Open-plan houses are popular amongst many homeowners. More and more people seek to renovate or extend their homes to facilitate an open structure that creates more space and brings in more natural light.
If you want to remove a wall in your home, you need first to determine if it is a load-bearing wall or not, as this will have implications on how you need to manage its removal, even if only temporarily. Some internal walls can be removed quickly and easily, but load-bearing walls cannot.
So what is a load-bearing wall? Why are they important? And how can you tell if a wall is load-bearing?
Join us as we find answers to these questions and more.
What is a load-bearing wall?
A load-bearing wall – sometimes known as a structural wall – is a wall that supports the structure of a building and holds a significant portion of its weight from the top of the building down to the bottom. Load-bearing walls are key to the structural integrity of a building, and removing them without due care and consideration will likely lead to severe damage or even collapse.
Due to the integrity of load-bearing walls for a building’s support, you need to be able to ascertain which walls are load-bearing and which are not.
So let’s jump in and find out how to do that.
How can you tell if a wall is load-bearing?
Identifying load-bearing walls is possible, but it is not always as simple as just looking at them. While you can hire the services of a professional builder, surveyor, or architect to help you locate the load-bearing walls in your property, there are also a few signs you can identify yourself.
- Look for walls above it. Load-bearing walls often have other walls, posts, or support beams directly above them. Similarly, if you can see a knee wall (a small wall supporting the roof) or ceiling joists (a horizontal beam that sits beneath the ceiling) directly above or connected to a wall, it is likely load-bearing.
- Look below it. If you can see the floor joists on the ground beneath the wall, check the direction they run in. You can usually see the floor joists from the basement ceiling and looking up to the floor above or by looking down to the floor below from the attic. Load-bearing walls are usually perpendicular to the floor joists.
- Exterior walls. Outside walls must be load-bearing as they need to support the roof of the building. However, if a house has had extensions or renovations, some of the walls that are now interior walls might have once been exterior walls (or external walls) and will still be load-bearing.
- Check the floor plan. The floor plan of a property should be able to help you identify load-bearing walls. Check to see if walls on different floors are directly stacked on top of one another. If they are, the lower-level walls are likely load-bearing.
- Check the central internal walls. If you have a big house with an internal wall at the centre of it, it could well be load-bearing. The bigger a house is, the further apart the exterior walls are, and it may, therefore, need an additional load-bearing wall in the middle. If your central internal wall is parallel to a central basement support beam, then it is probably a load-bearing wall.
- Check for steel girders and beams. Builders will sometimes use a steel girder or a vertical beam in addition to a load-bearing wall. This can also often mean that any surrounding walls are also load-bearing as they combine with the girder or beam to provide support.
- Ask a professional. You can always contact a builder, structural engineer, or another construction professional to determine if a wall is load-bearing or not. If the property has recently been renovated, then see if you can contact the tradespeople who worked on it at that time, as they will have a good understanding of the house.
- Racking or buttressing walls. Some walls might not hold loads from the roof, upper walls, or floors and may appear non-load bearing. However, the wall may still provide horizontal stability, so they should be treated as load-bearing walls too.
Can you remove load-bearing walls?
If you want to build an extension, knock down a wall, or renovate your property, you may need to determine if certain walls are load-bearing before you remove them. Load-bearing walls can be removed, but it requires careful and professional consideration before doing so to ensure the structural integrity of the building remains in place.
You (or your builder) will need to create temporary supports on both sides of the wall before you remove it to maintain the support of the load it bears. You will also have to put in additional supports or beams to carry the weight of the structure above it.
A non-load-bearing wall can usually be removed without the need to create additional support, but you should always seek the advice of a structural engineer if you are unsure.
If you are unsure as to which walls in your home are load-bearing and which are not, make sure you get a professional inspection. If you need to remove a load-bearing wall, hire a builder to do it, as getting it wrong could lead to your home collapsing.
Increasing numbers of homeowners are constructing a more open-plan design in their homes as they make the house feel bigger and fill it with natural light. An open-plan design is feasible in most buildings, but you need to know which walls are load-bearing and which are not before you make any modifications, as improper removal can damage the structural integrity of the building.
Follow our guide to locate the load-bearing walls in your home and make sure any renovations you undertake are done safely and properly.