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jeffmn 12-17-2008 11:23 PM

Opening Up Stairwell Wall
Hello, new member here. Usually more of a lurker but i dont think i will find the answer to this question by searching. I am very new to all this. I have handy friends but none of them are professional carpenters.

I have recently started a basement remodel project and have been tossing around the idea of opening up the stairwell that goes into my basement. This is a load bearing wall so I am trying to guage how much work it might be.

The wall looks like this:

The load on top of the existing wall

This is where i was thinking the header would be extended to. Not sure how to handle the floor beams that run in the opposite direction.

You can find more images here:

I am not sure the best way to do this. I would think maybe you add a couple of 2x10's to support the load and run those over to the block wall on the left hand side. If you did this i dont know what you would do with the 2x10's that are running perpendicular to where i think the new header would go. Plus there is already a 2x10 resting on the block foundation wall that would need to be cut to support the new header.

Does anyone have any idea if this is feasible or a good idea?

I do plan to pull a permit for this whole project and would like my changes to be up to code. Do you think the city will require a structural plan for this change? I live in minnesota if that makes a difference.

Any assistance large or small is greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Jeff

Garasaki 12-18-2008 11:33 AM

You could do what you are proposing.

It wouldn't really even be that hard.

However I would STRONGLY suggest you get a structural engineer to design it (the sizes of the wood and how they connect into each other). It should take them less then an hour to do (If you present your information in a very organized manner).

You will need to give them dimensioned plans, those pictures would help, and you'll also need to be able to tell them what is bearing on those joists (in particular if there are any loads from the roof or floors above that bear on the floor in that area).

You need someone who really knows what they are doing and who may need to visit your house to figure this one out.

You could also put what is basically a window in there, which would be a lot less complicated and you could probably figure out the sizes without an engineer involved. This would help it feel much more open.

jeffmn 12-19-2008 05:07 PM

Any suggestions if I just wanted to remove 1 stud and gain about 16 inches?

The old wall was 2x2 with thin wood paneling. It was hard to get stuff down into the basement because the distance from the stairs to the wall is really short. The new wall will take away another 2 inches. I was hoping to open it up to make moving large items in and out easier.


Aggie67 12-19-2008 08:47 PM

I'm a licensed engineer, and one of the companies I own does nothing but DIY project consulting (engineering, permit drawings, construction techniques and such). My best advice is to find a licensed engineer in your area. In my neck of the woods, this wouldn't take me more than an hour, and I'd give you a sealed drawing to show any insurance agent, inspector or code official that wanted to see it, and you'd get a plan of attack on how to do it, including a list of tools you'd need.

Aggie67 12-20-2008 08:55 AM

After giving this thread some thought, I have an assignment for you. I can't leave you hanging like I did.

Make a picture in your head of the opening through the first floor that accommodates the stairs. There are large wood members that frame out that opening, and they should be the same size and at the same elevation as the rest of the floor joists and the bridging (or in your case, solid blocking). (The short pieces of "joist" wood nailed in between the joists in your photos are called solid blocking. Blocking gives you rigidity in the floor framing, preventing your joists from buckling or twisting. Next time you're in a big box store, look up at the steel bar joists. The angle iron strips going from one bar joist to the next, usually in an X pattern, accomplishes the same thing structurally in steel that the solid blocking does in your floor.)

The opening framing, in your case, consists of trimmer joists that run perpendicular to the stairs, and header joists that run parallel to the stairs. The floor joists that attach to the header joists are called tail joists.

Trimmer joists run the full length of the rest of the joists. Trimmer joists and header joists are normally doubled up so that the stair opening doesn't need additional support from below. If you have double trimmers and double headers, you might be in luck. But unfortunately I have some doubts.

Stand at the bottom of the stairs, looking up the steps. Move yourself to the right until you're in-line with that wall. Look at the joint between the wall and the header joists (joists that run parallel to stairs). Take a photo of that and post it here. We need to find out how many header joists you have.

Do the same thing for the trimmer joists. Take a photo and post it, and figure out how many trimmer joists you have.

The concerns I have from your photo are:

1. It doesn't look like you have a double header joist, but it's hard to tell.
2. I can see the double trimmer joist at the left end of the opening, but not the right end.

So if you want to see if you're lucky, take the photos and post back with the info. If we don't see a normally framed out opening, you need to call an engineer. My license covers NJ. Even though I know what to do, I can't help you there unfortunately.

jeffmn 12-20-2008 02:01 PM

Hi Aggie67.

Thanks for the detailed reply. I tried to capture the pictures you requested. I uploaded them to picasa instead of imageshack. The pics are high resolution so you should be able to zoom in for a closer look. I put captions on each photo in an attempt to describe what you are looking at.

From what i can tell there is only one joist that frames the stairwell opening. I think this is easiest to see from the picture that looks at the back of the stairs. I can only see one board nailed.

Thanks, Jeff

Aggie67 12-20-2008 03:47 PM

Call an engineer if you really, really want the wall out. In this post, I am in no way suggesting nor recommending you take any specific course of action. I do recommend that you have a local engineer with a local license look at this, and have him offer his own opinion.

But here's my 2 cents. I'd have this wrapped up and sealed for you before I left your house on the initial visit (my laptop and printer come with me everywhere).

This isn't something you can do alone. This shouldn't take a pro more than a day to do with a helper, possibly a day extra if that one joist with the knot and splice plate is a problem. That's figuring you can handle removing the electric lines and utilities running across the rows of tail joists. If you were one of my DIY clients, I'd be there with you the whole time working. (Carpenter's rate, not engineer's rate. :thumbsup: )

And I personally wouldn't do this without a permit. The inspectors in my town are awesome human beings, and very helpful. Get to know them, and down the road one day it might benefit you with them knowing you did this job to the nines. A few years ago I removed some asbestos transite panels from my wood stove flue stack chase under a township permit, and I have some sort of local record for having removed the asbestos and properly disposed of it for nothing more than the cost of the permit, four contractor trash bags, and one 4x8 sheet of fire rated dry wall. I could have done the same thing illegally, but I did it right, and it cost me the same amount of money. (It pays to know the regulations, and where and when the local free hazardous waste drop off days are in your area.)

Now for some detail:

Normally the span on the joists between the steel beam and the wall wouldn't require a load bearing wall under that header, if the framer took the time to do it a little differently. All he needed to do was install the two trimmer joists and an addition header joist, and he wouldn't have needed to build the wall underneath. Well, I can't say that exactly. I don't know what load bearing walls are overhead.

But it sort of looks like you got a raw deal there with the framing. If they had used a double header and double trimmers, this might have been a non issue. What's also upsetting is that short load bearing wall is missing the top plate (flat 2x4) that is supposed to go between the vertical studs and the joists above (or that single header joist, in your case). He installed the studs in-line with the joists, which eliminated the need for a double top plate, but you steel need a dang top plate.

I have the experience and a license, so if this were my house, I'd tear right into it and fix it. Heck, I jacked the weight of my house off its foundation to repair one corner of the foundation (with a permit), and slept soundly at night directly overhead of the work area for 3 days. If you were my next door neighbor, we'd be in the truck on the way to my shop to pick up the W4's, the shoring, jack posts, sawzalls, etc, and your wife or significant other would be out buying the beer and brats for later. After the permit was approved, of course.

But unfortunately you're not, and this is involved. It involves some temporary supports for the floors above, some bracing, basically a plan to carry the weight that the wall is holding right now. Again, do NOT attempt this without an engineer having mapped this out for you. Then I'd take the wall out, I'd leave that lonely header joist alone in place, put a couple temporary jack posts under it, slab-to-joist, to take the load temporarily. Cut the tail joists back so I could fit 2 more header joists in there, making it a triple header (just me). Reconnect the tail joists securely to the new triple header joist, using joist hangers. Then install outboard trimmer joists where they belong, snugging the new trimmer right up next the single one, using lag or carriage bolts and a ratchet instead of nails (can't fit a hammer or nail gun between those joists). Then take down the jack posts and supports.

Once again,

1. call a local engineer to get a sealed drawing.
2. pull a permit.

I am in no way giving you a formal opinion, nor am I telling you to take this plan of attack. But do call a local licensed engineer and run it by him.

jeffmn 12-21-2008 12:09 PM

Hi Aggie67:

Thanks again for the detailed write-up. I will have to give this some thought and decide how much i want this wall gone. I might just remove one stud at the bottom of the stairs. Then install a hanger where that stud was removed and then another hanger where the 2x10 joist meets the joist that runs from the block wall to the beam.

Thanks for the assistance.


Aggie67 12-21-2008 01:00 PM

What you suggested is not sound. Adding a joist header from the first stud over to the trimmer joist would require you to cut that first tail joist, plus it's not going to address the structural issue of removing that stud. It's even worse if you were suggesting a piece of 2x10 between the first stud and the next joist over. You're getting yourself in trouble, and you're probably going to end up lowering the value of your house, and negating your insurance coverage, if not causing outright damage.

I did a quick search on Superpages, and there are 109 structural engineers listed for Minnesota. Reach out to them and get some input.

Andrew Whitehead 12-30-2008 09:18 PM

Are you sure that is even a load bearing wall?

A couple reasons:
1) You don't normally have a load bearing wall right beside your outside bricks since they are load bearing (though it might have a small amount of load bearing where the stairs open to the basement)
2) if it was load bearing, you would have proper headers going all the way across the top of the 2x4's under the beams. That just looks to me like a normal wall put up to have a side to the stairs.
3) Your I-Beam with the round metal post in the middle of your basement is your main load bearing support.

I would bring in someone to double check since I am not an engineer and could easily be wrong. It is always safer to cover your butt, then have your butt covered as it comes down on you.

Aggie67 12-31-2008 08:39 AM

The framing for the stairwell opening gives us a big hint that the wall is there to support the opening. A proper opening should have double trimmer joists and a double header joist. Those elements are not there. If I saw an opening like that during construction, without the wall, I would be walking around saying "whoa, hold the phone, we have to address this."

Garasaki 12-31-2008 09:39 AM

As your walking down the stairs, the left side wall is absolutely 100% load bearing for sure, as it must carry 1/2 of the floor load above it.

EDIT let me rephrase that, it must carry 1/2 of the load of the floor above it.

jeffmn 12-31-2008 10:43 AM

If I was going to remove the whole wall i would do something similar to what Aggie67 is describing. I have decided against removing the wall because i want to keep the noise that travels upstairs to a minimum. What I still want to do is remove the last stud so it makes getting large items into the basement much easier or possible in certain circumstances.

Below is what i am proposing to do. I will basically be unsupporing 16'' of floor that would have previously supported. Can anyone think of a better way to remove this stud without installing an additional header?

Thanks, Jeff

Andrew Whitehead 12-31-2008 11:17 AM

well if you are going to do it, do it right, take the extra hour of work to support up the ceiling. Take down that wall, remove your last stud, put in a full header, then put it back in.

With the extra header in there, you will probably have more support after you put it back up w/out that 16" there, then you did before.

Though as many have suggested, get a structural engineer in, and see what he says. This way if anything happens, you have documentation that will cover you if anything goes wrong and your insurance won't balk on paying.

Aggie67 12-31-2008 03:03 PM

Jeff, I just noticed something in the photos. Are my eyes deceiving me, or do I see two spots where there's what looks to be a stub of a sawn off 4x4 post tucked up between the header joist and some blocking? Look at photos 10 (left end of that wall) and 16 (right end). It looks like there are two sawn off 4x4's up in there, between the header joist and blocking.

PLEASE check, and post back.

I'll bet you lunch that the original framer installed 4x4 posts to make up for a missing header, got dinked at the inspection, and was forced to install the wall. But tell me I'm wrong. My eyes could be deceiving me.

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