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I recently purchased a house with a high pony wall that divides the dining and living rooms. The pony wall has a column at one end that I'm concerned may be load bearing. To make matters worse, the pony wall is off-center of the vaulted ceiling. A structural engineer wants more than $800 to assess the situation, but I'm not sure if the situation requires an engineer's assessment. If I assume the column is load bearing, is it safe to lower the pony wall to about 3' in height, leaving the column in place? I'll take possession of the house in two weeks and I'm making plan to replace all of the flooring. I'd like to have this resolved before proceeding with flooring plans. Any expert advice would be most appreciated.

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  • Yes, your observation is correct. For clarification: the current owner replaced the wall heating room units with forced air throughout and never disconnected/removed the wall units, leaving two heating sources.
    – Kathi M
    Dec 4, 2023 at 13:30
  • I assume the desire to lower the wall is to allow more like to pass between LR and DR (or vice versa)?
    – Huesmann
    Dec 4, 2023 at 13:31
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    I’m voting to close this question because a Structural Engineer is required to safely and accurately assess this. Lives depend on this being accurate and it shouldn't be entrusted to well meaning random strangers on the internet.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:11
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    I'm a firm believer of having projects properly engineered when something structural is involved. An engineer is not needed if it can be verified that the post attachment in the attic space is only on one truss, or on a single piece of wood spanning 2 trusses. In that case there would be no indication that the column is structural for the roof. Rather that it is a member adding lateral support since there is no other attachment to the wall, other than the outside wall at the other end.
    – RMDman
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:30
  • The images appear to be tagged with a copyright notice. Are you the copyright holder of these images?
    – BMitch
    Dec 4, 2023 at 16:06

2 Answers 2

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I don't believe you need to keep the wall or the post as-is. Here's why.

  • You have a modern engineered truss roof. Unless all the trusses bear on either a wall or a beam crossing that post, there is no bearing point there in those trusses.

  • There is no beam resting on that post, under the trusses. No engineered truss system I've ever seen has a single bearing point like that, and no scissor truss has bearing points that near the ridge.

  • There is also likely no flush beam or girder truss crossing that point. That would indicate a very odd and complex arrangement, which doesn't seem warranted here.

  • A double stud is a common way to support such a wall. I've built (and removed) many just like it.

  • Lowering the wall changes nothing about the structural aspects of the home.

That said, you haven't shown the attic. Therein lies the pudding, as they say. I can't be sure about anything I see though an internet tube, of course, but on this one I'm fairly confident.

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  • I think I agree, but how did you decide that there are scissor trusses? I think I see a shallower pitch in the ceiling than the roof and the long span supports the idea. Achieving the necessary moment connection at the ridge sounds like a very difficult alternative.
    – popham
    Dec 4, 2023 at 17:58
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    ... or parallel chord. Doesn't much matter. Scissor are far more common. I've installed many, and my own home has them.
    – isherwood
    Dec 4, 2023 at 19:02
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Theoretically, lowering the wall could adversely impact the column (TLDR, I think that @isherwood is correct). The strength of a column is commonly governed by buckling, where lowering that pony wall's top plate could increase the column's "unbraced length," thereby decreasing its strength. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for instance, imperiled the structure by destroying slabs to increase the unbraced lengths of 7 columns by up to a factor of 4.

Obviously your column is unbraced in the direction perpendicular to the wall, but unfortunately you can't conclude with perfect certainty that the other direction's hypothetical bracing is therefore unnecessary. A column's buckling strength is predicated on its "effective length" which varies with how it has been connected at top and bottom. The column could theoretically have connections detailed to increase its strength against buckling in the unbraced direction.

The easiest method to check if the column is load bearing (following @isherwood) is to examine its connection at the ceiling elevation. If there's no pathway for significant compression force to enter the column, then it's not load bearing. Verifying this would require stripping a few square feet of drywall from the ceiling.

There's a 99 point something percent chance that the column is there only to stabilize the pony wall. In your position, I would proceed assuming that the column exists only to stabilize the pony wall. I would verify that assumption early in the remodel process by stripping some drywall from the ceiling and examining the connection as discussed. For an anticipated remodel cost of R and a contractor mobilization plus ceiling drywall cost of D, the expected cost is 0.99R + 0.01D. Worst case scenario? You have to tolerate the unwanted wall.

Again following @isherwood, I would anticipate removing that column entirely. Stabilizing an existing wall like that without the column could be irksome without destroying the whole thing and starting over. Adding a perpendicular wall at the end is a common pattern to achieve stability that could avoid tearing out the old wall entirely.

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  • To all who offered opinions, thank you. I've decided to hire a structural engineer. The advice from one poster who said, in essence, is the life of a person worth putting at risk for a $500 cost? Of course, the answer is no. Again thanks to all.
    – Kathi M
    Dec 7, 2023 at 21:08

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