How to Tell If a Wall Is Load-Bearing

  • 01 of 06

    Using Common Clues to Know If a Wall Is Load-Bearing

    Artist's house in Provence, France
    Exterior walls are nearly always load-bearing walls. Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

    Load-bearing walls support the weight of a floor above or trusses for the roof. To understand the meaning of this, take that term literally: a load-bearing wall bears (or holds) the weight of something else above it. A non-load-bearing wall, sometimes called a partition wall, is responsible only for holding up itself. Many homeowners interested in creating an open plan house need to remove walls.

    When you remove a load-bearing wall, you need to provide an alternate method of supporting the weight. If you fail to do so, you risk your safety, as well as risking severe damage to the house.

    Ultimately, many homeowners should consult with a contractor or a structural engineer for the final word on the nature of the wall in question. Given the high risks involved in conjunction with the moderate consultation fee, this is a quite common and sane route for most homeowners. But most homeowners can still develop a fairly accurate picture of the wall by looking at clues that fall well short of invasive methods like peeling back drywall or taking down ceilings.

     

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  • 02 of 06

    Is a Wall Parallel to Joists Load-Bearing?

    Generally, when the wall in question runs parallel to the joists above, it is not a load-bearing wall. But if the wall runs perpendicular (at a 90-degree angle) to the joists, there is a good chance that it does bear significant loads.

    Even if a wall is parallel to the joists, it might still bear weight. Builders and especially do-it-yourself homeowners often make unexpected repairs that do not comply with building code. For example, a homeowner may have decided to rest a joist in the attic atop the parallel interior wall below.

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  • 03 of 06

    Is a Partial Wall Load-Bearing?

    Is the wall's non-continuous nature a clue to whether or not it bears loads? After all, building a continuous wall would seem like a better method of bearing loads than building a partial wall.

    Not necessarily. A wall can be non-continuous and can still be load-bearing. For example, the builder may have inserted a microlam beam above that partial break in order to create a wide doorway. This is a common practice, especially since the trend is toward open plan houses. Do not assume that a partial wall is a partition wall.

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  • 04 of 06

    Is an Exterior Wall Load-Bearing?

    Exterior walls are walls that form the perimeter, or outer footprint, or a house. Can one assume that any exterior wall bears loads and cannot be removed?

    Exterior walls nearly always are load-bearing. Exterior walls will have many expected breaks, such as windows, normally sized doors, and wide doors (such as patio doors). But these breaks are compensated by small beams called headers that are inserted above the breaks.

    A house will rarely have an entire stretch of exterior wall that is non-load-bearing. It is possible to build a house this way, but it would come at a high financial cost. Often, homes that appear to have no supporting exterior walls still do have support in the form of steel or wooden columns interspersed between the windows. Because window glass and the exterior view take visual precedence, it is easy to miss the fact that substantially sized columns are in place.

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  • 05 of 06

    Is a Masonry Wall Load-Bearing?

    A masonry wall would appear to be load-bearing since masonry is a solid, substantial, and exceedingly strong building material. Is this so?

    A masonry wall may or may not be load-bearing. The position of the masonry may point to its load-bearing capacity (i.e., 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 light-weight and prone toward crumbling under stress.

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  • 06 of 06

    Is an Unsupported Wall a Load-Bearing Wall?

    This is a situation when you have an interior wall with a basement or crawlspace below it. In that lower level, you check to see if there is another wall or other supporting device (piers, beams, columns, jack posts, etc.) directly below and following the same path at that upper wall. Your check reveals that the upper wall is unsupported. Does this mean that this wall is load-bearing or not?

    Most likely, the wall on that upper floor is not a load-bearing wall. It would be extremely unwise for the homeowner or any builder to place a load-bearing wall above unsupported space.