How to Tell if a Wall Is Load Bearing in a Single Story House

History of Load Bearing Walls

First, a little background.

Load bearing masonry construction was common in building construction beginning in the 1700s. It was practiced until the mid-20th century. Today, it is applied solely to residential construction.

Basically, it consists of thick, heavy brick or stone walls that support entire structures. The walls include horizontal floor slabs, reinforced with concrete, wood, or steel members. In Europe, for example, with traditional load bearing structures, floor slabs are horizontal wooden beams, joists, and planks.

With suburban home architecture, a wall is load bearing when its load bearing capacity is at the maximum ability of a structural member or material to take loading before failure occurs. In light construction known as “platform framing.” The load-bearing walls rest on a wall sill plate, which is mated to the bottom base plate. Later, the sills are bolted to the foundation.

Differences Between Load Bearing Wall And Partition Wall

A partition wall divides space and has no responsibility to its structure and strength. When you remove one, like in an unfinished basement, for example, it will not impact a building’s structure. Even if the walls run parallel or run perpendicular, they’re more adaptable, easier to move, and cheaper.

Partition walls are made with plasterboard or plaster. The walls offer greater flexibility, they’re easy to move, and they’re cheap.  

Load bearing walls are made of timber. The mistake some people will make is when they assume they’re non load bearing walls because they’re not part of the masonry.

How to Tell If A Wall Is Load Bearing or Non Load Bearing

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If you’re thinking about removing exterior walls removing a load bearing, you tell if a wall is likely load bearing. There are a few different ways to find this out. 

When it comes to taking the wall down, it is important that you consult a professional. Even if you only consult them before getting started, it’s better than being overwhelmed with whether or not you’re keeping the structural integrity. 

Support Beams

The first thing to look for are support beams. If you have a basement, this is an easy way to spot them. Any beam or pillar in the basement has load-bearing walls above it. But if you don’t have a basement, things are more difficult.

What you can do is see if you can find a crawlspace under your home. If there is one, then you can find support walls and beams under there that will have load-bearing walls above them. Don’t remove these walls without professional help. 

Note: Most support beams are made of steel or concrete. 

Floor Joists

A floor joists are the small timbers or metal beams ranged parallel along the walls support a floor or ceiling. You might have to move up to the first floor so you can look at the floor joists. If you have open joists, then you can see them. Joists run between beams and transfer loads to vertical members. If you can’t find them you will need to use a stud-finder.

Normally, joists and studs are 16 inches apart in bearing walls. If your walls are load bearing and run perpendicular with your floor joists, then you might need have to rely on temporary walls.

Parallel Or Not

This works with floor joists or ceiling joists. If the wall runs perpendicular to the joists, then there’s a good chance that they are load-bearing. If the walls are parallel, then there’s a good chance they are not.

This is because to support the upper floors, the walls need to cover multiple joists rather than just run along one. If the wall only runs along one joist, it could slip, crack, or collapse. What this means is perpendicular walls are more likely to be load bearing. 

Go To The Top

Finally, if all else fails, you can check out the exposed rafters located directly in your attic. You’ll have to look closely for all of the clues with this method. If there are any walls up there, then the lower walls is load bearing.

Because you can also determine if the walls below are bearing by seeing any crossover boards. If the boards don’t run all the way across the ceiling, then the wall that is holding the seam up is load bearing. 

Gaps

Some exterior walls are supported on the ends. Pay special attention to your home’s blueprints for specific details the bearing walls. But all load bearing walls effect floor or roof structure designs. So, if a wall has a gap at the top, it isn’t non load bearing. 

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HOW TO TELL IF A WALL IS LOAD BEARING

Load bearing walls go down from the attic to the foundation and will have metal i-beams or multi-board beams attached. Any walls above these beams are most likely load bearing. Another indicator is that most load bearing walls run perpendicular to the floor joists, although this not always the case. Consulting a professional to alleviate the risk of accidentally removing a load bearing wall.

Related: When Do I Need a Permit for My DIY Home Remodeling Project?

Get Ready for What’s Next

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.

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Considerations for Removing Walls

In general, non-structural walls can be removed without any reinforcement to the building’s structure or the floors and roof above.

For load bearing walls, in order to remove or cut a hole in the wall, you must transfer the load around the proposed gap. This is usually achieved by installing a header below the joists or roof structure and running supports on each end of the header down to the load-bearing member under the floor below.

In some installations, you can avoid having a header at the top of the doorway by installing the header in-line with the joists using joist hangers. This installation is more complicated and only works if the header (rim joist) to be installed can be the same width or less that the size of the lumber used for the joists. This decision is affected by the span distance of the gap and the unavailable space on the floor above.

Either of these latter two operations we would reserve for a licensed contractor under the supervision of a structural engineer.

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.

© by Martin Deja / Getty Images

Non-Load Bearing Wall-

Load-free or Non-Load Bearing walls are installed

Load-free or Non-Load Bearing walls are installed inside the house and do not support any building weight. Non-Load Bearing Wall does not bear the additional weight of a building structure; they can only bear their own weight. 

Non-Load Bearing Wall is used primarily as room dividers and in particular, do not serve any other purpose. 

One can quickly distinguish Non-Load Bearing Wall by simply looking at the beams on their roof or in the basement. When joists and beams run parallel to a wall, they are often considered non load-bearing walls. 

One can remove Non-Load Bearing Wall without compromising the safety of the building as they are not responsible for the support of gravity of your property.

It is always a good idea to take professional advice and guidance before proceeding with these actions.

Aside from the variety of private gardens, the Non-Load Bearing Wall appears only when loads are carried by other members, such as on heavy logs and other skeleton frames.

Modern steel and reinforced concrete frames require only the outer walls of the shelter and sometimes carry them down to allow easy access.

Since the wall rests on the members of the frame, it becomes a screen and admits treatment in any weatherproof material.

Traditional materials are commonly used, but simple walls of glass, plastic, alloys, wood products, etc., can work equally well. This freedom of choice even extends to the walls and offers the greatest opportunity for artistic expression.

Also, Read: How to Load Calculation on Column, Beam, Wall & Slab

4 Ways toDetermine if a Wall Is Weight Bearing

There are many ways to discover if a wall is load bearing or not, from identifying the relationship of joists and beams to checking blueprints. 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, according to Dave Jones, Content Director at BuyersAsk.com.

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com
  “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  

1. Check Your Home’s 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. These spots will give you an idea of joist direction and may even label your load bearing walls.

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

2. 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. Ways to identify potential extra wall support in finished areas of a home include:

  • Pillars at the seam of two walls.
  • Extra supports around door and window frames.
  • Half-walls with pillars extended to the ceiling.

3. Identify 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. Keep in mind that these walls can still include door frames, built-in shelving and other functional or decorative structural elements. The key is noting that the walls are directly on top of each other throughout the floors of your home.

4. Use Joists and Beams in the Basement and Attic

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.
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.

How to Find a Load Bearing Wall From the Basement

The basement is the best place to start when you n

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.

How to Recognize a Load Bearing Wall From the Attic

If you don’t have a basement or have a finished ce

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.

Removing Load-Bearing Walls

When removing a load-bearing wall, you will need to replace it with a beam or lintel to carry the load and transfer it to the sides of the opening, respectively. A lintel is a beam used to support the above wall or partition material between openings to frame a building structure. The beam could now hold the floor joists on top of the joists, or they can be framed into the side of the beam. Having the joists flushed into the side of the beam will be the more costly option. This requires the installation of joist hangers at the ends of the joists and customizing the length of the joists so that they can fit within the beam. Additionally, the length and width of the beams used will be determined by calculating the load being transferred to the beam to support the width of the opening. If you are unsure about identifying load-bearing walls within your home, it is always better to contact an experienced structural engineer to do the same. You will anyways need their service to actually remove the walls and renovate your home.

After you have determined the load-bearing walls within your home, it is time to hire a professional that can assist in the renovations, especially if you decide you want to take out a load-bearing wall. Design Everest has a team of professionals that can help determine the renovation plan and provide a free quote and consultation. Contact us today to get started.

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