How to Identify a Load Bearing Wall
Last modified: 2018/10/05 | Approximate reading time 3 mins
Need help identifying a load bearing wall? Here are a few tips to follow to see if such is the case:
Each and every house contains load bearing walls. These walls play a key role in supporting and reinforcing the building’s structure. Without them, the house could crumble down under the weight of the roof. If you have any major renovation projects, you must know where the load bearing walls are in your house.
Use the following steps to identify a load bearing wall:
Finding load-bearing walls is not always an easy task. It all depends on the shape of the house, its size and the number of floors it has. Without having the plans for the house on hand, it is not always easy to recognize whether or not a wall is load bearing. However, there are some clues that may indicate that there is a good chance that this is the case.
Warning: these signs should not be seen as systematic proofs and it is always best to call on specialists when you absolutely need to identify a load-bearing wall for a renovation project. This is all the more important when you have to make a change to this wall, whether creating an opening or cutting down the entire wall.
Photo: Echelon custom homes
1) The noise that the wall makes when you knock on it
First step: hitting the wall. However weird this may seem, you should knock (lightly) on the surface of the wall. If the noise you hear sounds hollow, chances are likely that you have yourself a regular wall. However, if the noise is muffled or dull, it might be a load bearing wall.
2) The thickness of the wall
This is another good clue. Load bearing walls are usually thicker than other types of partitions. They have a minimum width of 15 cm.
3) The direction of beams and joists
Climb up to the attic. If the wall is located directly under the attic, you can go up there to study the positions of the beams and joists. Load bearing walls cross roof beams in a perpendicular direction. Using this technique, you’ll get a better idea of the location of the load-bearing walls in your house.
If a wall is located on the ground floor, go down to the basement to observe the ceiling beams. A wall that is set directly over one of those beams is probably not a load bearing wall. In order to be fully certain of what you’re seeing, pierce a hole in the ceiling, near said wall. The hole should be big enough for you to be able to observe the position of the beams. Once again, if they are perpendicular to the wall, this indicates that the wall is load bearing. This sign doesn’t lie and you’ve got your answer
4) The presence of columns
The wall contains large columns. Are columns strictly decorative? Not necessarily. The building’s architect may have used them to strengthen the house’s framework.
5) Where the walls are located
Outer walls form the skeleton of the house but in order for it to stay up, the building will need central pillars working to balance the weight of all the elements. That’s why walls that are located in the middle of the house have a better chance of being load bearing walls.
The previous steps can help you determine if you are dealing with a load bearing wall. However, we must reiterate that they should not be perceived as absolute proof. If you have any doubts, seek the advice of an expert.
Tearing down a load-bearing wall:
Contrary to what we often hear, most load bearing walls can be opened or torn down. However, this type of project must not be taken lightly. Anyone planning to remove or open a load bearing wall will have to consult an architect or an engineer.
These qualified professionals will be able to find the best solutions for your house, such as installing columns in strategic areas.
For more information on this subject, read the following articles: “How to create an opening in a load bearing wall” and "Load bearing walls: everything you need to know about them".
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