What Is a Load Bearing Wall?


Open concept homes have been in vogue over the last few years. One question real estate agents and contractors hear all the time is, “Can I take down this wall”? The answer isn’t always as straight forward as it seems…
First off, what is a load bearing wall?
A load bearing wall carries the weight (load) from the structure above all the way down to the foundation below. Conversely, non-load bearing walls, or partition walls, do not carry weight from above and are used to define spaces. If you plan to remove a wall as part of your remodel, you must first determine if the wall is load bearing.
How can I tell if a wall is load bearing?
It isn’t always easy to tell if a wall is load bearing, but there are some rules of thumb you can follow. If the basement is unfinished, head down to find the beam(s). Depending on the age of the house, it may be a large timber, a steel I-beam, or a layered wood beam. Walls that sit directly above these beams are structural walls.
While you are in the basement, look at the direction of the floor joists. The floor joists will run perpendicular, 90-degrees, to the beams. Generally, walls that run parallel to the floor joists are non-load bearing, and walls that are perpendicular to the floor joists, just like the beams, are load bearing.
All exterior walls are load bearing walls. If the home has an addition, it’s likely the previously exterior wall is still load bearing.
Can I remove a load bearing wall?
Yes, you can remove a load bearing wall. However, removing a load bearing wall without replacing it with a suitable structural support, like a beam or columns, is dangerous and will negatively affect your home’s structural integrity. Additionally, removing a load bearing wall can add significant cost to your remodel, so be sure to discuss which walls you want removed with your general contractor before any work begins.
Always consult with your general contractor, architect, or structural engineer to make sure the weight above is properly carried to the floor or foundation below before removing any load-bearing walls. When done properly, removing walls to create an open space can make your home feel larger without adding additional square footage or affecting your home’s structural integrity.