How to Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing

Three Parts:Searching for Structural CluesResearching Your BuildingGetting Outside Help

When a house is built, load bearing and non-load bearing walls are created. The difference between these walls is what you'd probably imagine - some are responsible for shouldering the structural weight of the building, while others (often called "curtain walls") are purely for dividing rooms and don't hold anything up. Before modifying any walls in your home, it's important to be very sure which walls are and aren't load bearing, as removing or modifying a load bearing wall can compromise your homes' structural stability with potentially disastrous consequences. See Step 1 below to get started finding the load bearing walls in your home.

Part 1
Searching for Structural Clues

  1. Image titled Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing Step 1
    Start at the lowest point in your house. To begin determining which walls in your house are load-bearing ones, it's best to start at the most basic load-bearing feature of any home - the foundation. If your house has a basement, start here. If not, try to start wherever on the first floor you can locate your house's lower concrete "slab."
    • Once you've reached your house's lowest point, look for walls whose beams go directly into the concrete foundation. Your house's load bearing walls transfer their structural strain into a sturdy concrete foundation, so any walls that interface directly with the foundation should be assumed to be load bearing walls and should not be removed.
    • Additionally, most home's exterior walls are load bearing. You should see this at the foundation level - whether wood, stone, or brick, nearly all exterior walls will extend right into the concrete.
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    Locate the beams. Begin to look for thick, sturdy pieces of wood or metal called beams. These account for the majority of your house's load, which they transfer into the foundation. Beams often stretch through multiple floors and thus can be parts of multiple walls. If your beam spans from the foundation through any wall above it, the wall is load bearing and should not be removed.
    • Except for in unfinished rooms, most beams will be behind drywall, so be ready to consult construction documents or contact the builder if you cannot find them. Beams are often easiest to find in an unfinished basement (or attic) where portions of the structure are exposed.
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    Look for floor joists. Look at the point where a beam meets the ceiling (if you're in the basement, this will be the underside of the first floor of your home, while if you're on the first floor, this will be the underside of the second floor). You should see long supports spanning the length of the ceiling which are called floor joists because they support the floor of the room above. If any of these joists meet a wall or a main support beam at a perpendicular angle, they are transferring the weight of the floor above into the wall and, thus, the wall is load bearing and should not be removed.
    • Again, because most walls' supports are behind drywall, they can't be seen. To determine whether certain floor joists in your house run perpendicular to a given wall, you may need to remove a number of floorboards in the floor above the wall so you have an unimpeded view to look down at the supports.
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    Follow internal walls up through your structure. Starting at the basement (or, if you don't have one, the first floor), locate your internal walls, which, as you can probably guess, are the walls inside your four external walls. Follow each internal wall up through the floors of your home - in other words, locate exactly where a wall is on a lower floor, then go to the floor above that spot to see whether the wall stretches through two floors. Pay attention to what is directly above the wall. If there is another wall, a floor with perpendicular joists, or other heavy construction above it, it is probably a load bearing wall.
    • However, if there is an unfinished space like an empty attic without a full floor, the wall probably is not bearing a load.
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    Check for internal walls near the center of the house. The bigger a house is, the farther apart its load bearing exterior walls will be and, thus, the more load bearing internal walls there will need to be to support the floor. Often, these load bearing walls are roughly near the center of the house because the center of the house is the farthest point from any of the exterior walls. Look for an internal wall that's near the relative center of your house. There's a good chance this wall is load bearing, especially if it runs parallel to a central basement support beam.[1]
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    Look for internal walls with large ends. Internal load bearing walls can incorporate the house's main support beams into the construction of the wall itself. However, because these support beams are relatively large compared to non-load bearing studs, often, the wall itself will be designed to accommodate the extra size of the beam. If an internal wall has a large boxy section or an enlarged column at its end, this may be concealing a main structural support beam, a sign that the wall is load bearing.
    • Some of these structural features may appear decorative, but be skeptical - often, painted columns or narrow, embellished wooden structures can conceal beams that are highly important for a building's structural integrity.[2]
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    Look for steel girders or post and beam construction. Sometimes, rather than rely on load bearing interior walls, builders use special load-bearing structures like steel support girders and and post and beam constructions to transfer part or all of a building's weight to the exterior walls. In these cases, there is a chance (but not a guarantee) that nearby interior walls may not be load bearing. Look for the signs of big, sturdy wooden or metal structures crossing a room's ceiling and intersecting a wall that you know is load bearing or an external wall, like boxy horizontal protrusions crossing the ceiling. If you see these, nearby internal walls may not be load bearing.
    • This method can give you a clue of where non-load bearing walls might be, but you can't be sure without checking the walls themselves. If you're unsure, check with the builder to be sure that this was the type of construction used.
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    Look for evidence that the house has been modified. Many houses, especially old ones, have been modified, expanded, and remodeled several times. If this is the case with your house, a former external wall may now be an internal wall. If so, this innocuous-looking internal wall can be load bearing for the original structure. If you have any reason to believe your house has been significantly modified, it's best to contact the original builder, just to be sure that your external walls are your real external walls.

Part 2
Researching Your Building

  1. Image titled Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing Step 9
    Find the original building plans, if they are available to you. Depending on the construction of your house, it may be impossible to accurately guess which walls are load bearing and which are not. In this case, your house's original blueprints or building plans can be a valuable resource. A house's blueprints can give you an idea of where support beams lie, which walls were the original exterior walls, and more. You can use this information to inform your decisions when it comes to designating certain walls as load bearing.
    • It's not at all uncommon for homeowners not to possess a copy of their home's original blueprints. Luckily, blueprints for your home may be found:
      • At the county clerk's office
      • In the possession of the original owners
      • In the possession of the original builder and/or contracting company
    • Finally, it's possible to commission a re-drawing of your home's blueprint from an architect. This, however, can be costly.
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    Study your blueprints. Procure your house's original blueprint and invest an appropriate amount of time in determining whether a wall you're not sure about is load bearing. Look for the clues listed above - does it contain a major support beam? Are floor joists connected parallel to it? Was it an original external wall? Never tear down a wall until you're confident it's not load bearing, as even experienced home improvement experts can't always tell where a load bearing wall is solely based on visual cues. See wikiHow's guide on reading architectural drawings for more information.
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    Understand the effect of modifications to the home. Generally, the more renovations your home has had, the harder it will be to tell which walls are load bearing and which are not. During home renovations, non-load bearing walls can be made to bear weight (and vice versa). For instance, hanging or cutting ceiling joists, adding stairways, and adding attic rooms usually require the changing of non-load bearing walls to load bearing walls. Take these changes into account when deciding which walls are load bearing - if your blueprints show walls that don't exist anymore or you see walls in your home which don't appear in the blueprint, figure out what kinds of modifications have been done before proceeding.
    • If you're unsure about your home's history of renovations, contact previous owners and builders for more information.

Part 3
Getting Outside Help

  1. Image titled Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing Step 12
    Call the original builder, if you can. The person (or company) that built your house can clue you in on the exact structure of the house. If construction was recent, they may not even charge you for a quick call or consultation. Even if they do, keep in mind that a relatively small fee is nothing compared to the disastrous structural damage that can result from tearing down a load bearing wall.
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    Call a building inspector if you have any doubts. If you can't figure out which walls are load bearing and no one you call seems to know, you may want to hire a professional building inspector. Paying for an hour of a building inspector's time is definitely worth it if you want to remodel safely.
    • Home inspections typically cost several hundred dollars.[3] This rate can vary depending on the market and the size of the house - some high-end estimates can be as high as $1,000.
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    Hire a home remodel consultant. Some independent companies offer their services to help would-be home improvers decide how to proceed with their project. These companies may employee construction managers, interior decorators, and other experienced home improvement experts. When it comes to modifying a wall that you're not sure is load bearing, these companies may be able to tell you what changes are possible, what changes are unsafe, or even answer the question of whether the wall is load bearing or not outright. If you're interested in this route, research companies in your area online to ensure you pick a credible, reliable company.
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    Above all, use caution. Avoid removing a wall yourself unless you are extremely confident it is not bearing a load. As stated before, removing a load bearing wall can cause structural weakening and even potentially life-threatening structural collapse. Keep in mind that renovations are semi-permanent, so removing non-load bearing walls may change what additions you can make to your home in the future.

Things You'll Need

  • Building blueprints
  • Remodeling information
  • Builder
  • Building inspector

Article Info

Categories: Interior Walls Ceilings and Floors