How Can I Determine if a Wall Is Load-Bearing?

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated December 22, 2021
Measuring height of child on a big wall, open concept kitchen
Photo: pixelfit / E+ / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Before tackling a remodeling project, there are a few ways to tell if the wall is load-bearing or not

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Nothing feels like opening the door to a spacious and inviting open-concept home. If you’re looking to  transform your home into an open-concept style, you might need to tear down some walls. But not all walls are created equal; some serve a structural function. Learn more about the load-bearing walls and how to identify them in your home before making any big demolition plans. 

What is a Load-Bearing Wall?

A load-bearing wall supports the weight of the building and distributes it from the roof through the floors down to the foundation. In contrast, a non-load-bearing wall is only responsible for holding itself up, which makes removing a non-load-bearing wall (also called a “curtain wall”) much simpler.

It is possible to bring down the entire house by removing just one load-bearing wall. This is why most professionals would advise against tearing down walls if you are unsure whether it’s load-bearing or not. 

“If you are removing a load-bearing wall, it’s best to consult with a structural engineer,” says Bob Tschudi, home remodeling expert and general contractor. “They will not only identify structural components to the house, but specify what is needed to support that load, including concrete piers in the crawlspace and the proper support, such as a laminated veneer lumber (LVL) beams.”

How to Tell if The Wall is Load-Bearing?

While a professional should confirm it, there are several tips to identify the load-bearing wall yourself.

Original Blueprints

Spotting a load-bearing wall can be more difficult in some houses than in others. But if you have the original blueprints of your home, walls marked as “S” for structural are load-bearing walls.

Floor and Ceiling Joists

Floor and ceiling joists are a series of long wooden boards spanning the length of the foundation or ceiling. The joists underneath the floor offer upwards support, or from upstairs to transfer the load from the roof down to the wall.

Check the ceiling of an unfinished house or basement for floor joists. When the floor joists run perpendicular to a connecting wall, in this case, this wall is almost always load-bearing. Meanwhile, if the wall runs parallel to the floor joists above, it is not a load-bearing wall.

The Foundation

From the basement or crawlspace, which are the closest point to your home’s foundation, notice the load-bearing walls, which are usually located directly above a foundation or slab and are connected to the foundation. 

“In the middle of the building are several foundational piers. Piers are required to be installed under a structural wall, so this is a good way to determine if a wall is structural,” says Bob Tschudi. “The load of the structural wall is supported by a pier and below that pier is a much wider concrete footing.”

The Attic

The joists in your attic come down to where the roof rafters and trusses are. Look for walls directly beneath attic beams and columns and go to the floor below; those are likely to be load-bearing walls.

Beams

Check your ceiling to identify any beams that run across the house. Any walls beneath these beams are most likely load-bearing.

Walls

Load-bearing walls tend to be stacked on top of each other at different levels in your home to transfer loads from one level to the next. Look for walls on top of each other to identify load-bearing ones.

Door and Window Headers

Headers above doors and windows will help support the structure and redistribute weight from the floor above to the window or door. So, we can assume that this door or window is attached to a load-bearing wall.

Exterior Walls

Exterior walls are almost always load-bearing. They typically include multiple beams and headers that give further aid to load-bearing support.

A Professional

It's not always possible to recognize the load-bearing walls yourself, especially when floor joists and beams sit behind drywall and panels.

It's always a better idea to consult with professionals to determine load-bearing walls and inspect your house before tearing down any walls. Hire a structural engineer to inspect your walls and provide a safe work plan for your local contractor to follow.

Why is it Important to Identify Load-Bearing Walls?

Open concept living room, kitchen and dining room
Photo: hikesterson / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Identifying load-bearing walls is crucial if you want to create an open-concept floor plan or remove an existing wall. Before you grab the sledgehammer, it's necessary to know the difference between load-bearing or non-load-bearing to avoid critical structural damage. 

If you're in a situation where your ideal home design requires removing a load-bearing wall, you'd be happy to know that it's possible to knock down the load-bearing wall. However, adding another structural support—such as beams or columns—is essential to carry the weight that was supported by the wall.

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