How to Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing (2020)

How To Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing (Blog Cover)

When people inquire about how to tell if a wall is load bearing, they often overlook several important factors. At Contractors Society of America, we don’t like to cut corners. Instead, we like to provide accurate and up-to-date information that helps individuals succeed in their ventures throughout the United States and abroad. We believe that knowledge should be shared to empower people like you to learn and grow in your profession or to perform DIY tasks in your home or commercial property.

So what’s the deal with these walls, anyway? A load bearing wall will handle the floor weight or roofing system of the property. Walls that do not bear loads hold only its own material. These walls are known most commonly as partition walls. Whenever a renovation takes place, the contractor or DIYer must determine whether their wall is in fact load bearing. Removing a load bearing wall mandates that structural integrity must be replaced and accounted for. If not, your entire property will collapse.

Here at Contractors Society of America, we have a comprehensive directory of roofing, remodeling, and construction contractors. So for this article, we surveyed our own members. We asked them what their best tips were for telling whether or not a wall is load-bearing with the naked eye. But let’s start with the basics.

Why is Identifying a Load-Bearing Wall Important?

As you have probably already gathered, a load-bearing wall is any wall in a structure that helps transfer the weight of the roof or upper floors down to the foundation. They essentially hold the structure up. So you can’t go tearing down load-bearing walls willy-nilly. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • It’s Very Dangerous – If you tear out load-bearing walls during renovation or remodeling, the roof could start sagging and eventually fail. A sagging roof is more prone to leaks, water damage and puts undue stress on the rest of the structure. In extreme cases, the entire roofing system could collapse putting everyone inside the structure in harm’s way and causing thousands of dollars in damage. 
  • You Could Incur a Fine – In almost all states, a permit is required to tear out any load-bearing walls. So if you tear one out without getting a permit, you could risk a hefty fine from the local building authorities. How would they find out you ask? While it’s true that you could probably get away with tearing down a load-bearing wall without a permit in most cases, you better hope that you never have to sell your house. A building inspection will surely reveal the absence of necessary load-bearing walls which among other consequences, could flag local building authorities and result in fines.
  • It Damages your Home – Removing a load-bearing wall doesn’t just put stress on the rest of the structure; it can have aesthetic repercussions as well. Removing a load-bearing wall will usually damage the drywall and ceilings under the weight of the roof. The whole structure will have to contort to a certain degree which almost always results in cracked drywall and ceiling stucco.

The consequences of removing a load-bearing wall are far-reaching. Doing so can affect your ability to sell your home, your wallet and can put you and your family in danger. Now that you know why being able to identify a load-bearing wall is important, let’s get into how to tell if a wall is load bearing.

Tips for Identifying a Load Bearing Wall

Before we begin, it cannot be stressed enough that when you are in doubt, you need to call a professional. While there are certain ways to identify a load-bearing wall yourself, it is always advisable to seek the help of a professional to be on the safe side. With that caveat addressed, here are some helpful tips on how to tell if a wall is load bearing provided by our expert community of contractors:

  • Check the Floor Joists – If possible, take a look at the studs in the wall in question. If the wall is aligned parallel to the floor joists of the above floor, then that wall is probably not load-bearing. But if it is aligned at a perpendicular angle to the floor joists of the floor above (or the roof) then it is most likely a load-bearing wall. But, keep in mind that walls that run parallel to above floor joists can still be load-bearing. If you can see that the wall in question has an above wall situated on top of it, it is load-bearing.
  • Check for Structural Walls – Engineers, architects, and contractors usually refer to load-bearing walls as “structural walls.” And the best way to locate the structural walls in your building is to refer to the blueprints. If you have your blueprints handy, then you have access to the easiest way to tell if a wall is load-bearing. If a wall is marked with an “S” in your blueprints, that means the wall is load-bearing. “S” in this case stands for “structural.” If you don’t have your blueprints, you can request them from the contractor who built your home or from the county clerk. 
  • Check the Foundation – If you have access to your foundation (usually through an unfinished basement) take a look at where the I-beams or multi-board wood beams are situated. Structural walls are usually built on top of these beams.
  • Check the Ceiling – If you can, take a look at any weight supporting beams that run through it. These beams are installed to help bear the load of the roof or upper floors and structural walls are usually built underneath them. If the wall in question does not run under this beam, under a wall in an above floor or any type of post, it is most likely not a load-bearing wall.
  • Check for Knee Walls – If possible, have a look around in your attic. In particular, check to see where, if anywhere, the knee walls are installed. In most cases, load-bearing walls are built underneath knee walls in the attic. 

Last but not least, please be aware that if the wall in question is an exterior wall, it is almost certainly a load-bearing wall. So definitely don’t go knocking down any wall that shares a side with your front, side or backyard.  We hope that you have found our guide on how to tell of a wall is load bearing helpful. For more helpful tips or for professional assistance with your renovation project, contact CSOA today.