How to Tell If a Wall Is Load-Bearing

Load bearing wall with exposed ceiling and wooden structures

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Major home remodels often need to have walls removed. Removing walls is a big, expensive, and contractor-driven project, but it usually has big rewards, too. Removing walls lets you expand bedrooms into suites, expand a children's room, enlarge the kitchen, or turn a cramped living room into a spacious area you'll love to spend time in.

If you have remodeling plans that include removing or altering a wall, you must determine whether the wall is load-bearing or non-load-bearing. Any part of a load-bearing wall that is removed must be replaced with suitable structural support, such as a beam and/or columns to bear the same load that was supported by the wall.

Load-Bearing Wall

Load-bearing walls support the weight of a floor or roof structure above and are so named because they can support a significant amount of weight. By contrast, a non-load-bearing wall, sometimes called a partition wall, is responsible only for holding itself up, plus a few lightweight items like shelves, pictures, and interior doors.

Several clues can help you can check on a wall's load-bearing status preliminary to having a professional check on it. You can do this without removing drywall or other invasive measures, though you may need to peek into the attic to check on the direction of the joists.

1:41

Watch Now: How to Tell If a Wall Is Load-Bearing

Is the Wall Parallel or Perpendicular to Joists?

Generally, when the wall in question runs parallel to the floor 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 is load-bearing.

However, there are cases where a bearing wall is parallel to the joists. In this case, the wall may be aligned directly under a single joist or bear on blocking between two neighboring joists.

Wooden joints exposed in ceiling of load bearing wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

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.

Fire stove in front of microlam beam of partial wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Is an Exterior Wall Load-Bearing?

Exterior walls are walls that form the perimeter, or outer footprint, of a house. Exterior walls are almost always load-bearing. Where there are windows and doors, the walls include beams, or headers, spanning across the tops of the openings. Posts on either side of the openings support the beams. 

A house will rarely have an entire stretch of an 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 since I-beams or large laminated structural beams need to be used.

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.

Balcony HDR
© by Martin Deja / Getty Images

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. 

Masonry wall behind fire stove as load bearing wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Is There a Support Structure Below the Wall?

If the wall is on the first floor of the house, and there is a basement or crawlspace below, you can check in the lower level to see if there is another wall or other supporting member (piers, beams, columns, jack posts, etc.) directly below and following the same path as the wall above.

If there is no support structure below the wall, the wall might be non-load-bearing. If the wall is, in fact, load-bearing and there is no support structure, this portion of the house is in danger of collapse.

Construction Site: Neat Clean Crawlspace, Floor Joists, and Pony Wall
Double_Vision / Getty Images

Warning

You should consult with a building professional, such as a carpenter, architect, or structural engineer, to confirm that a wall is load-bearing or non-load-bearing. In most municipalities, a permit will be required before removing a load-bearing wall.