Friday, October 30, 2009

Opening up a staircase with a load bearing wall (To get a bed up of course!)

It all started simple enough, we could not get our queen sized mattress up the staircase. I think the previous homeowners had a mattress with sections, so never had to confront the narrow passageway. The staircase was originally encased on all sides, with a doorway that had a removed door at the bottom. The effect was claustrophobic. Although the walls on either side of the staircase were load bearing, one would have to come down. Why? Well besides from being able to get a bed upstairs....

First, modern designed houses have larger open spaces with each room lending a welcoming view to the next room. Opening up the wall near the staircase would allow people to see that there is a second floor, and how to get there. Second, it allows you to see that there are other rooms on the first floor behind the staircase wall.  This will make the house look larger. Third, it allows heat from the first floor to flow upstairs and warm it better in the winter, improved air circulation!

Lets see what the encased staircase looked prior to any work:

Opening up a Staircase

From the above photo you can see how narrow and claustrophobic the staircase was, and in the photo below, you can see how low the wall comes at the top of the frame. It is as high as the door frame right next to it. Definitely not getting a large mattress up there!

Opening up a Staircase

Below is a picture of the wall that faces the staircase wall. At the time we had a decorative bookcase against the wall. You would never know that is a staircase behind there. Also, the house feels a bit smaller and it looks like there are just a bunch of doorways every where.

Opening up a Staircase

Below is a picture of the same wall with no bookcase and with both doorways on either side of the staircase wall visible:

Opening up a Staircase

The first step was to knock down the extra wall above the staircase doorway:

Opening up a Staircase

It already looks so much more open! Then the wood paneling (ek!) came off of the outer wall:

Opening up a Staircase

Then the cement board came down (note: not sheet rock, sheet rock would have been easier and cleaner, cement board is heavy, dusty and a mess), but the beams holding the weight of the floor above are kept in tact.

Opening up a Staircase

Those were left in because we installed a steel beam from one end of the wall to the other end of the stairs to hold the weight of the house and redistribute it from the center beams to the end beams.  That part was slightly complex and required a bit of finesse.  A make shift wall was built right next the weight bearing beams, to hold the ceiling's weight while these beams were cut and the steal beam was inserted in the ceiling.

Opening up a Staircase

Installing this required putting a beam on the top and bottom and outer sides, then hammering in the middle beams.  Below is a close up picture of the makeshift beams next to the old ones before they are cut.

Opening up a Staircase


Below you can see the steel beam in the ceiling holding the weight after the beams were cut and the extras removed:

Opening up a Staircase

The project as of now (without the compounding and paint) looks like this:

Opening up a Staircase

And the view is more open:

Opening up a Staircase

And as a bonus we took down the wall above the hallway door frame, to make it look more like a hall and less like a door.  This again follows with the modern idea of big open spaces, doorways and views.

Opening up a Staircase

One last look at how things were:

Opening up a Staircase

Next weekend, we will add in a banister and finish off the walls by compounding and painting.

In case you thought this was easy, it took four weekends of labor, a lot of tools (saws, crow bars, hammers) and back breaking work.  It was also messy, as you can see from my last two pics below ;-)

Opening up a Staircase

During the work my cat crawled into the space between the two floors, and it was not easy coaxing him out!  He was so filthy I had to give him a bath :-(

Opening up a Staircase

8 comments:

  1. this is really cool. i was looking in to removing the wall in our old house beside the staircase but i was told that it was the main support wall so im trying to find out how to remove the wall and still keep the house from collapsing

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  2. Make sure if you remove the wall that where the weight has resettled to has support below it in the basement. I.e. we had the weight bearing on a beam near the entrance to our office after removing that wall. Under that beam there should be support beam in the basement. It doesn't have to be directly under, but there should be something within six inches to a foot.

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  3. Did you need to obtain a permit from the city to do this? We're looking at doing the same thing for the stair case that is in between the dining room and the living room. Not sure it is load bearing, but I would rather be safe than sorry.

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  4. I am trying to find out if stairs going from the first floor to the second can be load bearing or not an if not how can I repair the boarder that line the stairs

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  5. We did not need a permit to do this. As for how to tell if a wall is load bearing, my father who has worked in construction guided us with that. But basically, if the wall has connecting beams that go to the next floor, or into the basement, then it is load bearing. Imagine the difference between a wall in the center of your house that might run almost the whole length and has parts that connect to the second floor and basement below, and a wall that was put up in order to make a closet in the interior of a room. The wall for the closet would not load bearing.

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  6. This is fantastic. My husband and I are about to sign the contract on a cape cod with the same type of closed off staircase. Could you post a photo of the finished project?

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  7. Me too! This would solve so many of my issues and open the whole space up!

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  8. I will try to find more pictures of this, with the steel beam in the ceiling and staircase after it was done.

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