Are there ways to determine if a wall is load bearing?

What is a load-bearing wall:

Before you can determine where load bearing walls are located in your home,  you need to understand the difference between a load bearing wall and a non-load bearing wall. 

Load bearing walls have the very important job of transferring weight from the roof down to the soils. What does this mean? Well, in a sense, they hold the weight of the floors or roof above.

Since these walls are strategically placed in a floor plan by engineers, they cannot be removed without a structural replacement such as a beam and post. Failure to follow proper procedures could lead to serious structural damage to your home.

Load bearing wall our team analyzed.
Load bearing wall our team analyzed.

Conversely, a non-load bearing wall separates rooms in the house but does not bear any weight from the above floors or roof. It can be removed without needing reinforcement support. 

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Click here to learn more about the anatomy of a load bearing wall. 

#4 – Inspect the blueprints

If you’re having difficulty determining which ones are load bearing walls, you can always go to your local county records office and request the original blueprints of the house.

A load bearing wall should be easily identifiable on the blueprints.

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You’ll want to take into account any remodeling that has occurred to the home after it was originally built.

Even with the blueprints, you might need professional help decoding what they mean and which walls are safe to remove.

 

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Step 5 Check the Center of the House

On the 1st and 2nd floors of the house, locate any wall that sits comparatively in the center of the house and parallel above the center basement beam. Those are most likely load bearing walls.

What If A Wall Is Likely Load Bearing or Non Load Bearing?

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The significance of load bearing walls is not one you want to ignore. After all, a home needs multiple load-bearing walls or it will collapse. Non bearing walls can be removed and won’t affect the integrity of the home.

But a load-bearing wall cannot simply be removed unless you are willing to risk the safety of your family. One can be removed, but only as a new one is built to replace it. 

Check Door and Window Headers

Another clue as to whether or not your wall is load bearing is to check any door headers on the wall in question. If you don't know the what headers are, they are framings located above door or window openings that help to redistribute weight from the floor above (around the window or door).

If we look at the top of the door frame in figure 5, we will see (more or less) solid pieces of wood above the door opening. This is the type of header typical in load-bearing walls. This header is composed of two 2x10s that are standing on their edge with another structure on top (top plate, cripple, etc).

This configuration provides a lot of support to the floor above and adequate weight distribution. Therefore, we can reasonably assume the wall that this door or window is attached to is load bearing.

In contrast, we can see that the header above the door in figure 6 is not as sturdy. It is composed of a single 2×10 that is laid flat. In this configuration, we can reasonably assume that the wall this door is attached to is not load bearing.

Exterior walls are almost always load bearing and typically include multiple beams and headers that give further evidence of their load-bearing capability.

More extensive ways to tell if your wall is load bearing:

The basement: 

Look for the main structural beam: The main structural beam is the primary beam in the home responsible for holding up other smaller beams and other structural components. It’s always easier to find a home’s structural beam/s when the basement is unfinished versus when it is finished. This is because the beams and joists will typically be exposed. 

Look for a metal I-beam or multi-board wood beam that spans the basement. If you can see the joists, they will be running perpendicular to the beam, indicating that it is carrying significant loads in the home. Any walls directly above those beams are probably load bearing. This is also true for walls directly above each other on different floors. 

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Finished basements may have beams or poles that are hidden. If you see things like the following photos, you can infer that a load bearing beam is being concealed for aesthetic reasons. 

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Remember, walls on top of a structural beam are most likely load bearing. 

Example of a load bearing wall sitting on top of a
Example of a load bearing wall sitting on top of a bearing beamSource

Check the Attic: 

Rafters and truss systems: We recommend checking out your attic to gain some insight into your home’s structural system and load bearing walls. Rafters and trusses can dictate how loads are distributed within a home.

For instance, if you notice braces bearing down onto walls or or ceiling joists stopping and starting over a wall, it’s highly likely those walls are load bearing. 

The photo below shows both of the scenarios mentioned above indicating that the wall below (depicted in orange) is load bearing. 

Can you imagine what would happen if this wall was removed?

Attic braces bearing down on the wall and joists s
Attic braces bearing down on the wall and joists stopping and starting on the wall indicate that the wall is load bearing. Source

4 Ways toDetermine if a Wall Is Weight Bearing

There are many ways to discover if a wall is load bearing or not, from identifying the relationship of joists and beams to checking blueprints. Aside from the external walls of a house — which are almost always load bearing — it can be difficult to make an accurate identification.

If you would like to ensure that you’ve correctly identified a load bearing wall, it’s best to hire a qualified contractor to inspect and remove the wall, according to Dave Jones, Content Director at BuyersAsk.com.

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com
  “I would say find a structural engineer. They’ll be able to tell how additions or structural remodels may have changed how your home holds weight. If you can’t get a structural engineer, an architect or contractor would be up next.”

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com  

1. Check Your Home’s Blueprints

Take a peek at the instructions on how your house was built. You can usually get a copy of the blueprints from your city or county clerk for a small fee. Check out the framing plan and basement floor plan. These spots will give you an idea of joist direction and may even label your load bearing walls.

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com“Blueprints are always a great place to look. It’s going to show you not only a lot about the structure, but any changes to your home. And if there’s no construction permits on file, that could be a red flag to have things checked out and make sure any alterations aren’t bad.”

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com

2. Look for Extra Wall Support

Reinforcement posts and columns are obvious in a basement or attic, but on other floors, they are not always as noticeable. Ways to identify potential extra wall support in finished areas of a home include:

  • Pillars at the seam of two walls.
  • Extra supports around door and window frames.
  • Half-walls with pillars extended to the ceiling.

3. Identify if the Wall Runs Through Multiple Levels

If you have walls built in the same place on each floor of the home, those walls are all most likely load bearing. Keep in mind that these walls can still include door frames, built-in shelving and other functional or decorative structural elements. The key is noting that the walls are directly on top of each other throughout the floors of your home.

4. Use Joists and Beams in the Basement and Attic

If you’ve ever been in an unfinished basement or attic, you’ve probably seen joists and beams before, even if you didn’t realize it. But when you’re looking and all you see is a bunch of wood or metal, how do you know what joists are and how to find support beams?

  • Joists are the many pieces of wood or metal that run parallel to each other for the length of a room to support the floor above.
  • Beams are thicker pieces of wood or metal that can be either horizontal or vertical and intersect the joists to help move the weight of the home toward the foundation.
Joists
Beams
  • Transfer load of floors above to a beam or wall.
  • Used often throughout the construction of a ceiling or floor.
  • Attach directly to or sit on top of beams to transfer weight horizontally through the house.
  • Can be vertical or horizontal, depending on location.
  • Transfer load to columns or foundation.
  • Attach to walls or pillars to transfer weight vertically through the structure of a house.

Pro-Tip: Need help identifying your joists and beams? Check out our infographic to see some of the common ways they connect.

How to Find a Load Bearing Wall From the Basement

The basement is the best place to start when you n

The basement is the best place to start when you need to determine if a wall is weight bearing.

Look up at the ceiling of your basement and – if it’s unfinished – you’ll see a bunch of thinner joists and a few thicker beams. The direction they are running is important.

As you’re looking, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the joists perpendicular to the wall on the floor above? Or, put simply, if the wall above runs North-South, do the joists run East-West?
  • Is there a beam, wall or pillar underneath a wall on the floor above?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, the wall on the floor above is most likely load bearing.

How to Recognize a Load Bearing Wall From the Attic

If you don’t have a basement or have a finished ce

If you don’t have a basement or have a finished ceiling, take a look at your home’s structure from the attic.

In the attic, look down at the ceiling joists and ask yourself these questions:

  • If you pushed the joists down to the floor below, would they hit a wall?
  • Is there a beam or roof support located directly above a wall below?
  • Is the ridge of the roof directly above a wall on the floor below?

As with the basement, if you answered yes to those questions, the wall on the floor below is most likely load bearing.

How To Build A Partition

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This building method works both for load-bearing walls above the sub-level, and on partitions that are non-load-bearing. This is actually one of the easiest steps of building a house and is a great thing to practice with beginners. 

Measuring Space

The first thing you should do is measure the space where the wall will go. Remember that if a door will be in the wall, you need to keep the top board solid while accommodating for the door with partial studs. 

Measure across the floor and ceiling to make sure they are the same length. In older homes, sometimes the floor and ceiling will be different which makes things much more difficult. After you measure this, measure the vertical space on the left and right. 

Horizontal Boards

You will need two horizontal boards that run the length of the space you measured. Measure the space and the boards at least twice before cutting. Then measure the mark you made. Then, cut the two boards. 

Cutting Studs 

Studs will need to be placed every 16 inches. So, mark the horizontal boards every 16 inches. It’s okay if the end is less than 16 inches, it’s better to be less than more. So, add an extra if need be. Then, start cutting.

Each board will need to be the same length. It’s important to remember to take out three inches for the 2x4s on top and bottom. So if your ceiling is 70″ then cut the studs to be 67″ to accommodate them.

Screwing Studs In

After all the boards are cut, screw the two end boards on. This will ensure that you don’t leave an overhang. You can place the boards where they should go and leave them while you screw the others in. 

Use two screws for each end of each board, so four screws per board. It’s important everything is flush or else you won’t be able to screw anything else in, including drywall, properly. Take your time and do things right. 

Placing Support Walls

Build the wall while it is laying down on the floor where it should go when you’re done. When you finish screwing all of the boards in, then you can begin putting the wall up. 

When it is in place, use a rubber mallet to make sure that it is level. Hold the level on each side and hammer the wall with a mallet until it is in place. 

Now you’re done.  Don’t forget to mark it either way so no one else will have trouble identifying load-bearing walls in this home again. 

Look Above

If a wall doesn’t have any walls, posts, or other supports directly above it, it’s far less likely that it’s load-bearing. This is also true when looking in the attic. If you have an unfinished attic, but see knee walls (walls under a metre in height that support the roof rafters) those are likely directly above a load-bearing wall as well.

Here’s a great example of looking at all of these different clues to determine if a wall is load-bearing:

For those of us who don’t do structural calculations every day, it’s not an exact science, but understanding the principles behind load-bearing walls can help determine when to call in the pros.

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