How to Tell If a Wall is Load Bearing (a.k.a. Structural)

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Consider Hiring a Pro

Removing a load-bearing wall by yourself can result in a lot of costly mistakes. It is best to consult a licensed engineer prior to beginning work on the project.

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Is a Partial Wall Load-Bearing?

If the wall is a partial wall, meaning it stops short of an adjacent wall, it may or may not be load-bearing.

For example, the builder may have installed a microlam beam to span across the opening and carry the load above. Therefore, you cannot assume that a partial wall is a simply a partition wall.

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Building Bearing Walls

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H&L Environmental Demolition Inc

Tearing down load-bearing walls is a risky business. But building them is just as important. If you don’t have enough load-bearing walls, your house will collapse in time. You need all the support you can get. 

  • Mark Walls – Wouldn’t it be nice if the walls in the home you remodel were marked a different color if they were load-bearing? Well, be that act of random kindness to the future homeowner or your future self and mark those walls.

    You can either write structural, LB, or even just S and most people will get the picture. with a Sharpie. If you make mistakes, check out this Sharpie on wood guide. 

  • Start At The Bottom – Putting a load bearing wall on the first floor with nothing to support it below is pointless. It’s imperative that you start at the foundation. You need to make sure there are support beams below the wood foundation.

    The beams can be made out of concrete or steel, but they need to be planned before construction begins. Otherwise, someone will have to crawl under the house afterward and it will be ten times more difficult. 

Non-Load Bearing Wall-

Load-free or Non-Load Bearing walls are installed

Load-free or Non-Load Bearing walls are installed inside the house and do not support any building weight. Non-Load Bearing Wall does not bear the additional weight of a building structure; they can only bear their own weight. 

Non-Load Bearing Wall is used primarily as room dividers and in particular, do not serve any other purpose. 

One can quickly distinguish Non-Load Bearing Wall by simply looking at the beams on their roof or in the basement. When joists and beams run parallel to a wall, they are often considered non load-bearing walls. 

One can remove Non-Load Bearing Wall without compromising the safety of the building as they are not responsible for the support of gravity of your property.

It is always a good idea to take professional advice and guidance before proceeding with these actions.

Aside from the variety of private gardens, the Non-Load Bearing Wall appears only when loads are carried by other members, such as on heavy logs and other skeleton frames.

Modern steel and reinforced concrete frames require only the outer walls of the shelter and sometimes carry them down to allow easy access.

Since the wall rests on the members of the frame, it becomes a screen and admits treatment in any weatherproof material.

Traditional materials are commonly used, but simple walls of glass, plastic, alloys, wood products, etc., can work equally well. This freedom of choice even extends to the walls and offers the greatest opportunity for artistic expression.

Also, Read: How to Load Calculation on Column, Beam, Wall & Slab

How to identify load bearing walls?

Taking help from a professional is always a wise thing to do in this regard. However, there are some simple clues that can help you better understand the characteristics of the wall in question.

1. Start from the outside

Most exterior walls are load bearing. The walls with the windows can also be marked as load bearing.

2. Look for clues in the basement

2. Look for clues in the basement

The basement or the lowest level of your house is a great place to identify the load bearing walls. Any wall or structure that ends up into the foundation of the house is load bearing and shouldn’t be removed without proper precautions. 

3. Mark the beams

Beams are the thick pieces of concrete, wood or steel that often run through different floors. These beams will also be directly connected to the foundation. In case the beams are hidden, you will need to get in touch with the original builder.

4. Floor joists have a lot to tell

The walls that run parallel to floor joists are mostly not load bearing. However, the ones that run perpendicular to the joists are load bearing and should be handled carefully. 

5. The center carries the maximum load

The center of your house will have the maximum number of load bearing walls. You need to be extra cautious while dealing with even inner walls that are near the center of the building. There is a good chance that the wall is helping the house to support the weight.

Read more: Process for removing a wall between kitchen and living room

6. Size matters

Internal walls that have large ends are most likely load bearing. The large end indicates that it is hiding a beam and should be handled carefully while trying to renovate the house.

Read more: Basement support beams

7. Know the history of the house

7. Know the history of the house

If this is a house that you haven’t built, it is crucial that you get in touch with the original owners and the builder. If it has already been modified, it will be very difficult for you to understand the structure of the house just by looking at it. 

8. Look up

Most load bearing walls will support the floor or walls above it. As you scan the house from the basement to the attic, you will get a good idea of the blueprint. Be extra careful with the walls that have other walls above it. 

Read more: Removing Support Columns? Know Why Revamping Is Better

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

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Buildmax Excavation Company

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. 

Is It a Masonry Wall?

A masonry wall would appear to be load-bearing since masonry is a solid, substantial, and exceedingly strong building material. But this may not necessarily be the case. Despite its substantial look, a masonry wall may or may not be load-bearing.

The position of the masonry may point to its load-bearing capacity (e.g., is it on the exterior?). One type of masonry called manufactured stone veneer cannot support loads. As the name suggests, it is a decorative veneer, very lightweight, and prone to crumbling under stress.

Foundation walls, which are typically built of structural masonry materials, are by nature load-bearing, as their primary role is to support the weight of the house. 

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

2 – Measure wall thickness

Generally speaking, load-bearing walls are thicker than other types of wall partitions such as prefabricated wood walls. If your wall is less than 15 cm thick, it is unlikely to be a load bearing wall.

Again, you will still have to open the wall to confirm your hypothesis.

5) The Myth about Exterior Walls:

Myth: All exterior walls are load bearing. Truth: It’s common that all exterior walls in a home are load bearing, but not guaranteed. 

Many people assume that all exterior walls are load bearing, period. This is not always the case. It comes down to where the floor joists and trusses bear which varies depending on the type and style of house. 

Engineer, Stephen Hammill, P.E., drew us a simple sketch to explain. 

 House showing 4 exterior load bearing walls
House showing 4 exterior load bearing walls

Image 9 depicts a house that has floor joists and roof trusses running perpendicular to each other (top view). They are rotated 90 degrees which means the 4 exterior walls are all load bearing. 

Now, look at the picture below. Do you notice a difference in how this house is built? It’s long and skinny comparable to some ranch homes. The roof trusses/rafters and floor joists/trusses are running parallel to each other.

This means that only the two walls the roof trusses/rafters and floor joists/trusses are bearing on are load bearing.

Long home with only 2 load bearing exterior walls
Long home with only 2 load bearing exterior walls

 Aha! The myth is busted, exterior walls can be non-load bearing.  

Check the Floor Joists

If you can see the floor joists, you can gain some insight into whether the wall is load bearing. Normally, you will need to check in the basement or the attic to see floor joists. The floor joists are often perpendicular to a load bearing wall. This means that the wall will be at a 90 degree angle.

You have to think about the entire house and how it is built. Most of your house’s load will be on the beams, which are supported by load bearing walls. If the floor joists are running across in one direction, your supportive walls will be going the opposite way.

2) Anatomy of a load bearing wall

Knowing what makes a wall load bearing is essential for locating them. Notice image 2 below. This wall has a base plate (a single 2×4 or 2×6), studs (single 2×4 or 2×6), and doubled up top plate (2-2×4 or 2×6). 

There should be 2 tops plates in order to support the floor joists and prevent sagging and failure.

Floor joists (typically 2×6 up to 2×12) are structural members used for transferring loads to vertical members. 

Image 2) Sketch of a wall with floor joists runnin
Image 2) Sketch of a wall with floor joists running perpendicular and stopping on the wall. 

The floor joists in this particular photo are running perpendicular to the wall and end on this wall which indicates that it is most likely load bearing. 

If the joists were continuous over the top of the wall, depending on the loads above and below the wall, it could be non load bearing. A structural engineer would be needed to determine this. 

Here’s a great video to help explain anatomy

Considerations for Removing Walls

In general, non-structural walls can be removed without any reinforcement to the building’s structure or the floors and roof above.

For load bearing walls, in order to remove or cut a hole in the wall, you must transfer the load around the proposed gap. This is usually achieved by installing a header below the joists or roof structure and running supports on each end of the header down to the load-bearing member under the floor below.

In some installations, you can avoid having a header at the top of the doorway by installing the header in-line with the joists using joist hangers. This installation is more complicated and only works if the header (rim joist) to be installed can be the same width or less that the size of the lumber used for the joists. This decision is affected by the span distance of the gap and the unavailable space on the floor above.

Either of these latter two operations we would reserve for a licensed contractor under the supervision of a structural engineer.

UsiHome: your partner for renovation and construction projects

In conclusion, before thinking about knocking down a wall in your home to clear the space, you need to make sure that it is not a load-bearing wall. You can do this by using one of the 5 methods presented above.

But for peace of mind, you can also count on our experts in wood framing components to assess the feasibility of your project. As soon as you send us the plans for your project, we can review them. If we notice any problems, we will recommend solutions tailored to your needs and budget.

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