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I would like to open up our dining room to our living room, but don't want to install an LVL due to a limited budget.

We decided to get creative. By simply removing the sheetrock, and using the existing studs as a frame for a built in open bookshelf, the rooms will feel connected but we will not alter the structure of our home.

My studs are 16" apart. I am wondering if I can safely increase this span slightly (say to 20"-24"), by replacing the studs with evenly spaced 4x4 posts.

Is this reasonable?

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    You say "load bearing" but don't state what the load is. An interior wall supporting just roof load is (usually) fine with 2x4 @ 24", so 4x4 is fine too. An exterior wall has to support load plus wind and 2x4 @ 24" is no good. Bottom line is you should consult an architect or construction engineer with your plan and all pertinent details, it might cost a few bucks but will be worth it. – Jimmy Fix-it May 26 '16 at 4:47
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Studs are vertical. They are present to transfer the weight from the top plates (which are the top pieces that frame the wall) to the bottom plates, all of which then gets transferred to the next level down.

Beams and top plates are similar in function but beams carry more load over a wider span, and usually rest on either solid walls (foundation walls) or columns - which are functionally the same as studs but further apart and stronger.

The spacing of studs or columns is determined by the relative beam strength of the to span - or distance - covered by the beam.

So - upgrading the studs to 4x4 isn't necessarily enough - in fact just doing that could potentially be devastating if you widen them and the top plate is not able to handle the wider span. In all odds it WON'T be, but why take chances?

If you are going to widen the spacing of the studs, then I would recommend you basically build a door frame, where you have 2 2x6's installed vertically instead of the top plate (or under it), held up by 2 2x4s installed 20" apart.

That will more than compensate for any structural weakness otherwise created by the seemingly minor change.

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    I think that this answer makes sense (+), but can you cite any building codes to substantiate this? Also, (using the vulcan art of logic), if you have a double top plate, and spacing at 16" then a triple top plate could have 24" spacing (1.5 x 16 = 24). Or, since most trusses are 24" apart, if you place 4x4's directly beneath them, then the top plate isn't really holding the load at all. – Ben Welborn May 26 '16 at 13:24
  • I'm actually in the process of looking for a good sizing chart. And you're right about the top plate not carrying the load, when the points align, but that's only if they're directly beneath, and for what the question is asking, that will be pure coincidence. – The Evil Greebo May 26 '16 at 13:35

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