​How to spot a load-bearing wall

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
MIDE architetti Rustic style living room
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When imagining a house or other structure being renovated, we usually see walls being torn down to make more space, right? Well, even though that is part and parcel of a decent renovation, not every wall can be demolished as easily, especially not one playing the important part of a load-bearing wall, which is a wall that bears the weight of the house above it, resting upon it by conducting its weight to a foundation structure.  

Thus, before you start thinking about knocking down a wall to make more room, better check first if that wall shouldn’t stay exactly where it is.

1. Start at the lowest point

To determine which walls in your house are load-bearing ones, start at the most basic load-bearing feature of any home—the foundation. Start in your home’s basement, if it has one. 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, which must not be removed.

Remember that most home's exterior walls are load bearing. Regardless of whether it’s made of wood, brick or another material, nearly all exterior walls will extend right into the concrete; thus, you may want to think twice before knocking down an external load-bearing wall. 

2. Locate the beams

Begin to look for thick, sturdy pieces of wood/metal called beams. These account for the majority of your house's load, which they transfer into the foundation. Remember that beams often stretch through multiple floors and 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 check out the construction documents or floor plans, or contact the builder/another professional to help you locate them. Beams are often easiest to find in an unfinished basement (or attic) where portions of the structure are exposed.

3. Check for floor joists

Look for the points where a beam meets the ceiling – 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.

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.

4. Follow internal walls up through your structure

Begin at the basement or first floor and locate your home’s internal 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, chances are that it’s 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.

5. Look out for internal walls near your home’s centre

The bigger a house, the farther apart its load-bearing exterior walls will be – which means the more load-bearing internal walls there will need to be to support the floor. Often, these load bearing walls are roughly near the centre of the house, as this is the point farthest away from the exterior walls.  

Look for an internal wall that's near the relative centre of your house. There's a good chance this wall is load bearing, especially if it runs parallel to a central basement support beam.

homify hint: Remember that stud walls are popular in the construction of UK homes, and that some of them can also be load-bearing (or semi-load bearing) stud walls. 

6. 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, the wall itself will often 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.

Even though some of these structural features may appear decorative, be sceptical—often, painted columns or narrow, embellished wooden structures can conceal beams that are highly important for a building's structural integrity.

7. Look for steel girders or post- and beam construction

Builders will sometimes use special load-bearing structures (like steel support girders and post- and beam construction) instead of relying on load-bearing 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, we advise that you check with the builder of your home. 

Can a load bearing wall be removed?

Solarsense Zero Carbon Home Askew Cavanna Architects Modern corridor, hallway & stairs
Askew Cavanna Architects

Solarsense Zero Carbon Home

Askew Cavanna Architects

During renovation or remodelling projects, knocking down an external load bearing wall might seem like the simple option for extending a room or opening out an area into the garden or backyard. While it can be done in some cases, without damaging the structure of the house, it’s best not to undertake it as a DIY project. Consulting a professional contractor or engineer is advisable to prevent costly mistakes.

Whether it’s for breaking down walls or load-bearing stud wall constructions, UK cities have specific permits and processes, which often include submission of structural plans as well as structural evaluations. That’s why we recommend working with an experienced design professional, like an Architect, who is aware of all the requirements of the city.

The pros of knocking down a load-bearing wall (part 1)

Ansty Manor, Kitchen BLA Architects Country style kitchen
BLA Architects

Ansty Manor, Kitchen

BLA Architects

Take into account the cost to remove a wall in your home, as nobody is going to tear down a load-bearing wall because it’s practical. No, the advantages that come with removing a load-bearing wall are mostly convenience, function, and aesthetic. 

• It helps to increase a room’s space, like a bigger kitchen or living room.

• It allows you to keep a closer eye on the kids.

The pros of knocking down a load-bearing wall (part 2)

• It can provide you with more entertainment space. 

• It can boost your interiors’ natural lighting levels. 

• It is more conducive to a modern, open-plan layout. 

From interior ideas to exterior style, let’s see these 19 delightful decking ideas (to improve any size garden)

What other ways can you think of to locate a load-bearing wall?

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