Load-Bearing Column Checklist
Use this simple homeowner's checklist to determine if you're dealing with load-bearing or decorative columns before beginning any home projects, renovations or remodels.
- Check Your Blueprints. If you have building plans or blueprints available, these will usually tell you if a column is structural or decorative.
- Look for Visible Seaming. Look to see if your column has a seam running lengthwise on opposite sides of the column shaft. This could be an indicator that a decorative column or wrap has been used over a structural post.
- Pull Back the Capital. By pulling the capital down, you'll be able to further inspect the original installation and determine if you're dealing with load-bearing porch columns.
- Inspect the Column's Material. Consider the building material itself. Some materials exhibit load-bearing characteristics whereas others do not.
1. Check Out the Building Plans
Depending on your home, it can be nearly impossible to accurately guess which columns are load bearing and which are not. The best place to start is by consulting any building plans or original blueprints you may have. These should indicate whether your interior columns or exterior porch columns are load bearing or simply decorative. If a wall or column is structural, it will usually be marked with an "S".
It is important to note that a decorative post or column may not be included in plans as it doesn't carry any weight and may have been added as an afterthought. It's crucial that you spend some time actually studying your building plans to determine whether or not a column is decorative before deciding to tear it out or replace it. Never remove a column until you're confident it's not load bearing or unless you're supporting the header by other means.
If you don't have your home's original blueprints, you can typically obtain them from the county clerk's office, the original homeowner, or the original builder or contracting company. If, for some reason, you can't obtain a copy of your home's blueprints or need additional verification as to the structural support of your home or porch, continue with the following steps.
2. Look for Any Visible Seams
Identifying load-bearing porch columns or decorative columns can be a tad trickier than identifying load-bearing walls. There simply aren't as many visual cues to look for. But there are some signs that can give you a better idea. One of the easiest to spot is a column seam.
Look for seams that run lengthwise on opposite sides of the column shaft. Oftentimes, a seemingly decorative post or column is "split" in half in order to wrap and fasten the two halves around a structural or load-bearing post. It is almost impossible to hide these seams once they've been joined back together. However decorative a column may look, keep in mind that it could be doing a lot more work behind the scenes.
3. Pull Back the Capital
If you don't see any noticeable seaming on your column, try pulling the capital from the top of the column away from the header. This step is a little more involved, but if you're looking at removing or replacing porch columns, it can be a time-saver.
4. Inspect the Column's Material
The fourth and final way to determine if you have load-bearing or decorative columns is to look at the column's material itself. Fiberglass polymer, fiberglass, wood and aluminum columns all exhibit load-bearing characteristics if they are not split. However, cellular PVC columns, which are becoming more and more popular, do not feature any load-bearing characteristics unless they have an internal support mechanism that makes them load bearing.
If you aren't seeing any of the above signs that indicate load-bearing columns, you're most likely dealing with decorative wood posts or decorative columns. But if you're still unsure, it's always best to contact a professional structural engineer or the experts at HB&G. We can help assess your column or structure before you get started on your next home project. Need to brush up on your architectural vocabulary? Check out our Guide to Architectural Columns to learn more.