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3 Ways to Identify a Load Bearing Wall

One of the most common issues when it comes to home remodeling is how to identify a lead bearing wall.

Maybe you want to open up a kitchen area, create an open concept floor plan in your home, or remodel a basement. Each of these projects will likely require the removal of one or more walls. And tearing down one that’s critical to the structure to your home can cause costly problems.

So how do you know which ones are load bearing and which aren’t? Here are 3 tips:

1. Determine whether anything is resting on top of the wall

One of the best ways to figure out whether a wall is load bearing is to check if joists are sitting on top of it. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Use a stud finder along the ceiling next to the wall in question and see if any joists running perpendicular to it are present.
  2. Open up the ceiling and do a visual check.

In the image below, we’ve already removed a wall between a living room and kitchen and have exposed the attic space above. Here you can see joists running cross-wise against where the wall used to be. In this case, the 2×8 joists were broken, then overlapped and placed on top of the wall underneath.

This is a common practice where it would be too expensive to have single, very long joists. It also means the wall underneath was definitely load bearing.

2. Check the ridge line of your home

You can see the ridge of your home by checking it from the outside. The National Roofing Contractors Association defines the ridge as the “highest point on a roof, represented by a horizontal line where two roof areas intersect, running the length of the area.” Basically, it’s the highest spot on your home.

Hubbard Addition

Almost always, interior load bearing walls will run parallel to the ridge. If it goes north to south, it’s a good bet that walls inside your home that run the same direction are load-bearing. So if you’re trying to identify a load bearing wall inside your home, one way is to go and look at the ridge outside.

3. If it’s tied to an addition, try to identify any exterior walls

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that most exterior walls are load bearing. Exterior walls that aren’t load-bearing are rare and costly. So if your home has had an addition or two put onto it over the years and you’re thinking of removing a related wall, there’s a good chance it will be bearing some of the structural load.

You may be able to see beams or other supports extending from the wall. But even if you can’t, it’s likely the wall was built with some form of support included between windows or doors.