Identify Load Bearing Walls

Are you looking to redesign the layout of a room to create an open floor plan? If so, one of the first things to note are the “load bearing” walls. What are load bearing walls you ask? These walls hold or transfer the weight load of the structure from one section to another. If you take down part of or all of a non-load bearing wall, then what is left of the structure will stay intact. But, if you take down all or part of a load bearing wall, part or all of the structure will most likely collapse. It is crucial to know what each wall is to plan the renovation appropriately.

There are several ways to determine if a wall is a load bearing wall. Identifying load bearing walls is more difficult in newer structures than in older ones. Most of the older structures use all of the exterior walls as load bearing walls, while some much newer homes use only the front and back walls to bear the structure’s load. Never attempt to do a renovation without knowing this important information, as collapsing walls can be fatal.

Check the Basement
The best place to start looking is the lowest part of your home – in the basement. If you don’t have a basement, start at the concrete pad.

Check the Walls
Look for the walls that sit on the foundation walls. They support the weight of the roof and are load bearing walls. Any exterior wall that rests on the foundation sill is considered a load bearing structure.

Check the First Floor
While you’re in the basement, look at the first floor joists. Find the walls that run parallel to those joists. Those are non-load bearing walls.

Check the Center of the House
On the 1st and 2nd floors of the house, locate any wall that sits comparatively in the center of the house and parallel above the center basement beam. Those are most likely load bearing walls.

Check Perpendicular Walls
Most often, any wall that runs perpendicular to floor joists will be a load bearing wall, while those that lay parallel to floor joists are not.

Check Posts or Columns
Another visual cue of load bearing walls are those that end in large posts or columns. Some columns simply appear to be decorative but it probably helps support the weight of other walls and portions of the roof above.

Consult with a Professional
If you have any doubt at all as to which walls in your home are load bearing walls, consult with a professional prior to modifying your existing structure. Modifying or moving a load bearing wall without proper bracing can cause not only structural damage and collapsing wall events, but can be fatal to those inside the home.

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