Or Non Structural Walls
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It takes a Building Surveyor to spot if a wall is structural or not or you can risk it with a builder.
Is that a structural wall or a non structural wall?
A question we quite regularly are asked is: “Can I knock that wall down?” This roughly interprets to: “Is the wall structural or non-structural?”
What is a Structural Wall?
A structural wall is one that holds the structure together. In a traditional built house this tends to be all of the perimeter walls and some of the internal walls. In an older house it is all of the perimeter walls and lots of the internal walls. It's fair to say that all external walls are low bearing and only some internal walls are low bearing.
Which internal walls are low bearing?
The question is which internal walls are low bearing? It's an important question as the removal of the wrong wall could lead to the building partially collapsing.
We need to understand how the building works to understand which are the structural walls
There isn't really any rule of thumb for structural walls particularly where the house has been altered or amended. For example in some modern houses the weight is mainly taken on the perimeter walls. Not so long ago we used to have modern properties where the weight was taken on two walls which is known as cross wall construction with the other walls being little more than cladding and being non-structural. These two types of modern properties although they look similar structurally act different.
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Houses that have been extended
Both modern and older houses can be extended and often are and now you may well have a mixture of construction styles. In older properties you may have the traditional timber frame making up the majority of the property with a modern brick work extension to it. Equally you may have in a newer property a modern timber frame lining which was very popular in the 1970's, then it lost its popularity and then became popular again in the 1990's which is then how the two storey extension was added using traditional brick work whilst all the perimeter supports the weight. There are so many ways to build an extension and alter a property.
Alterations that can make a difference to a property
The house may have been altered considerably, for example older cottages are often knocked into one cottage from two or three cottages. It may involve removing chimneys and staircases. Having said that in modern Victorian properties alterations are added often meaning staircases added or a chimney is removed. This may well affect the property and which walls are and are not structural.
So how do I discover if my wall is structural or not?
Unfortunately, unless you have a good understanding of how the structure as a whole is working it's quite hard to establish if the wall is definitely structural or not. Even as a Building Surveyor with many years of experience if you were to describe a wall in a house to us over the phone it would be very difficult in most cases to establish 100% if it's structural or not. We were recently asked by a Quantity Surveyor to come and look at their property, although they are used to dealing with the property industry all the time they still weren't sure. The other problem that we come across that occurs are sometimes non-structural walls can become structural to an extent when the buildings are altered and amended.
Over enthusiastic builders
A problem we come across is over enthusiastic builders who alter things beyond the level of their knowledge. We often find that most builders have started in a trade be it bricklaying, carpentry or plumbing and then have developed over the years as they have taken on larger and larger work until they are building but their base knowledge is still the trade. Unfortunately this means they have no knowledge whatsoever as to how the structure of a building works. They have seen or been involved in structural alterations. Many of them may be very certain as to what walls are and aren't structural. They simply don't have an understanding of the whole of the building structure.
Estate Agents advising when a wall is and isn't structural
We often come across during the house sale process in particular estate agents saying that alterations and extensions can be carried out by removing walls. We need to remember that they are trying to sell the house and that they will do a lot to sell the house such as advising that walls may or may not be able to be taken down. Remember their focus is on the commission they get for selling a house.
Non structured walls can be a problem too
We have mentioned above that non-structural walls can become structural walls by the way buildings are altered but we are also finding in modern walls that it is any ones guess what's in the actual wall. We recently opened up a wall which we first of all used a resistance meter on sometimes known as a stud finder to discover exactly where the pipes and the electrics were.
Structural walls tend to be built in brick if it's an older property. Structural walls in a very old Tudor or Jacobean property will be in oak. Structural walls in a more modern property will be in brick or stone and in a relatively new property they are likely to be in block work.
Will a wall sound solid if tapped?
Years ago a way of seeing if a wall was solid was to tap it. However in recent times properties have been dry lined. This means a lining of plasterboard is added to them for a variety of reasons from heat insulation to sound insulation. A dry lining wall is sometimes known as a false wall and probably better represents what they are. You may have heard of a technique such as dot and dab for applying plasterboard to walls using some type of adhesive or even battening the walls. This means that when tapping a modern wall that is structural it can sound hollow but is still a structural wall.
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