How to Tell if a Wall is Load Bearing

open wall with wooden beams

Before taking on any home renovations that are designed to create an open floor plan or add more space, you need to understand whether a wall is cosmetic or load-bearing. Don’t attempt to remove any wall until you know how it functions in relation to the structural integrity of your home. If the wall you are considering removing is a load-bearing wall, you may want to change your renovation plans. Here’s why.

What is a Load Bearing Wall?

A load-bearing wall helps support the weight of certain features of your home. It could be your roof, ceiling, floors, or other structural components. These walls are responsible for holding up the floors above them, and in some cases, the roof of the structure. Sometimes called “bearing walls,” they are designed to transfer weight from the top of the house to the foundation.

Demolishing a load-bearing wall could quickly impact the safety of your home, as removing it threatens the structural integrity of your home. Making sure the wall you plan to remove isn’t load-bearing is incredibly important.

But how can you tell which walls in your home are load-bearing? This guide will help you identify a load-bearing wall so you can make an appropriate plan. However, it’s not recommended to remove any wall without consulting with an expert.

How to Determine a Load-Bearing Wall

When making renovations to your home, it’s important to avoid tearing down load-bearing walls. Here is a checklist to tell if the wall you want to take down is load-bearing:

  • Grab the blueprints — A great place to start is by digging out the original blueprints if they’re available. The original blueprints for the home will tell you which walls are load-bearing and which ones are not. If a wall is marked as “S” in the blueprint, this means “structural,” thus showing it’s a load-bearing wall.
  • Check your ceiling — Take a look at your ceiling to identify any load-bearing beams that run across the house. Any walls beneath these beams are probably also load-bearing. If you can’t identify a load-bearing beam below the wall, it’s most likely not supporting any weight. However, it’s always best to confirm via the blueprints or get an expert's opinion.
  • Assess your basement — Look in your basement or crawl space for steel beams or joists. If you spot joists in your basement and there is a wall that runs perpendicular, it's most likely a load-bearing wall. If the wall is parallel above the joists, it’s most likely not a load-bearing wall.
  • Check the foundation — If a wall or beam is directly connected to the foundation of your house, it is a load-bearing wall. This is particularly true for homes with additions, since walls that are interior now may have originally been exterior walls. Checking your home’s original blueprint can help with this.

Load-Bearing Wall Removal Facts

You can remove a load-bearing wall, but you should never do it without consulting a professional builder or engineer. They will know how to tell if a wall is load-bearing or not.

If you remove a load-bearing wall without the proper planning, it could quickly lead to disaster in the form of structural instability, ceiling sagging, or worse, collapse.

How to determine a load-bearing wall is important, but there are other factors that also need to be considered. For example:

  • A permit could be required — Some city ordinances require a permit and a structural engineer's sign-off if walls are being replaced or torn down.
  • Replacement support is mandatory — Structural support must be in place before removing the wall. It’s necessary to have a plan in place; otherwise, your home will start to sag over time.
  • Know your beams — For this type of project, a heavy-duty beam is needed if you are looking to fully remove a load-bearing wall. By purchasing and installing an LVL (laminated veneer lumber) support beam, you can ensure the stability of your home’s structure – you simply can’t rely on anything smaller to support your roof properly.
  • Removal is dangerous — Removing load-bearing walls can be a difficult and dangerous task. When deciding to remove one, it is necessary to take the proper safety precautions at all times. Never complete this task on your own. Always call an expert who knows how to tell if a wall is load-bearing and how to remove it. This will help you avoid disaster.

Alternatives To Removing A Load-Bearing Wall

Sometimes, the cost and labor involved in removing a load-bearing wall are more than a homeowner planned for originally. At this point, exploring alternatives to removing a load-bearing wall may prove to be the best option.

Pass-thru openings allow homeowners to keep load-bearing walls intact while helping achieve the desired open floor plan functionality. It is also a less expensive option than removal, easier to install, and often doesn't require extra costs in the way of permits or engineers.

Trust the Experts at Mr. Handyman

If you are ready to make renovations to your home, the team of licensed contractors and experts at your local Mr. Handyman will ensure your project gets completed safely and in accordance with all specifications.

How to determine a load-bearing wall is not always an exact science. Therefore, in some cases, we may call in an engineer to assess the project and to determine if other options, such as a pass-thru opening, are a better solution.

Ready to get started creating your open floor plan or remodel? Trust your local professionals at Mr. Handyman to help turn your dream renovation into a reality.

schedule an appointment online to get started today.

FAQs: Load Bearing Walls

  1. What are the disadvantages of removing a load-bearing wall?

Removing a load-bearing wall could be extremely detrimental to your home. If not done correctly, you could cause significant structural damage. Before making any remodeling or renovation decisions, be sure to consult an expert who knows how to tell if a wall is load-bearing.

  1. What are the advantages of removing a load-bearing wall?

Hiring a professional to remove load-bearing walls in order to open up the floor plan or redesign the layout of a home can completely change the look, feel, and functionality. Since many people desire an open floor plan, such a renovation can increase the value of a home.

  1. Do you need a permit to tear down a load-bearing wall?

Yes. Because it can significantly alter the structural integrity of your home, in almost all cases, you will need a permit from your town or city to remove or relocate a load-bearing wall.

  1. Should I hire a professional to remove a load-bearing wall?

Yes. Removing a load-bearing wall can be extremely complicated and dangerous. You should not attempt to do this on your own. Calling a professional who knows how to determine a load-bearing wall and the best way to remove it can save you considerable time, and money, and provides peace of mind that the job was done safely and correctly.

  1. What is the cost to remove a load-bearing wall?

Depending on the size and scope of the project, and the amount of work involved the cost to remove a load-bearing wall can be considerable. Generally, costs can range between $1,200 and $3,000 for a single-story home and between $3,000 and $10,000 for a multi-story home.