How to Tell if a Wall Is Load Bearing in a Single Story House

Step 2 – Check the Basement

If you don’t have your home’s blueprints or they don’t indicate which walls are load bearing, start looking in the lowest part of your home, the basement. If you don’t have a basement, start at the concrete pad.

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2) Anatomy of a load bearing wall

Knowing what makes a wall load bearing is essential for locating them. Notice image 2 below. This wall has a base plate (a single 2×4 or 2×6), studs (single 2×4 or 2×6), and doubled up top plate (2-2×4 or 2×6). 

There should be 2 tops plates in order to support the floor joists and prevent sagging and failure.

Floor joists (typically 2×6 up to 2×12) are structural members used for transferring loads to vertical members. 

Image 2) Sketch of a wall with floor joists runnin
Image 2) Sketch of a wall with floor joists running perpendicular and stopping on the wall. 

The floor joists in this particular photo are running perpendicular to the wall and end on this wall which indicates that it is most likely load bearing. 

If the joists were continuous over the top of the wall, depending on the loads above and below the wall, it could be non load bearing. A structural engineer would be needed to determine this. 

Here’s a great video to help explain anatomy

What is a Load-Bearing Wall?

Load-bearing walls are an issue for many renovators today, as more homeowners are opting for an open concept layout instead of individual rooms. Unfortunately, these walls can’t be ripped out haphazardly as load-bearing walls play a vital role in the structure of a house. They distribute the weight from the roof, through the floors, and down to the foundation.

Is It a Masonry Wall?

A masonry wall would appear to be load-bearing since masonry is a solid, substantial, and exceedingly strong building material. But this may not necessarily be the case. Despite its substantial look, a masonry wall may or may not be load-bearing.

The position of the masonry may point to its load-bearing capacity (e.g., is it on the exterior?). One type of masonry called manufactured stone veneer cannot support loads. As the name suggests, it is a decorative veneer, very lightweight, and prone to crumbling under stress.

Foundation walls, which are typically built of structural masonry materials, are by nature load-bearing, as their primary role is to support the weight of the house. 

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

How Wide of an Opening Can You Have on a Load Bearing Wall?

  • An opening you can have on a Load Bearing Wall should be six feet or less. This creates a carrying point 1.5 inches wide.
  • Any open space more than six feet should have at least 2×4 no of beams under each edge of the floor.
  • We cannot have wide openings on any load-bearing wall as it is not well supported. Proper support varies depending on the weight of the load, the base under which it is supported, and the materials used to support it.
  • While constructing a building, one must need a civil engineer to inspect it and design that support.

Also, Read: Tributary Area | Tributary Area Examples | Tributary Width | Tributary Load | Tributary Area in Columns | Overview of Tributary Area

Is a Partial Wall Load-Bearing?

If the wall is a partial wall, meaning it stops short of an adjacent wall, it may or may not be load-bearing.

For example, the builder may have installed a microlam beam to span across the opening and carry the load above. Therefore, you cannot assume that a partial wall is a simply a partition wall.

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

4 Ways toDetermine if a Wall Is Weight Bearing

There are many ways to discover if a wall is load bearing or not, from identifying the relationship of joists and beams to checking blueprints. Aside from the external walls of a house — which are almost always load bearing — it can be difficult to make an accurate identification.

If you would like to ensure that you’ve correctly identified a load bearing wall, it’s best to hire a qualified contractor to inspect and remove the wall, according to Dave Jones, Content Director at BuyersAsk.com.

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com
  “I would say find a structural engineer. They’ll be able to tell how additions or structural remodels may have changed how your home holds weight. If you can’t get a structural engineer, an architect or contractor would be up next.”

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com  

1. Check Your Home’s Blueprints

Take a peek at the instructions on how your house was built. You can usually get a copy of the blueprints from your city or county clerk for a small fee. Check out the framing plan and basement floor plan. These spots will give you an idea of joist direction and may even label your load bearing walls.

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com“Blueprints are always a great place to look. It’s going to show you not only a lot about the structure, but any changes to your home. And if there’s no construction permits on file, that could be a red flag to have things checked out and make sure any alterations aren’t bad.”

Dave Jones | BuyersAsk.com

2. Look for Extra Wall Support

Reinforcement posts and columns are obvious in a basement or attic, but on other floors, they are not always as noticeable. Ways to identify potential extra wall support in finished areas of a home include:

  • Pillars at the seam of two walls.
  • Extra supports around door and window frames.
  • Half-walls with pillars extended to the ceiling.

3. Identify if the Wall Runs Through Multiple Levels

If you have walls built in the same place on each floor of the home, those walls are all most likely load bearing. Keep in mind that these walls can still include door frames, built-in shelving and other functional or decorative structural elements. The key is noting that the walls are directly on top of each other throughout the floors of your home.

4. Use Joists and Beams in the Basement and Attic

If you’ve ever been in an unfinished basement or attic, you’ve probably seen joists and beams before, even if you didn’t realize it. But when you’re looking and all you see is a bunch of wood or metal, how do you know what joists are and how to find support beams?

  • Joists are the many pieces of wood or metal that run parallel to each other for the length of a room to support the floor above.
  • Beams are thicker pieces of wood or metal that can be either horizontal or vertical and intersect the joists to help move the weight of the home toward the foundation.
Joists
Beams
  • Transfer load of floors above to a beam or wall.
  • Used often throughout the construction of a ceiling or floor.
  • Attach directly to or sit on top of beams to transfer weight horizontally through the house.
  • Can be vertical or horizontal, depending on location.
  • Transfer load to columns or foundation.
  • Attach to walls or pillars to transfer weight vertically through the structure of a house.

Pro-Tip: Need help identifying your joists and beams? Check out our infographic to see some of the common ways they connect.

How to Find a Load Bearing Wall From the Basement

The basement is the best place to start when you n

The basement is the best place to start when you need to determine if a wall is weight bearing.

Look up at the ceiling of your basement and – if it’s unfinished – you’ll see a bunch of thinner joists and a few thicker beams. The direction they are running is important.

As you’re looking, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the joists perpendicular to the wall on the floor above? Or, put simply, if the wall above runs North-South, do the joists run East-West?
  • Is there a beam, wall or pillar underneath a wall on the floor above?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, the wall on the floor above is most likely load bearing.

How to Recognize a Load Bearing Wall From the Attic

If you don’t have a basement or have a finished ce

If you don’t have a basement or have a finished ceiling, take a look at your home’s structure from the attic.

In the attic, look down at the ceiling joists and ask yourself these questions:

  • If you pushed the joists down to the floor below, would they hit a wall?
  • Is there a beam or roof support located directly above a wall below?
  • Is the ridge of the roof directly above a wall on the floor below?

As with the basement, if you answered yes to those questions, the wall on the floor below is most likely load bearing.

Steps for Identifying and Removing Load-Bearing Walls

Tom demonstrates two ways of removing these walls: the above-ceiling technique and the below-ceiling technique. These methods will prevent the floor above from sagging and can give you the open layout you desire.

Step 1: Determine Whether a Wall Is Load-Bearing or Not

  • Check an unfinished basement or attic to see which way the joists run.
  • If the wall runs parallel to the joists, it’s probably not load-bearing.
  • If it’s perpendicular, it most likely is a load-bearing wall.

Step 2: Add Temporary Walls

  • Start by adding temporary walls to either side of the wall being removed to hold up the weight while work is being done.
  • Place the temporary walls close enough to the structural wall but far enough away to work on the structural wall.
  • Remove the load-bearing wall.

Step 3: Redistribute Weight

  • Add posts to either side of the wall to accept a beam to redistribute the weight above.
  • Place them over the weight-bearing beam in the floor below.

Step 4: Use Either the Below-Ceiling or Above-Ceiling Technique

  • Use one of the techniques Tom demonstrated in the segment: the below-ceiling technique and the above-ceiling technique.
  • Both methods rely on redistributing the weight from the load-bearing wall to the walls beside it by creating point loads.

Step 5: Cut into Joists (Above-Ceiling Technique)

  • In the above-ceiling technique, cut into the joists to allow a beam to be installed in between.
  • The joists will be attached to the new beam and the beam will rest directly on the point loads, but be flush with the ceiling.

Step 6: Cut the Posts (Below-Ceiling Technique)

  • In the below-ceiling technique, cut the posts slightly shorter and have the joists above rest directly on top of the beam across.
  • The beam will be exposed, but it will keep the floor flush above.

Step 4 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.

What If A Wall Is Likely Load Bearing or Non Load Bearing?

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The significance of load bearing walls is not one you want to ignore. After all, a home needs multiple load-bearing walls or it will collapse. Non bearing walls can be removed and won’t affect the integrity of the home.

But a load-bearing wall cannot simply be removed unless you are willing to risk the safety of your family. One can be removed, but only as a new one is built to replace it. 

Methods to Identify Load-Bearing Walls

Here are some general assumptions about load-bearing walls that can help identify them in your home:

  • Walls that run perpendicular (i.e., at a 90-degree angle) to joists are more than likely load-bearing. For an example, see Figure 1 below:  

Figure 1: Load-bearing wall perpendicular to floor

Figure 1: Load-bearing wall perpendicular to floor joists

  • Joists are horizontal members that span two walls and/or beams to support floors and ceilings. 

  • Walls that run parallel to floor joists that are above (i.e., the ceiling) are typically not load-bearing. For an example, see Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Non-load bearing wall parallel to floor

Figure 2: Non-load bearing wall parallel to floor joists

  • Load-bearing walls can be parallel to joists if aligned directly under a single joist or between two adjacent joists.

  • Joists are not often continuous over the top of a wall. They typically are joined over the top of a wall in specific lengths based on standard lumber dimensions.

  • Exterior walls are load-bearing.

    • Exterior walls are on the perimeter of a structure or the outer footprint of a home. Typically, the exterior walls have many windows and doors, and the walls have beams that span across these openings. This indicates that the posts on each side of the opening would be supporting the beams above.

  • First floor walls may have a basement or a crawl space below them. A way to determine if these walls are load-bearing is to examine the lower level and see if any supporting members are following the path of the walls above. If there are no supporting members below the wall, it is possible those walls are not load-bearing.

    • Supporting members include piers, beams, columns, jack posts, or another wall.

      • Jack posts are a type of lally column, which is a temporary column used to hold heavy structural weight when major wall renovations are taking place or when openings, such as windows or doors, are being installed. In some cases, lally columns are permanent and correct structural issues.

    • If you cannot access the crawl space, another indication a wall is load-bearing is the narrow spacing of wall studs. A loaded wall will require more wall studs to resist applied loads. 

  • Load-bearing walls line up with one another from floor-to-floor on multi-story properties.

    • Homes with open-floor concepts do not necessarily follow this assumption. This means transfer beams were installed to carry the load from one load-bearing wall to another in a different area of the house’s layout. 

Here are some factors you should not assume about load-bearing walls:

  • Walls that are just partial walls might be load-bearing. Do not assume they are not. In some cases, a contractor could have installed Microllam beams to span across openings and carry loads above the walls. This indicates that the partial wall is not a partition wall.

    • Microllam is an engineered lumber used for structural support. This lumber consists of micro-thin layers of wood that are bonded together.

  • Masonry walls may be load-bearing, but this is not always the case.

    • If a masonry wall is on the exterior, then it could be load-bearing. 

    • Some types of masonry are used solely for aesthetic purposes. This means they may be lightweight and prone to crumbling under stress, so these types of masonry cannot support loads.

    • Masonry walls used for the foundation are typically going to be load-bearing. The primary function of these foundation walls is to support the weight of the structure.

 

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