Learning how to tell the difference between load-bearing and decorative porch columns is an absolutely necessary procedure before you even think of attempting to replace the column or remodel your porch. Load-bearing columns contribute to the structure of your porch and the overhanging roof so if these are removed without proper backup support, an entire section of your house may crumple in the worst case scenario. Follow the guidelines below to identify the function of your porch columns.
Look at the Building Plans
If you have the building plans of your home accessible to you, this should be the first place to look. The plans will clearly indicate whether your porch columns are load-bearing or decorative. Decorative porch columns may not even be part of the plans since they don’t carry any load and could have been added as an afterthought. If you don’t have or aren’t able to find these plans, continue with the rest of the steps below.
Look for a Visible Foundation
Identifying load-bearing porch columns can be a little bit more difficult than identifying load-bearing walls because you won’t have many exterior cues such as other walls or beams. Nevertheless, there are still some signs you can look for. As load-bearing porch columns are posts that help support weight, they should have a steady foundation.
Note the area around the bottom of the porch column and see if there is any type of base. For example, the post may have mounting plates screwed into the porch flooring or it may be installed into a concrete block (otherwise known as a concrete pier) for stabilization and security. The concrete block itself could be painted over or covered so don’t let its disguise fool you.
Look for Ground Installation
If there isn’t any noticeable foundation above ground, check to see whether or not the porch directly enters the earth. In these types of installations, a hole is excavated and the porch column is installed into the ground with its cement base buried inside the earth. The post may already be decoratively designed or a column wrap could be covering a simple rectangular cubed, wooden post. The ground installation provides stability similar to a concrete pier.
Look for L-Brackets
One other clue that points to a load-bearing column is if you notice brackets that contribute to its support. Typically, L-brackets are used. Look around both the top and bottom of the column. If L-brackets are installed, they will be bolted into the ceiling or floor. Instead of L-brackets, there may be a post-to-beam mounting bracket attaching the porch column to the beam in the underside of your roof.
If you don’t notice any of the above signs that signify a load-bearing column, you could be dealing with a decorative porch column instead. If you’re still unsure, it’s advisable that you contact a professional structural engineer to assess the porch area and its columns for you before you start any type of work relating the use of these.