Open plan living is becoming increasingly popular these days, but in most homes it’s impossible to achieve the look without taking down a few walls. Since some walls might be holding the rest of the house up, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you understand how load bearing walls work and how to find them.
What is a load bearing wall?
A load bearing wall carries the structural weight of a building from the roof and upper floors down to the foundations. The weight that’s transferred down is called the “load”, hence “load-bearing walls.” If you take down part or all of a non load bearing wall, then your house will stay intact, but if you take down a load bearing wall, a part or all of your house could collapse. That’s why it’s crucial to know which is which!
How do I find which walls are load bearing?
There are three easy ways to find out which walls are load bearing:
- Search for structural clues
- Research your building
- Get professional help
We’ll go through each stage in more detail below:
Load Bearing Walls – Structural Clues
- Start at the foundations, the lowest point in your home. That’s either the ground floor, or a basement, if you have one. Once you’ve found it, look for walls with sturdy pieces of metal or wood beams that go directly into the concrete foundation. These walls are load bearing.
Most exterior walls are also load bearing. Whether they’re stone or brick, nearly all exterior walls will extend right into the concrete.
- Look for the floor joists, the point where a beam meets the ceiling. These support the floor of the room above. If any floor joists meet a wall or main support beam then they’re load bearing. Of course you might have to remove a number of floorboards to be able to look down at the supports!
- Follow each wall up through the house. Check exactly what’s above the wall below to see if the wall stretches up through two or more floors. If there is another floor directly above, with joists, then it’s a load bearing wall. If a wall doesn’t have any walls or posts directly above it, it’s unlikely to be load bearing. It’s worth noting that load bearing walls are often near the centre of a house.
- Look for large ends. Some columns are purely decorative, but if any internal wall has a large column at the end, it might be hiding a structural support beam, which is a sign the wall is load bearing.
- Look for steel girders. Sometimes builders use special load bearing structures like steel supports. Any big metal or wood structure crossing a room’s ceiling or intersecting a wall is likely to be load bearing.
Load Bearing Walls – Research
- Has your house been refurbished? Many older houses have had extensions or significant refurbishment. If this is the case, you’ll need to check the works in detail to see if any load bearing walls have been changed or moved. Pay particular attention if stairways or attic rooms have been added, as non load bearing walls might have changed into load bearing.
- Find the original blueprints, if possible. These will give you an accurate visual display of all load bearing walls. You can find copies of your home’s blueprints with the local council or the original builder. The former owners may also have a copy. It’s also possible to get an architect to re-draw your home’s blueprints, though this can be expensive.
Load Bearing Walls – Getting Professional Help
- Call the original builder, if it’s possible. Either they or their company can advise you on the structure with pinpoint accuracy.
- Contact a builder, a structural engineer or surveyor. They’ll be able to correctly and accurately identify which walls are load bearing and advise you on your renovation plans.
- Contact your local council’s building authority. You might need planning permission for your project and there will be building regulations to follow too. Your local council’s building control will be able to advise you.
It’s vital you check which walls are load bearing before starting your building project. If in doubt, get professional help. A little time and money paid up front is well worth it in the long term.