Walls do a lot of work. They keep the elements out and heat in, and they can be used to section off rooms. Some walls carry more responsibility than others, however, and bear a heavier structural load. When taking on a construction project, it’s important to identify the purpose of each wall—and structural engineers can help you do that.
What are bearing walls?
A load-bearing wall is a wall that supports the weight of the floor or roof of the structure.
Why are bearing walls important?
Without load-bearing walls, structural integrity is compromised. That’s why it’s so important to know which walls are load-bearing before embarking on a construction or remodeling project. If you remove load-bearing walls without replacing them with a structural beam or truss that can withstand the same amount of weight, the building could be at risk of structural damage.
How to tell if a wall is a load-bearing
- Check your floor plan. If you are familiar with reading framing plans, then bearing walls can often be identified this way. However, it is still best to also confirm that the framing plans match the existing, or as-built, conditions of the house. Changes during construction or remodel projects could mean that the original framing plans are no longer accurate.
- Check for joists, beams, or trusses running perpendicular to the wall in question. Framing that is running perpendicular to the wall may mean that the wall is load-bearing. If the joists are lapped or split over the wall, then it is likely a bearing wall. If they are continuous over the wall, then it may or may not be a load-bearing wall. A wall running parallel with the framing immediately above it is less likely to be a load-bearing wall. However, it’s possible that it supports floor or roof loads from one or two stories above the one in question, so you’re not necessarily in the clear when the framing runs parallel.
- Check for foundation elements in the crawlspace. Bearing walls that occur over a crawlspace should have either a concrete strip footing or a post-and-beam line with pad footings aligned beneath them in the crawlspace.
Check with a structural engineer first
The indicators provided previously should only be considered for preliminary planning and informational purposes. It is important that you consult with a licensed structural engineer before you remove any wall in your house. A structural engineer can identify the load-bearing walls in your home and determine if any of them need to be reinforced for safety reasons. Before construction projects, they will make sure your floor plan is sound before you start tearing down walls. If a load-bearing wall is identified in the design phase, then the structural engineer can design support for the new opening with properly sized beams, posts, and foundations required to last the life of your house. Failure to consult the proper design professional before you remove a wall could lead to unsafe and/or costly issues down the road.
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