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In the living area of my house is this decorative rail and post.

Rail and post Top of post

I want to remove them. While I suspect such a narrow, solitary post would not be made to bear a load, I am not a builder so I still feel I should verify my suspicion before removing it.

If the answer is just "ask a local professional", yes, I will do that too, however I'm still always interested to see what the internet has to say about stuff. If I'm lucky, some builders will respond, and that may leave me better informed for when I do go looking to pay a local professional for advice.

Some details of the home:

  • professional build
  • built in 1994
  • two storey
  • rail and post is on the lower storey
  • typical (for Australia) timber and brick veneer construction on concrete slab
  • no crawl space or basement below (just concrete slab on earth)
  • second floor above
  • the post appears to be turned from 4x4 lumber and is 60mm at its narrowest point.

I have contacted the firm that designed (but did not build) the home, and they were unable to answer my question as they claim to no longer have engineering drawings for this model of home.

I however do have some plans, and here you can see the rail and post in question.

Plan

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  • check for a gap at the top ... the post may not even be touching the ceiling – jsotola Jul 12 '20 at 21:02
  • It would be very odd for the floor joists above to run left/right (in the floor plan), instead of up/down. Even if they did, supporting one of them with that post would be even more unusual. Odds are very low that this is structural, though in the 26 years since the house was built, there may have been a bit of settling, so there may be some weight bearing on it, but the floor above is designed to not need the post. – FreeMan Jul 13 '20 at 13:16
  • @FreeMan I can see nails near the top of the post, presumably angled upward into the joist above. Is that a hint either way? – Igby Largeman Jul 16 '20 at 23:26
  • Yes, that's a hint that they didn't want the top of the post to move when someone bumped into the railing or leaned on the post. It won't tell you anything about whether it's load bearing or not. – FreeMan Jul 17 '20 at 13:48
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That's not a structural component, at least not under normal building standards. But just to be sure, check underneath in the basement or crawlspace. Is there a support below it? If so, then it's carrying some load. If not, you're good to remove it.

Check in the attic above it. Is there anything being supported? Chance are good that the answer is no.

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  • I think there’s a second floor above...not an attic, but I agree with you, I doubt if it’s structural. (Structural beams are noted with a dot-dash line...see garage and meals area.) – Lee Sam Jul 12 '20 at 11:56
  • Second floor above, and no basement or crawl space (built on concrete slab). – Igby Largeman Jul 12 '20 at 22:32
  • I have installed posts that look just like this one as structural members before. – Matthew Jul 17 '20 at 15:55
  • @Matthew There are always exceptions, hence my advice to check the structure above and below for any signs that this is actually structural. – jwh20 Jul 20 '20 at 12:49
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Check if that post is against the drywall or if the drywall is around it. You might try using a thin strip of metal (you could use scissors to cut one from an old soda can). If you can slide the metal between the post and the ceiling drywall then this post was added after the drywall was installed and it is not structural.

If the post goes up through the drywall and connects directly to framing then it probably is structural as it would be tremendously uncommon to install turned posts before finishing drywall.

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  • Before posting the question I did try this, but all I had to hand was a sheet of thin plastic (a laminated card). I was able to get it to slide between the post and the drywall on one corner, but only about 15mm until I suspect it hit a nail that passes diagonally through the post, into the drywall and then a structural beam above. Your point about it not being load bearing if it was installed after the drywall makes perfect sense and did not occur to me before. To me this sounds pretty conclusive. I'll try your soda can idea anyway, see if it will slide further in. – Igby Largeman Oct 25 '20 at 2:30
  • I was able to slide a strip of soda can about one inch between the post and the drywall until it struck resistance. – Igby Largeman Oct 25 '20 at 2:43
  • 1" on all sides? What would that make for the dimensions of a structural member? Imagine for a minute that there is a steel jackpost inside of a hollow wood veneer (I don't think this is the case but let's pretend for a thought experiment)... How big in diameter would that steel post be? – Matthew Oct 25 '20 at 8:51
  • 1" where I could get it in, but on one side I couldn't slide it in at all as the post was hard up against the drywall or the paint had sealed the crack. But the post is 3.5" square so it would make for a theoretical 1.5" internal post if that existed. This is a turned post where parts of it are less than 2.25" in diameter though, so with a theoretical 1.5" hole through the length of the post, parts of the post wall would be less than 3/8" thick. Not impossible but it doesn't seem likely, especially with all the other evidence against this being a structural post. – Igby Largeman Oct 25 '20 at 22:51
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Since you don't have a crawlspace/basement below, or an attic directly above, you're going to have to do more investigating to figure out which way your joists run.

If you're going to remove that post, you're going to have to do some drywall patching on the ceiling. Since you're going to have to patch, you may as well cut into the ceiling to find out what's going on up there.

Method 1:

The easiest way is to cut the drywall back to the ceiling joists so you can attach the patch to the joists above. (There are other methods, but this is the easiest, IMHO).

Buy yourself a drywall (or jab) saw like this:

enter image description here
Image supplied by Lowes.com, no endorsement of the vendor or the brand intended or implied


Before starting this operation, be sure to read the cautionary foot note!


Punch it up into the ceiling near the post (use the base of your hand or a hammer) and start cutting*. I'd recommend cutting in the Family-Room-to-Kitchen direction, as that's the direction I believe you will find floor joists above. If you go more than 8", stop, return to your starting point, and start cutting in the opposite direction. You should run into a floor joist in less than 6" going in this direction. Normal floor joists will be on 16" centers which leaves about 14-1/2" inches between them. You should run into a floor joist somewhere within that 14-1/2".

If, for some reason, you don't run into a joist, go back to your starting point and start cutting in the Back-yard-to-Front-yard direction. Again you should find a joist within 14-1/2".

If you still don't find a joist, it's possible that your floor joists are on 24" centers meaning that there is 22-1/2" between them. This is highly unlikely, but it's possible. Extend your cuts until you find that wood!

Now you know where your joists are. You will, most likely, find that the post is attached to the side of the joist above, though it could be directly under a joist. Again, since this is the only post, even if it's supporting some weight now, it's highly unlikely that it is structural, since it would only be supporting one single joist, not a whole series of them.

Method 2

Using the same jab saw, punch up into the ceiling near the post. Cut a small square opening big enough for your cell phone to stick through. Once you've got the square cut out, turn on you phone's camera & flash (you'll most likely have to set it to video mode to turn the flash on and have it stay on). Stick your phone up into the ceiling and have a look around.

You're looking for:

  • Joist locations - which way to they run, how far away are they?
  • Other infrastructure items in this particular joist bay (See the big footnote warning).

CAUTION: HERE BE DRAGONS!

There are all sorts of things that could be located between the ceiling of the first floor and the floor of the second floor. There may be wiring, plumbing and HVAC duct work. You need to use caution when running a saw through that space. Hitting hard plumbing or duct work is unlikely to cause an significant damage to it.

However, hitting wiring, soft plumbing (like PEX) or soft HVAC (like flexible, insulated duct work) can cause damage to what you just hit and could kill you.

  • If you hit a hard HVAC line, you'll either hit uninsulated metal and put a tiny scratch in it, or you'll hit an insulated duct and cut the insulation. Either shouldn't be more than an annoyance.

  • If you hit a flexible HVAC line, at a minimum you will tear into the insulation.

    • An insulation tear within the heating/cooling envelope is more an annoyance, not a major issue. You may need to repair it, you may not.
    • At worst, you'll cut all the way into the inner plastic line and you'll allow heated/cooled air out at this point. Again, more of an annoyance than a crisis, and something that's easily fixable.
  • If you hit a PEX water line you could cut into it and cause flooding. This, of course damages the drywall on the ceiling and the floor below causing more repair work.

    • I'll be honest, I don't know the full implications of a cut in the outer surface of PEX. I don't know if it'll take that and not notice, or if you'll need to repair it right away because it could fail any minute now.
  • If you hit and cut into electrical cable, you could cause a short at a minimum and, at worst, you could electrocute yourself.

USE EXTREME CAUTION! Stop sawing at the slightest change in resistance or noise. Investigate what's caused this. Please don't kill yourself!

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  • I haven't got around to doing this yet but thank you for this detailed answer. – Igby Largeman Oct 25 '20 at 2:23

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