What To Know About Load-Bearing Walls

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Not all walls are created equal. Learn about the importance of load-bearing walls and how to identify them in your home.

The walls of your home do more than just separate rooms or keep the elements and intruders at bay. Certain walls also serve the essential function of keeping your home standing. These all-important walls are known as load-bearing walls.

Removing a wall can be a tempting DIY project, but mistakenly removing a load-bearing wall can cause significant structural damage to your home and render it unsafe. Before removing any wall, determine if it is load-bearing, and if so, leave it alone. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Load-Bearing Wall?

A load-bearing wall (AKA structural wall) supports the weight of the structures above it, such as the roof and the upper floors of multi-story homes. The weight of the structures they support is often referred to as the “load,” and load-bearing walls are designed to transfer the force of the load down into the home’s foundation.

Non load-bearing walls (AKA partition or curtain walls) don’t serve any structural purpose and are primarily used as room dividers.

Why Are Load-Bearing Walls Necessary?

Essentially, load-bearing walls keep your home from caving in on itself. Removing one of these walls without the necessary precautions will substantially compromise the structural integrity and safety of your home.

Before a load-bearing wall can be removed, temporary walls need to be installed on either side of it to support the load it’s bearing. A structural beam then needs to be installed underneath or in-between the ceiling joists where the load-bearing wall was located. This beam needs to possess the same load-bearing capacity as the wall it’s replacing, and should ideally be selected by an engineer.

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How Can You Tell If a Wall Is Load Bearing?

You should always consult with a general contractor, architect or structural engineer to determine if a wall is load-bearing before you remove it. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that a wall might be load-bearing. You can discover these by inspecting the wall’s framing from your attic, basement or the home’s blueprints.

  • Exterior walls. Exterior walls around the outside perimeter of your home are typically load-bearing.

  • Stacked walls in a multi-story home. Interior walls that are located directly on top of one another are usually load-bearing. You can either view your home’s blueprints to see which walls are directly on top of each other, or measure the distance between the exterior and interior walls on each floor. If each interior wall is the same distance away from the exterior wall, they are probably load-bearing.

  • Walls that run perpendicular to the ceiling joists. Walls that run perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the ceiling joists are load-bearing. Walls that run parallel (in the same direction) as the ceiling joints are non load-bearing.

  • Ceiling joists are spliced over the wall. Interior load-bearing walls will often have the ends of ceiling joists meet and overlap (AKA splice) over the wall.

  • Support structures under the wall. Walls with a beam, column or jack posts directly underneath them are likely load-bearing.

  • The wall is marked with an “S” on the blueprints. Load-bearing walls will often be marked with an “S” (for structural).

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James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.