Removing a wall in a Townhouse NYC

by | Last updated Jul 17, 2019 | Renovations

When removing a wall in townhouse you need an architect or a structural engineer to determine if the wall is structural. Removing the wall will require permits from the NYC DOB.


Removing a Wall in a Townhouse

  • Introduction to NYC Townhouse Structural Design
  • Who Determines if a Wall is Structural?
  • Removing a Bearing Wall

Typical NYC Townhouse Structure

Most existing New York City Townhouses are built relatively similar. The most common townhouse structure is Masonry Bearing Walls on the sides of the house and wood joists running perpendicular to the side walls often with an intermediate wall providing structural relief to the wood joists. Sometimes the side bearing walls are Party Walls. Some NYC townhouses are built with wood frame with brick stuffed in between the wood studs. These buildings do not count as masonry buildings this is a much lower quality construction. This type of construction is not used anymore.

What Is A Party Wall?

A Party Wall is a wall between two structures that is shared by both structures. Party walls exist when 2 attached buildings are built together and only one wall is built between the two. This wall can be a bearing wall for both buildings. The wall is owned by the owners of both buildings.

Intermediate Relieving Wall

What is the biggest myth in townhouse renovations? That the interior walls are non structural. People are constantly telling em that the interior walls a not bearing walls and can be removed easily. That is just not really the case as some of the walls on the interior of a townhouse can have structural properties. We established that the two side walls are masonry bearing walls. The joist run perpendicular to the sides from bearing wall to bearing wall. The bearing walls support the joists and transfer the load to the building foundations which transfers the load to the Earth. All the weight in a building has to be transferred to the Earth.

Are interior partition wall in a townhouse structural?

Townhouses usually have a wood frame wall parallel to the side walls and parallel to the stairs. People often want to remove this wall and claim that it is not a bearing wall. Well that is not always entirely true. Although it may not be a bearing wall like the masonry side walls it still can be relieving load from the joists and transferring them to the cellar and then to the Earth. The easiest way to figure this out is by going to your cellar. You may see a line of columns running parallel to the side wall and located under the wood frame wall above. The columns are transferring the loads of the interior wall down to the ground. that means if you remove the wall above and do not replace it with any new structure you will have a problem.

There are different types of supports you can find in the cellar. Most commonly we see the following types of structure in the cellar supporting the intermediate relieving wall:

  • Pipe Columns (often called lally columns)
  • Heavy Timber Wood Posts
  • Tree Trunk Posts
    • These are irregular shaped wood posts that look like they were just cut from a tree, had the bark cut off, and just stuck under the header above. I just call them tree trunk posts, that is not a technical term.
  • Brick masonry columns
    • These can be square brick columns with or without brick archways
  • Masonry Bearing Walls
    • Sometimes there will be an intermediate masonry bearing wall in the cellar but this is not the most common situation.

Finding these supports is a good way to verify if the wood frame wall above is providing an intermediate support to the the wood joist above.

Structural Columns in Townhouse Cellar

Structural Columns in a Brooklyn Townhouse Cellar.


Who Determines if a Wall is a Bearing Wall?

Only a Licensed Architect or Licensed Structural Engineer can determine if a wall is a bearing wall. An architect or Structural Engineer will be required not only to assess the wall but to design any replacement structure for removing the wall. Nobody else can determine if a wall is structural or not. A General Contractor is not qualified to assess if a wall is structural.

Removing a Bearing Wall in a Townhouse 

There are many ways to remove a bearing a wall. No mater what you will need an architect and or engineer. In New York City you will need to file an Alteration Type 2 with the Department of Buildings. Additionally you will need “special inspections” to be performed by a structural engineer during the construction.

We can reinforce the joists or replace them as needed. You can add steel beams to transfer the loads or engineered wood beams. There are many solutions to the problem and they all require licensed professionals. Below is a photo of joist reinforcing we did on a townhouse renovation in Brooklyn on Quincy St.

Townhouse Wall Removal Joist Reinforcing

Townhouse Wall Removal Joist Reinforcing


Wall removal to Create an Open Plan Townhouse 

Below is a photo of the open plan townhouse after we removed the wall.

Townhouse Open Plan after wall removal

Townhouse Open Plan after wall removal


Removing a Wall in a Townhouse in NYC

In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to removing a wall in a townhouse in NYC. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Removing a Wall in a Townhouse.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect you can Contact Fontan Architecture directly.


Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.