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How To Identify A Load Bearing Wall In Your Home

What Is a Load Bearing Wall and Why Is It Important?

Load bearing walls, also known as weight bearing walls, are a critical structural element in your home. To put it simply, these walls do exactly what their name implies — they hold the weight of the building.

Think of these walls as a network of load distributors that take all the weight from the house and transfer it into the foundation. They are the key to keeping a house standing.

Can a Load Bearing Wall Be Removed?

The short answer is yes. But the process of removing a load bearing wall is complicated.

According to Dave Jones, Content Director at BuyersAsk.com, plenty of less than ideal things can happen if a load bearing wall isn’t removed properly. “You can see sagging ceilings and floors, doors or windows that all of a sudden start sticking and cracks that form in drywall,” Jones said. “Sometimes you can see changes in a few days. Sometimes it takes months or years. There’s really no for-sure time frame.”

Jones added that if you notice some of these warning signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a weight bearing wall was removed. Remember, houses naturally settle over time. That means sticking windows and doors or cracks in drywall will happen.

Dave Jones, BuyersAsk.com“It’s when those get severe, that there’s possibly an issue. Vertical cracks in drywall are normal and usually at the seam. It takes a lot of force to horizontally crack drywall. That’s when you might need to worry.”

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com

 

If the bearing wall must go, you need to have a plan. It doesn’t matter how much or little of the load bearing wall you plan on removing, the weight needs to be redistributed. Often, a beam known as a header or wall-to-floor-pillars get installed to compensate.

Before you remove a load bearing wall, you need to know how to identify them. Let’s walk through the steps you’ll need to take for this project.

How to Determine if a Wall Is Weight Bearing

From identifying the relationship of joists and beams to checking blueprints, there are many ways to discover if a wall is load bearing or not. 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.

BuyersAsk.com logo“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
 

Joists and Beams — The Key to Deciding Whether or Not a Wall Is Load Bearing

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.

Other differences between joists and beams include:

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.

Infographic helping people identify load bearing walls from the basement with joists and beams identified.

How to Find a Load Bearing Wall From the Basement

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.

Infographic helping people identify load bearing walls from the attic with beams, joists and roof supports identified.

How to Recognize a Load Bearing Wall From the Attic

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.

Other Ways to Determine if a Wall Is Weight Bearing

While the joists and beams of your home are a good start to identify load bearing walls, there are other options:

  • Check the 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 (found in the structure section usually labeled with an “S”). These spots will give you an idea of joist direction and may even label your load bearing walls.
  • 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. Pillars at the seam of two walls may look decorative, but they could indicate extra support for a weight bearing wall.
  • See 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.

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

Safety-Tip: Removal of a load bearing wall can be extremely dangerous and should be done by trained professionals.

Is Your Wall Safe to Demo?

Checked out your joists, beams and blueprints? If you’re confident that it's safe, it’s time to tear that wall down. As you’re opening your room to a new realm of possibilities, we suggest a residential dumpster rental to haul away your debris. Remember, most curbside collection services won’t take construction debris because it’s too heavy.

Hiring a professional to handle tearing down the wall or perform a home remodel? Check out our tips on how to stay in your home as it is remodeled around you.