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I have a 1927 Tudor. The second floor owners bedroom has a 17 foot long knee wall that is clearly load bearing (holds up the rafters). It has two doors in it currently that open into the pretty large cavity. The back side was all shiplap which I took down to see inside and find the layout. I've attached the layout and the options I'm considering here.

The idea was to build a closet system similar to the Pinterest post.

Questions -

  1. Is this doable?
  2. Should I do the 4 closet option instead of the 5 and to avoid the double king stud removal
  3. Anything I should be worried about? Any gotchas? What could I be missing here?

Layout Inside View Closet Wanted Wall View Attic above Ceiling View Shiplap! Opposite Wall Full View

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    1) By someone, yes, by you, we don't know. 2) This is totally up to you - your opinion will be different than mine.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 11, 2023 at 19:57
  • @FreeMan - For Q2 - I meant is taking out two king studs for that gap for the fifth closet more problematic in any way? The other spaces need just the 1 king stud removal. Oct 11, 2023 at 20:02
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    What computer program did you use to create that data graphic? Good quality, especially in contrast to my typical chicken scratch.
    – popham
    Oct 12, 2023 at 2:42
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    None of your photos show clearly how the knee wall studs interface with the floor or the roof. But in the one photo that shows anything, it does not look (in the dark) like any of them are directly supporting rafters. In fact it looks like there is mostly air above them. A better lit, more thorough inspection might, if you're lucky, help you see that they cannot possibly be structural. A little wishful, but your barely visible photo points that way.
    – jay613
    Oct 12, 2023 at 13:09
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    @popham - It's just a google drawing on drive.google.com or docs.google.com/drawings Oct 13, 2023 at 10:17

2 Answers 2

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As long as your headers are sized adequately, then removing king studs is fine for holding up the roof's gravity loads. Either design is fine in that respect. If you want to be really diligent, then go below to verify that there's a good load path from the jack studs all the way to the foundation, but that seems silly in this case where you're removing single studs.

The "could be missing here" that comes to my mind (not that I have reason to believe it's a problem in your case) is disrupting the structure's lateral system. The IRC uses the term "wall bracing" for the lateral system, e.g. IRC R602.10 and IRC R602.12. The exterior sheets of paneling in modern construction tend to provide this bracing, where removing chunks of those panels can take a structure out of spec. Without wandering around and looking at things, it's difficult to intuit whether your wall provides necessary bracing. If it has shiplap on one side and plaster on the other, then I'm skeptical. Theoretically shiplap could be necessary or unnecessary wall bracing if it has more than one fastener per board per stud (analogous to how the deck boards of an attached deck typically transfer a ledger's stiffness out to unbraced columns).

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  • Thanks for your detailed response! The opposite wall is identical (17ft as well) Has a dormer bath cutout on that side and a bookshelf. That knee wall has its other side in the attic with no shiplap. So only the one side is plaster. Thanks again! Added edits to the original post with more pictures. Please tell me if that gives you any more info! Oct 11, 2023 at 23:03
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Your knee wall is not clearly load bearing. It may or may not be load bearing. It may also not have been there when the house was first built, added later so the attic could be finished, and has since become a load bearing component.

To really figure this out, consult with a real structural engineer, not strangers on the internet. A house may be built with unsupported rafters. It works fine for the snow load you get with an uninsulated roof. The lumber is fresh and undamaged. Someone decides to finish the attic, puts in knee walls. Insulates the new finished space. House ages, rafters degrade, crack, etc. Now there's more snow load on the inulsated roof that is also somewhat weaker. The knee wall becomes structural. But it's still resting on the same floor and that floor wasn't built to support a knee wall and a roof so your ceilings below crack and the floors sag from the load too. It's not catastrophic but it's a common thing that happens with knee walls/rafters in finished attics. Bottom line is it's complicated.

In theory, if you knock out some studs in that knee wall and put in properly sized headers you should be fine. However, now you are no longer spreading the load evenly across as many joists in the floor below and the floor may not like that. Now you have a wavy floor and cracked ceilings downstairs.

Or maybe that knee wall is strictly cosmetic. Your rafters are thick old timbers, your floor joists are super-strong and in perfect shape. We can't tell. You're also adding a good amount of weight: all that trim and drawers (not to mention the stuff you're putting in there) is going to be heavy. A good structural engineer should be able to give you a better idea.

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  • Thanks for your detailed response! It's definitely the unknowns that worry me. Few points - I'm not worried about snow load since the house is in the coastal northwest and we barely get 2 days of snow a year. It's all just rain. The knee walls are definitely from the original build since exact same lathe and plaster. I had an architect (neighbor) come out and she is the one who identified that the rafters were resting on it and she didn't see a problem with the project. However, she's not an engineer and also not liable. Might go engineer route Oct 11, 2023 at 22:53
  • No snow makes it a bit easier but that was just an example hazard. The knee walls may be original but that does not mean they were meant to be structural. It's your call how much you trust your neighbor, but an architect is not a structural engineer. I would (and typically do) spend the money to have a specialist look at it. Oct 12, 2023 at 0:52
  • To really figure this out, consult with a real structural engineer, not strangers on the internet. +100
    – FreeMan
    Oct 12, 2023 at 15:56
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    @FreeMan: Many kinds of structural issues can be partitioned into three categories: X is definitely not structural, and can safely be removed without a structural engineer; X is almost definitely structural, and the intended renovation is likely impractical; X may or may not be structural, but it's not possible to tell without more detailed analysis than is possible here. It's good to hire a structural engineer in case of real uncertainty, but if e.g. two closet spaces are separated by a piece of drywall which has a couple of l-brackets to the ceiling and floor and no other supports, ...
    – supercat
    Oct 12, 2023 at 17:56
  • ... it would be impossible for that partition to be adding any real structural support, and one shouldn't be paranoid about removing it.
    – supercat
    Oct 12, 2023 at 17:57

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