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Can pocket doors be used in load-bearing walls?

can pocket doors be used in load-bearing walls?

Installing a pocket door is often done as part of a wider home improvement project. We know already that pocket doors have the supreme ability to help you repurpose a room and give it multiple uses, due to its space-saving qualities. So now you can install the en-suite bathroom you always wanted, or you can create a home office now that you work from home more often, or you can add the small downstairs toilet to make better use of spare space. But don’t get over-excited at the prospect of these luxury lifestyle enhancements and forget about some essential considerations, namely, what wall space you need and can pocket doors be installed in load-bearing walls.

Pocket door systems can be installed in new-build homes very easily, because they are incorporated into a stud wall design during construction. But they can also be retro-fitted into an existing stud wall, and can also be retro-fitted into a solid wall, even if it is a load-bearing wall.


What is a load-bearing wall?

When a house is built it is designed so that the walled structure supports the weight of the elements above it, ie. upper floors and the roof structure. Load-bearing walls are therefore strong enough to support this weight and distribute the weight above them, in order to provide stability. For this reason, load-bearing walls will be solid, as opposed to most partition or interior walls, which are usually made from a stud wall structure. All exterior walls will therefore be load-bearing walls, but you do have some interior walls which are load-bearing too, perhaps where there has been an extension added, or where the house is large and required interior stability when it was designed and built.

You can usually tell if a wall is load-bearing by tapping it. If it sounds solid then it is probably a load-bearing wall, but if it sounds hollow, it is probably a stud wall. Load-bearing walls also, typically, run perpendicular to floor joists, so if the wall runs parallel to the floor joists, it probably isn’t a load-bearing wall.

Load-bearing walls are an active structural element of a building and therefore any damage to them can affect stability and could even lead to collapse. So you need to be very careful what work you carry out with load-bearing walls, you can’t just knock a wall down to make two rooms into one without considering what type of wall it is, and even if you are considering a pocket door installation, it is recommended that you consult a structural engineer before undertaking the work. They will be able to identify what is or isn’t a load-bearing wall, and will also advise as to what work you can safely carry out without risking the stability of the property. (Note the pocket door frame on its own is not load bearing)


Installing a pocket door in a load-bearing wall

It is worth remembering that most load-bearing walls already have a traditional hinged door installed in them, so it is possible to create an opening and install a door in a load-bearing wall. In most cases a ‘header’ will be installed above the door. This is a horizontal section that is installed above the door and the door frame, to provide extra support, given that part of the load-bearing wall is being taken out. The difference with a pocket door is that your frame needs to be twice the width of the door, and hence you will need a header that is twice the width of a standard header. This is where you need the professional advice of a structural engineer, to ensure the pocket door installation will be safe. But in most cases, as long as an adequate header is also installed, you should be able to install a pocket door.

However, the easiest way to install a pocket door on a load-bearing wall, is not to cut a cavity into the solid wall for the ‘pocket’, but to create a ‘new’ stud wall adjacent to the existing wall. This will reduce the size of the room very slightly, but means the installation process is much easier. Simply build a stud wall framework that runs alongside the existing wall and incorporate your pocket door framework into this stud wall. This means that you don’t need a header above the door, because this ‘new’ wall won’t be load-bearing, and the actual load-bearing wall behind it is unaffected in a structural sense.

Once the new stud wall is built and the pocket door is installed, you can add plasterboard to the new wall and decorate to hide the joints, and effectively, it is hard to tell there is a new wall. This is the easiest way to install a pocket door in a load-bearing wall, and is probably also the safest way to do it because the load-bearing wall itself is left as it was, and you don’t need to install a new header, or risk damaging the existing header.


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