Pass-through spaces within a home’s layout help create a sense of openness without removing walls. Load-bearing walls exist as part of a home’s structural framework, so creating a pass-through entails more than just cutting away a section of wall. And while the project can be done, certain calculations involving weight loads and supportive structures may require expert assistance to ensure the surrounding wall remains intact.
A home’s structural design includes partition walls and walls that carry weight from floor to floor. Partition walls segment off one room from another. Load-bearing walls act as partitions and also carry the weight from overhead floors and ceilings. Since load-bearing walls carry weight, their overall design uses additional support structures, such as columns or beams to ensure these walls remains intact. In addition to carrying overhead weight, load-bearing walls also transfer weight loads to underlying columns that rest on a home’s foundation structure.
A load-bearing wall can support overhead floors in different ways. Some walls may sit perpendicular to overhead floor joists while others consist of a series of columns that carry most of the load. In both instances, the wall works to redistribute overhead weight across the wall’s length. In effect, interior column and beam structures increase the weight-bearing capacity of the wall. So, creating a pass-through opening entails reinforcing the wall to make up for the supports that filled the pass-through section.
Pass-throughs can take the form of archways, door frames or look-out openings from one room to another, such as from a kitchen to a family room. Since a portion of the load-bearing wall remains intact, the materials used for replacement supports only carry a portion of the overhead weight. For example, a header beam can frame the upper edge of the opening with support columns to hold up each end of the beam. As load-bearing walls work to support a home’s primary structure, calculations involving replacement materials and weight transfers should be done by experienced carpenters or structural engineers.
The type of header beam used to construct a pass-thru opening depends on the amount of weight a particular section will have to carry. And while wood is a commonly used material within a home’s structural design, beams made out of steel also make for an effective header beam. In cases where a pass-through opening takes up a large section of a load-bearing wall, the use of wood beams may require additional column supports that enter into the actual pass-thru space. With steel header beams, the added strength and durability of steel makes the need for added supports unnecessary. Ultimately, the type of material needed depends on the size of the opening and the amount of weight a beam will carry.
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