If you’re watching HGTV, you may, like me, wonder what Chip and Joanna Gaines have against walls (just kidding, guys). But the open-floor concept that is very “in” right now requires distinguishing which walls are load-bearing and which aren’t.
As you’ve probably realized, the phrase “load-bearing” means these walls support the weight of part of your house. That means the floors above it, the roof and everything else — so, yes, they are important. Before you take to your walls with a sledgehammer (ahem, Chip), make sure you know what will be coming down with it. The last thing you want in a home remodeling project is to create structural damage! Let’s take a look at exactly how to identify these Atlas-like heroes.
Because the “load” comes from above, weight transfers from one level to another. As such, load-bearing walls are usually directly on top of one another on each floor. Typically, all exterior walls are load-bearing walls. But given the amount of facelifts we give our houses these days, it’s hard to know for certain. While this is sometimes tricky, try tracking down the original blueprints of your house if you have any questions.
The blueprints can quite literally be lifesaving in a construction project, because they’ll not only show the original exterior walls, but also clearly identify what is and what is not a load-bearing wall, shown by the direction of the joists — to be discussed further down.
Who said unfinished tasks were a bad thing? If you have a basement or an attic you can still root around in, you’ve got some lazy builders to thank. As unfinished rooms, they provide a better idea of your house’s skeletal makeup. Look for the beams in the basement — usually metal I-beams or multi-board wood beams. Load-bearing walls will be built from these beams, so try tracking down which walls are directly above the beams, and, in turn, any walls directly above them! If you can’t get into the basement, start at the home’s concrete pad for clues.
I could spend days in my attic — if I wasn’t so frightened about being alone up there — and there’s more to find than old photos of your bowl haircut. If you are concerned about what is and what is not load-bearing, get those glutes working and climb on up to your attic. There, you’ll most likely find joists — what I mentioned above — of which there should be dozens. These guys are usually wooden bars parallel to each other and perpendicular to the beams. Walls that are perpendicular to these joists are almost always load-bearing walls. Walls that run parallel to these joists can be taken down with that sledgehammer.
If you are lucky enough to have multiple floors — I live in London, where you need a windfall to rent the cupboard under the sink — it’s a good idea to check them, too. Take a look on your first and second floors for a wall that sits just about in the center of the house. If this is parallel to the center beam you identified in the basement, it is most likely a load-bearing wall.
While you’re on your travels, note any walls with columns or posts at the end of them. Yes, they could be purely decorative, but they could also be very obvious and helpful indicators of a load-bearing wall!
So you’ve tried all options, and you’re still just not OK with doing your own demolition. You need a second opinion, or you don’t trust your logic enough. While I am always a strong supporter of believing in yourself, I’m in your corner when it comes to words like “structural,” “load-bearing,” “wrong wall” and “fatalities.”
You should hopefully have a reliable and recommended structural surveyor/engineer locally who could assess your property. They can put your mind at ease about which walls are indeed load-bearing. Do your homework on how to find a well-recognized professional in the field. Moreover, once you’ve got them on your property, you may be lucky enough to satisfy a few other questions you had about your house structure, life in general, horoscopes, etc.
Hopefully you’re onto the right idea now and you won’t have to spend much more time reading about walls! In all seriousness, do take as much time as necessary to be sure you know which walls are and aren’t load-bearing. Knocking down walls is a dangerous task, so put on that hard hat and get to work!