CKBR: Structural Adjustments

by Kacey Larsen

In its most basic form, a kitchen remodel may simply be the removal and replacement of cabinetry and appliances. A bathroom remodel may consist of replacing cabinets and installing a new tub and floor. Frequently, clients want more room than currently exists in the kitchen or bathroom. When that happens, you’ll need to make structural adjustments to the house. These adjustments may be as simple as moving a partition wall or as difficult as adding an extension (bump out) to the structure. As always when making such modifications, check with the local building authority to ensure compliance with all applicable codes and regulations.

If the plan calls for relocating a wall, you need to determine if the wall is load-bearing or not. If not, then the project is a simple wall-framing job; however, if the wall is load-bearing, you’ll need to consult with a structural engineer to determine the best method of supporting the load. Typically, this will involve installing a supported beam in place of the wall. The beam may be solid wood, engineered wood or a steel I-beam. The choice will depend on ceiling height, span and how it will be integrated into the room.

Load-Bearing Walls

To identify a load-bearing wall, you should look for the following situations:

Single-story construction

  1. Partitions that run parallel to the roof ridge above the room are usually load-bearing. (Make sure you inspect the roofline above the space to be remodeled. Don’t be misled by the main roofline of the home.)
  2. Partitions that run the length of the house are usually load-bearing.
  3. Partitions that form the short dimension of the room are usually load-bearing.

Two-story construction

  1. To be safe, consider any wall to be load-bearing, and do not plan on removing it until it has been inspected.

Walls

As you know, things are never as they seem in remodeling. Tearing out plaster, you may find a window frame only supported by nails in the sheathing with nary a stud to be found, or structural shifts have changed a non-bearing wall into a bearing one. You’ll need to be inventive.

To effectively nail off a new wall where it abuts an old one, cut into the existing wall to expose the framing. Start with a small exploratory hole to determine exactly where the studs are, then cut back finish surfaces to the nearest stud-center on either side. Even if your new wall runs directly to a stud in place, add blocking to reattach finish surfaces.

Layout

The easiest way to frame a wall is to construct it on the ground and tilt it up into place. It is stronger because you can end-nail the studs to the plates. Unfortunately, this method is not always possible in remodeling. In this instance, we’re assuming 2×4 construction, although you may want to consider 2x6s if you’d like to hide 3- or 4-inch waste pipes in the walls.

Begin by laying the sole plate and top plate side-by-side, with edges butting and ends aligned. The top plate is often doubled, but you only need to mark one. Use a tape measure to mark full-size studs 16-inches on-center on one plate; then, use a square to extend the marks to both plates. Note, you’re actually measuring 15 ¼ inches to the first stud, and 16 inches on-center thereafter. This adjustment for the first stud allows you to butt a sheet of 48-inch-wide drywall into the corner and still have its opposite edge occur over a stud center. All subsequent sheet edges, however, are on-center.

With the studs located on the plates, lay out any rough openings. When installing a door, make the rough opening 2 inches wider than the width of the uncased door and 2 ½ inches higher than the door. If there will be a threshold, make the rough opening 3 inches higher. Mark the width of the rough opening on the plates, keeping in mind that there must be a full stud and a shortened “trimmer stud” (also called a “jack stud”) to support the header on each side of the opening.

Door and Window Installation

The cost of a door installation will include the door, jambs and casings (prehung), threshold, hardware, finishing and installation.

Immediately after cutting and fitting but before hanging the entire door, including its top and bottom edge, must be finished with a primer and two coats of finish. If not followed, you may end up with a twisted, warped door. Few suppliers or manufacturers will accept such an item for return credit.

Windows arrive in pre-assembled frames, complete with hardware to operate them. The frame may be braced diagonally if the unit is large to keep it square. In most cases, the stops will be tacked to the frame so that you can remove sashes to prime and paint them.

Soffits

Soffits are great “chases” for mechanical systems, but they can create problems when trying to line up new cabinets underneath existing soffits. Be sure to calculate, adjusting the soffit widths, heights and depths to accommodate a new cabinet layout, or eliminating them if the “chase” space isn’t needed. |QR

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