking at taking out a wall is whether the ceiling height is the same on both sides. So often that’s not the case. Or sometimes I should say not always. That’s not the case. And so that will sort of, if you’re thinking that you’ll pull out the wall, it’s going to be a lovely flat ceiling all the way through. You may find that you end up with a step in it and so that’s one thing that you need to plan for.

The other thing is thinking about the cornices, so if you pull the wall out obviously there’ll be gaps in the corners. Can you match the corners? How are you going to treat that. Is there anything else that you can think about that we should be looking for?

Stephen: Yes, again with a load bearing timber wall, you can’t necessarily assume that you would end up with a flush ceiling right the way through without a lot of work. Quite often you do have to install the beam and the beam will sit below the ceiling, which gives you like a bulkhead or you have a boxed in beam, where the support is sort of hidden in the wall. If you know what I mean. You can’t just have that nice clean uninterrupted ceiling going right the way through. And again this depends more on the roof structure, the floor structure up above and how that’s being supported. Because you need to be able to sort of conceal the beam either in the roof space and often if it’s near the edge of a pitched roof, you don’t have the height to be able to do that. The only option you have is to bring the beam down below the ceiling. And again you would end up with like an exposed or a boxed in beam at that location.

Bernadette: I guess some of the other things that you want to think about is if you’re in an apartment building, you’ve got to look at how you’ll actually get that beam up. We’ve had a few situations where the student has actually had to use a crane to put the beam in. Because it was too big to come up the stairs or through by the lift. So figuring that out ahead of time is extremely important.

There’s really a lot of value in having a really good builder when you’re doing this, because they can just add a lot of value. And an example I can give you is, recently we took out a wall in our current project which is in Queensland and I had had an engineer design the structure and it was quite interesting. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a hand drawn design, but it came in hand drawn and when the builder actually got into it he said I think there’s a much easier way of doing this and because it had really ornate cornices, we had chosen to leave a bulkhead above the opening. But he found a much easier and more cost effective way to do it, to do the structure. And so mid project he actually redesigned it and then got in touch with the engineer, but via photos and videos and actually redesigned it. So it reduced the cost and it meant that we had much less, well in actual fact, we just had the corners running through. Which turned out to look quite good. I’ll put some images of that in the show notes.

And another thing is, how it’s going to be finished off. So if you’ve got a masonry wall, by the way for those who don’t know, a masonry wall is a brick wall. The finish is probably going to be rendered. And so if you’ve got a builder on site who is able to render that up to finish it. It saves you a whole lot of hassle and headache. So anything else you can think about as far as that’s concerned?

Stephen: No. I mean obviously with any large opening in brickwork, you’ll need a large beam of some description, whether say like an eye beam, a channel beam or even a very large angle. And so that also needs to be concealed with the render, in order to give you the finish or if it’s a larger beam you may need to look at how it’s going to be boxed in to conceal the beam.

The one thing I would say with removing masonry walls, which are load bearing, the cropping and the detail around those is actually quite complex. They need to do a process which is known as needling, where they actually need to support the wall up above, prior to knocking out any of the wall underneath and have a member in place and sort of grouted up and carrying the load before the wall is even removed. So it’s quite a complex detail, unfortunately also expensive. But just bearing in mind that you definitely need an engineer involved in that and the spacing of these supports. The load that it’s carrying and how the load is transferred down to the ground and all of those things need to be fully considered. They are not straightforward, when you’re talking about removing large load bearing masonry walls.

Bernadette: That’s a good point. Okay. So just to wrap up, I just want to, I guess give you some idea of costs and to do that I’d probably use our last couple of projects. So the bondi apartment we took the wall out between the kitchen and the living area, it was only about 2.5 meters that did require engineering. It was load bearing and it was on the 5th of 8 floors, so there were 3 floors above. So of course as Stephen mentioned earlier, in a strata titled building, you do require strata approval, for that you will need an engineer’s report. And yes, several other documents to support that, but excluding the cost of the certifier, which was for the approval to do it and the engineer. The actual removal of the wall was around about $6,000.

I also mentioned, we’ve recently done one in Queensland. The removal of the wall was initially quoted as $5000, but actually came in a bit less, because of the change in design midway. But that’s excluding engineers fees and the like. Interestingly, the project three back was an old terrace house over 100 years old. There was one particular area in between the kitchen living room, wasn’t actually a wall but it was a column and sort of a bulkhead, which we would have liked to have removed to really open it up. But was not so much the cost, just that it was a bit of a Pandora’s box. The concern about opening up 100 year old or over 100 year old wall, and either side the adjoining walls, between the neighbours and our property was single skin. It was just a little bit too high risk and we decided not to do it. Because we felt that the negatives outweigh the positives.

So in old properties you really do need to expect the worst, when you’re opening up and removing walls. But if you can do it and I will certainly put some photos up of the last couple of projects where we’ve done that. It’s been a huge value add and really enabled us to create the WOW.

Okay. So thanks for listening today. If you’ve got value from this episode we would be so grateful if you would go to iTunes and leave us a review and you can get more detail about this topic by downloading the show notes. I’ve got some case studies there, just to help you to gain an understanding of the concepts we’ve talked about. Bye for now.

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