Removing walls to make homes more open-plan is becoming increasingly popular, but how do you know which walls are load-bearing and which you can knock out? Removing walls will give smaller homes a bigger feel, and make moving furniture easier. It is a much bigger and more costly job to remove a load-bearing wall than a non-load-bearing (partition) wall, so how can you tell?

This article will give you some simple pointers to help you determine if a wall is load-bearing or not and what to do if you want that load-bearing wall removed.

What is a load-bearing wall?

A load bearing (sometimes called a structural wall) supports the weight of the floor and/or roof above it. They can support a significant amount of weight and are vital to the structural integrity of your home so you cannot simply remove them without substituting that structural support. Replacement support could be a horizontal beam, a vertical column, or sometimes both. The beam or column will then bear the load (weight) that was supported by the wall. Partition walls or non-load-bearing walls don’t hold any weight and can be removed without installing any replacement supports.

How to identify a load-bearing wall?

The best way to be sure if a wall is load-bearing is to consult a structural engineer. For a relatively small fee, they will complete a site visit and confirm what they think is feasible and which walls are load-bearing. This small expense at the beginning of your project could save you thousands, in the long run, to ensure you do not remove a wall that is integral to supporting your home or spending time and money removing and supporting a wall you thought was load-bearing only to discover it wasn’t.

However, you will want to have some idea of what you can do within your home before you consult a professional so you can explore possibilities in your mind.

Here are some things to check:

  1. If the thickness of the wall is greater than 100 mm then it is more likely to be load-bearing, but this is not a given.
  2. Is the wall parallel or perpendicular to the floor joists? If the wall runs parallel (they run at the same angle and so will never cross) to the floor joists above it, it is probably not a load-bearing wall. If it runs perpendicular or at a 90-degree angle to the joists there is a good chance that it is a load-bearing wall. The wall crossing the joists provides support. See our illustration below.
Illustration to show what a load bearing wall would be - running perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

Illustration to show where a load-bearing wall would be – running perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

  1. Is your home over 50 years old? Newer homes, built in the last 50 years or so, are built with self-supporting roof trusses. The exterior walls are therefore the only load-bearing wall.
  2. Are the walls in the exact location on the floors above (and maybe below) the wall you want to remove? If so, these are most likely load-bearing walls.

Don’t assume that because a wall doesn’t span the entire length of the room it cannot be load-bearing.

Next Steps

As mentioned, get a structural engineer to confirm which are load-bearing walls before you speak to an architect and have drawings done. If it is load bearing the structural engineer will talk you through your options such as a down stand beam – so you can still have an open-plan space, but you will not have a ‘flush’ or flat ceiling line.

Avoiding disappointment

If you go to an architect before a structural engineer the initial drawings may not be structurally possible, and compromises might have to be made after you have fallen in love with a design – like having a down stand beam instead of a completely flat ceiling. A structural engineer will also provide drawings and calculations for Building Regulations and your building contractor so they know exactly how to support the wall while it is being removed and what to replace the support with.

Example of a downstand beam in an open plan kitchen diner.

Example of a downstand beam in an open plan kitchen diner.

Working with SWJ Consulting

If you are thinking of making interior changes and removing a wall or any conversion, extension or basement work within a 60-mile radius of OX26 – then please do give us a call on 01993  224012 or email and we can talk you through the project and give you a quote. We will help you decide whether your project is feasible – saving you money and heartache in the long run and then ensure the works meet with all the building regulations required.