How To Tell if a Wall is Load-Bearing

Load-bearing walls support the structural frame of a home. This includes the floor and/or the roof structure of the house. The weight of the structure above the wall, the people, and the furniture placed on the floors above the wall are loads. Load-bearing walls transfer load to the home’s foundation. Partition walls are also known as non-load-bearing walls; this type of wall does not support the structure and is added just to provide a partition in the home. Structural engineers, architects, and contractors will be able to assist in identifying which walls are load-bearing and which are not. Before committing to hiring a professional, it is helpful to learn some ways to identify a load-bearing wall in your home. This article will provide insight into identifying load-bearing walls.

Why is it Important to Know if a Wall is Load-Bearing?

If you were to demolish a wall that has been identified as load-bearing, it would require another structural support, such as a beam or column, to bear an equivalent load and transfer it to the foundation. It is important to identify these walls while remodeling a home to ensure there will not be any structural issues. Also, there are some ways to identify these walls prior to damaging the drywall.

Methods to Identify Load-Bearing Walls

Here are some general assumptions about load-bearing walls that can help identify them in your home:

  • Walls that run perpendicular (i.e., at a 90-degree angle) to joists are more than likely load-bearing.
  • Joists are horizontal members that span two walls and/or beams to support floors and ceilings.
  • Walls that run parallel to floor joists that are above (i.e., the ceiling) are typically not load-bearing.
  • Load-bearing walls can be parallel to joists if aligned directly under a single joist or between two adjacent joists.
  • Joists are not often continuous over the top of a wall. They typically are joined over the top of a wall in specific lengths based on standard lumber dimensions.
  • Exterior walls are load-bearing.
    • Exterior walls are on the perimeter of a structure or the outer footprint of a home. Typically, the exterior walls have many windows and doors, and the walls have beams that span across these openings. This indicates that the posts on each side of the opening would be supporting the beams above.
  • First floor walls may have a basement or a crawl space below them. A way to determine if these walls are load-bearing is to examine the lower level and see if any supporting members are following the path of the walls above. If there are no supporting members below the wall, it is possible those walls are not load-bearing.
    • Supporting members include piers, beams, columns, jack posts, or another wall.
      • Jack posts are a type of lally column, which is a temporary column used to hold heavy structural weight when major wall renovations are taking place or when openings, such as windows or doors, are being installed. In some cases, lally columns are permanent and correct structural issues.
    • If you cannot access the crawl space, another indication a wall is load-bearing is the narrow spacing of wall studs. A loaded wall will require more wall studs to resist applied loads.
  • Load-bearing walls line up with one another from floor-to-floor on multi-story properties.
    • Homes with open-floor concepts do not necessarily follow this assumption. This means transfer beams were installed to carry the load from one load-bearing wall to another in a different area of the house’s layout.

Here are some factors you should not assume about load-bearing walls:

  • Walls that are just partial walls might be load-bearing. Do not assume they are not. In some cases, a contractor could have installed Microllam beams to span across openings and carry loads above the walls. This indicates that the partial wall is not a partition wall.
    • Microllam is an engineered lumber used for structural support. This lumber consists of micro-thin layers of wood that are bonded together.
  • Masonry walls may be load-bearing, but this is not always the case.
    • If a masonry wall is on the exterior, then it could be load-bearing.
    • Some types of masonry are used solely for aesthetic purposes. This means they may be lightweight and prone to crumbling under stress, so these types of masonry cannot support loads.
    • Masonry walls used for the foundation are typically going to be load-bearing. The primary function of these foundation walls is to support the weight of the structure.

Removing Load-Bearing Walls

When removing a load-bearing wall, you will need to replace it with a beam or lintel to carry the load and transfer it to the sides of the opening, respectively. A lintel is a beam used to support the above wall or partition material between openings to frame a building structure. The beam could now hold the floor joists on top of the joists, or they can be framed into the side of the beam. Having the joists flushed into the side of the beam will be the more costly option. This requires the installation of joist hangers at the ends of the joists and customizing the length of the joists so that they can fit within the beam. Additionally, the length and width of the beams used will be determined by calculating the load being transferred to the beam to support the width of the opening. If you are unsure about identifying load-bearing walls within your home, it is always better to contact an experienced structural engineer to do the same. You will anyways need their service to actually remove the walls and renovate your home.

After you have determined the load-bearing walls within your home, it is time to hire a professional that can assist in the renovations, especially if you decide you want to take out a load-bearing wall. Design Everest has a team of professionals that can help determine the renovation plan and provide a free quote and consultation. Contact us today to get started.

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