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Exploring the Benefits and Challenges of Open Concept Floor Plans in Structural Engineering

Updated: Dec 24, 2023




One of the most prevalent terms in 2020 and the current real estate market pertains to home buyers and investors contemplating the removal of walls. It's highly likely that you, as either a home buyer or an investor, have encountered the need to remove one or more walls.


The pursuit of an open concept floor plan often involves removing load-bearing walls, and this has become the new standard. To accomplish this safely, it's essential to specify an LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) beam capable of supporting the load and transferring it safely to a foundational element.


In my role as a structural engineer, I receive numerous inquiries related to evaluating the structural integrity of walls and supports, providing recommendations for wall removal, and sizing the LVL beam that will replace the wall, including connections and supporting posts.


Regrettably, not all investors and homeowners are aware of the necessity to consult with a licensed engineer when considering the removal of a load-bearing wall. When dealing with a load-bearing wall, it's crucial to understand the following:

  1. Load Distribution: The main load-bearing wall in the center of your house often carries a significantly heavier load compared to one of your foundation walls, frequently double the load or more.

  2. Load Redistribution: The distribution of load on the structural member beneath the wall being removed will change, especially if the wall was originally supported by an old beam with few supports spanning 9 to 10 feet apart. This change can potentially pose challenges.

  3. Stress Concentration: Without accounting for localized stress concentration, future issues such as cracks and significant floor sagging may arise.

In such situations, consulting with a competent and the right structural engineer is unquestionably a worthwhile investment. It's essential to research the engineering background and competency of the engineer, especially when making significant alterations to a structural member.

Your safety, the integrity of your property, and the prevention of potential future problems hinge on these decisions.


The Impact of an Improperly Designed Load-Bearing Beam:

In my years of performing structural engineering evaluations, I've encountered numerous homes where a load-bearing wall was removed and replaced with an LVL beam. Unfortunately, in many cases, these beams were either installed incorrectly or were undersized due to various reasons. Here are some telltale signs of such issues:

  1. Sags on the Floor: One of the most noticeable signs is sagging in the floor above the area where a wall was removed and an undersized beam was used. This sagging occurs because the beam is unable to adequately support the load.

  2. Wall Cracks: Cracks in the walls near the post/beam attachment points are another common indication of problems. The structural integrity is compromised, leading to visible damage.

  3. Stress Signs: Stress marks and signs of overloading on the structural beam beneath the removed wall are often observed. These are clear indicators that the beam is not adequately handling the load it was designed for.

Furthermore, I've recently come across cases where lateral loads were not considered during the design, leading to lateral torsion on the beam and causing stress cracks. Unfortunately, many people overlook this critical aspect of structural design.


To save yourself, as well as your future buyers, from unnecessary headaches and, in some cases, potential legal responsibilities, it's crucial to consult with a competent and licensed structural engineer. We have the expertise to assess your specific situation, recommend appropriate solutions, and ensure your home's structural integrity.

Don't hesitate to reach out to us today. Let us evaluate your needs and assist you in ensuring the safety and stability of your home.


For more information, please visit our website at www.pittdes.com or give us a call at 724.949.0004. We're here to help.





Written by Firas Abdelahad, P.E.

Firas Abdelahad has been a practicing structural engineer since 2005, collaborating with a diverse range of professionals, including consultants, architects, investors, homeowners, contractors, and subcontractors. Together, they tackle the various challenges that can arise during the design and construction phases of projects.

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