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How to Tell if a Wall is Load-Bearing or Non-Load Bearing

Author: Emmett Leo HomesTime: 2024-01-26 15:10:00

Table of Contents

Defining Load-Bearing and Non-Load Bearing Walls

When remodeling or renovating a home, one of the most common goals is to create an open floor plan by removing interior walls. However, not all walls can be safely removed. Load-bearing walls support the weight of the structure, while non-load bearing walls simply divide up rooms and can be taken out without issue.

Understanding the difference between the two is crucial when planning which walls to remove during a remodel.

Supporting Structure Vs Room Division

A load-bearing wall supports the weight of floors or the roof. They hold up floor joists or roof trusses running perpendicular to the wall. If a load-bearing wall is removed, a beam must be installed to transfer the load to columns or other walls. A non-load bearing wall divides rooms but does not hold up any structural weight above. These walls can generally be removed without any additional modifications or supports.

3 Ways to Check if a Wall is Structural

Figuring out whether a wall is load-bearing or not can seem tricky, but there are a few quick ways to assess:

  1. Look at the ceiling above the wall and see which way the floor joists run. If they run perpendicular to the wall, it is likely load-bearing. If they run parallel, it is likely not.

  2. Look at the overall structure and dimensions of the house. Walls running the shorter direction are often load-bearing while those running the longer direction are typically not.

  3. Check the roof line outside. For a gable roof with a center peak, the load-bearing walls usually run perpendicular to the peak.

Understanding House Foundations and Support Beams

To fully understand load paths, it helps to look at how the house structure works from the foundation up.

Homes are built upon concrete footings and piles driven into the ground. Large open spans in basements normally have support beams running down the middle. Posts or columns carry the weight from beams down into the footings.

Identifying these support columns is a good indicator of where load-bearing walls are located above. Sometimes posts may be hidden inside finished walls or obscured in unfinished basements. Measuring from the center of the basement beam to exterior walls can help locate the position of hidden supports.

Locating Hidden Support Beams and Posts

When covers like drywall obscure the ceiling structure, locating hidden beams and posts takes a bit more sleuthing.

Removing drywall makes it easy to see which way floor joists run. Non-destructive methods for finding joists include using a stud finder or pressing along the drywall to pop out screw heads.

Another option is to check the city building archives for the original structural plans, if available. The plans will label all load-bearing elements.

Replacing a Load-Bearing Wall with a Support Beam

Once you've confirmed that a wall is load-bearing, removing it requires installing a support beam sized by an engineer to carry the load.

Beams are secured on posts on both ends. The posts transfer the weight into the foundation. Properly installed beams allow for beautiful open concept spaces without compromising structural integrity.


Determining whether walls are load-bearing or not empowers you to open up interior spaces without causing structural damage. Always confirm which walls are load-bearing before demolition. Use the ceiling structure, overall house layout, roof lines and foundation supports as clues. When in doubt, consult building plans or have an engineer evaluate the structure in person.


Q: What is the difference between a load-bearing and non-load bearing wall?
A: A load-bearing wall supports the structure, while a non-load bearing wall just divides rooms.

Q: How can I tell if a wall is load-bearing by looking at the ceiling?
A: Check ceiling joist direction - perpendicular means load-bearing. Parallel means non-load-bearing.

Q: What do foundation posts and footings indicate?
A: They show load-bearing supports for beams holding up the house structure.

Q: Where are support posts sometimes hidden?
A: Inside walls or near staircases to conceal their appearance.

Q: What has to replace a removed load-bearing wall?
A: A strong support beam designed by an engineer to carry the weight.

Q: Where can I find house plans showing load-bearing details?
A: City archives, builders for tract homes, original house plans if available.

Q: How can I open up my floor plan by removing walls?
A: Identify non-load bearing walls which can be removed safely.

Q: What do I do if I already ripped off wall drywall?
A: Check for screw pops indicating joist direction, or use stud-finder.

Q: Why create an open concept house?
A: Removing select non-load bearing walls creates more spacious, functional rooms.

Q: Who should design a replacement load-bearing beam?
A: A structural engineer, properly sized and secured with posts to carry weight.