Bearing Walls: A Beginner'S Guide

As a student or worker in engineering, you know that a building's foundation is a key part of its stability and durability.

But did you know that one wall can be a very important part of this base? Step through the bearing wall.

This simple part may not stand out, but it can make the difference between a safe building and one that falls down in a big way.

Whether you're building a new building or fixing up an old one, it's important to know how bearing walls work and how important they are.

In this article, I'll talk about what makes a wall bearing, the different types of bearing walls, and how to tell them apart.

By the end, you'll have a good understanding of this important part of building design and be able to use it in your engineering work with confidence.

So let's jump in and learn about bearing walls!

Introduction to Bearing Walls

Formal definition:

A wall capable of supporting an imposed load.

Types of Walls in Building Construction

There are many different kinds of walls used in building.

These include load-bearing walls, non-load-bearing walls, cavity walls, shear walls, dividing walls, faced walls, veneered walls, and panel walls.

Each type of wall in a building serves a different purpose, so it's important to know the differences between them.

Load-Bearing Walls

Load-bearing walls carry the weight of the structure above them and send it to the foundation.

The beams, slabs, and walls on the floors above are supported by these walls.

They can be outside or inside walls and support the building from the top to the bottom.

Precast concrete walls, retaining walls, masonry walls, pre-panelized load-bearing metal stud walls, and engineering brick walls are all types of load-bearing walls.

Non-Load Bearing Walls

Non-load-bearing walls or partition walls don't support the floor or roof loads above them.

This means that they won't carry any of the weight of the structure above it.

This type of wall is made only to divide rooms and has no structural purpose.

Cavity Walls

Cavity walls are made up of two separate walls made of masonry.

Internal leaf and external leaf are the names for these two walls.

The goal of these walls is to make sure that they don't put too much weight on the foundation.

The cavity wall makes it easier to get rid of noise and is good at stopping fires.

Shear Walls

Shear walls are framed walls that can stand up to forces from the outside walls, floors, roofs, and foundation.

It works well for large, high-rise buildings that are mostly made of concrete or reinforced concrete.

Identifying Load-Bearing Walls

If you want to know if a wall is load-bearing, you can look at how the floor joists, rafters, or framing beams are lined up.

A load-bearing wall is more likely to be a wall that runs parallel to the support structure below it.

Most exterior walls can hold weight, and so can many masonry walls, even if they run perpendicular to the floor joists.

Load-bearing walls also have beams that go down into your home's foundation or up through more than one floor.

Architects and Engineers in Building Construction

Architects and engineers design buildings with load-bearing walls in mind.

They do this by analyzing and designing structural parts like load-bearing walls to make sure they can support the weight of the structure above them.

Structural engineers look at how the weight is distributed in a building, starting with the roof, to make sure that the walls that support the weight of the building above them can do so.

Identifying Load-Bearing Walls in a Building

Start in the basement to figure out if an interior wall holds weight.

Most modern homes have simple framing, where load-bearing walls on the inside are perpendicular to floor joists and stack over a central beam and supporting lally columns in the basement.

But sometimes layouts for frames are not as easy.

Hiring a professional engineer can help give peace of mind in these situations or when a person isn't sure how to judge something.

Wall-Bearing Construction

Most of the time, wall-bearing construction is used in simple buildings where no big changes are expected.

They are easy to put together, but they might not be as strong as concrete framing.

Some types of buildings, like hospitals, classrooms, and research labs, need to be very rigid.

Some simple types of buildings often have more than one type of framing.

It's not unusual for one- or two-story buildings to have walls made of wall-bearing masonry on the outside, while all the supports on the inside are made of steel columns with steel beams or trusses.

In the end, it's important to know the different types of walls used in building construction to make sure the building is safe and stable.

The Importance of Bearing Walls in Building Design

Still hard to understand? Let me change the point of view a bit:

The best advice we can give about bearing walls is to just ignore them.

After all, who needs a wall that can support a load that is put on it? Why not just let the roof fall in and enjoy the fresh air and natural light? Okay, so maybe that isn't the best (or most sane) way to design a building.

But ignoring the importance of bearing walls is a great place to start if you want to turn your house into a pile of rubble.

So, let's put on our serious hats and jump into the world of bearing walls before things get too...load-bearing.

Okay, that was just a joke made to look like a TV ad.

Now let's go back to the explanation.

Load-Bearing Wall Identification

Here are some ways to tell which walls carry weight:


The best way to find out which walls carry weight is to look at the building's blueprints.

They will show which walls hold weight and which ones don't.

Thickness of the Wall

Most of the time, load-bearing walls are thicker than other kinds of walls.

Most of the time, load-bearing walls are walls that are more than 6 inches thick.

Location of the Wall

Almost all walls on the outside of a building are load-bearing walls.

Some homes built in the last 50 years only have load-bearing walls in the front and back, while most older homes have load-bearing walls on all exterior walls.

Check for Beams, Columns, or Other Walls

Load-bearing walls usually have beams, columns, or other walls directly below or along the same path as them.

Joist Direction

Go to the basement or attic and look at the joists to see which way they run.

If a wall runs parallel to the joists, it's probably not load-bearing.

If it runs perpendicular to the joists, it's probably load-bearing.

If you use a stud finder to find studs, you will know which way the ceiling joists run and whether or not a wall runs parallel (partition wall) or perpendicularly (load-bearing wall).

Professional Help

If you still don't know if a wall is load-bearing after looking for these signs, talk to an engineer or contractor before you take it down.

Before you can take down a load-bearing wall and replace it with something like beams that can safely carry loads, you need to put temporary support structures on either side of it.

It's important not to take down any walls until you know whether or not they hold weight.

Taking down a load-bearing wall can damage the structure of your home and make it less safe.

In conclusion, it is important to know which walls carry weight when building, renovating, or fixing a building.

Knowing the signs of load-bearing walls and getting help from a professional when needed can help make sure a building is safe and stable.

Consequences of Bearing Wall Alteration

Load-bearing walls are an important part of keeping a building's structure in good shape.

Changing or removing any part of a bearing wall without taking the right precautions and consulting a professional can cause serious structural damage, like sagging ceilings, uneven floors, cracks in the drywall, doors that won't close, and even the collapse of the building.

Before trying to remove or change a wall, it is important to find out if it is load-bearing.

Identifying Load-Bearing Walls

Check the trusses, roofline, exterior walls, joists, and horizontal beams in your attic, basement, or home's blueprints to see if a wall can hold weight.

A professional builder or engineer can also use special tools and methods, like drilling small holes in the drywall and looking inside the walls with an endoscope camera.

Here are some things you can look for to tell if a wall can hold weight:

  • Look at the building's plans.

The best way to find load-bearing walls is to look at the building's plans.

  • Look at how thick the wall is.

Walls that are more than 6 inches thick usually hold weight.

Check to see if there are beams, columns, or other walls directly below or along the same path as the wall.

If there are any of these, the wall is likely a load-bearing wall.

  • Look at where the wall is.

Walls on the outside of a building almost always carry weight.

Some homes built in the last 50 years only have load-bearing walls in the front and back, while most older homes have load-bearing walls on all exterior walls.

  • Check the direction of the joists.

Go to the basement or attic and look to see which way the joists run.

If a wall runs parallel to the joists, it's probably not load-bearing.

If it runs perpendicular to the joists, it's probably load-bearing.

  • Use a stud finder or magnet.

Ceiling joists also serve as studs on the ceiling, so if you use a stud finder to find studs, you will know which way the ceiling joists run and whether or not a wall runs parallel (partition wall) or perpendicular (load-bearing wall).

Removing Load-Bearing Walls

To keep the building safe and structurally sound, it is important to carefully plan and carry out the removal of a load-bearing wall.

Before you take out any part of the framing of a load-bearing wall, you must build a temporary support wall on both sides of the wall.

The ends of the floor joists above may rest on the wall that holds the weight.

If you only add temporary support on one side of the wall, the joists on the other side won't have any support, which could cause damage to your home.

How much of a load-bearing wall can be taken out before it hurts the building's structure depends on many things, like where the wall is and how much weight it carries.

Most of the time, you shouldn't take down any part of a load-bearing wall without first talking to a structural engineer.

They can look at how the weight is distributed and figure out how much of the wall can be taken down safely.

The engineer might also suggest adding more support structures or using different ways to carry the load, like headers, beams, or columns.

It's important to remember that even removing a small piece of a load-bearing wall can have big effects on the building's structure and safety, so it's important to talk to a professional before starting any project like this.

Alternative Solutions for Load-Bearing Walls

Putting a beam under the ceiling is one way to replace a load-bearing wall.

Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) beams are stronger than dimensional lumber of the same size and can pack more strength into a smaller space.

Bearing Wall Cost Considerations

Several things can have a big effect on how much it costs to take down a load-bearing wall.

The cost to remove a non-load-bearing wall is usually less than that of a load-bearing wall.

However, the cost to remove a load-bearing wall can range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how complicated the project is.

Here are some things that can affect how much it costs to take down a load-bearing wall:

Walls that hold weight vs. walls that don't:

The biggest thing that affects the price is whether or not the wall can hold weight.

A non-load-bearing wall is cheaper to take down than a load-bearing wall because it doesn't need extra supports.

Load-bearing walls help support the weight of your home's structure, and removing them means putting in beams or columns that can carry the weight.

Where the wall is and how big it is:

The cost can also depend on where the wall is and how big it is.

To take down and rebuild a bigger wall may require more work and materials, which can raise the total cost.

The location of the wall can also affect how hard the project is, which can change the cost.

Permissions and checks:

Permits and inspections may make it more expensive to take down a load-bearing wall.

To make sure the work is done to high standards, it is important to make sure all the necessary permits are obtained and inspections are done.

Wiring, plumbing, and air ducts:

If the wiring, plumbing, or ductwork needs to be moved while the wall is being taken down, that can also add to the cost.

Also, if you open walls in older homes and find wiring that is old or not up to code, it could raise project costs.

Hiring contractors with licenses:

It is important to hire licensed contractors instead of handymen because they are more likely to get the right permits and do work to high standards.

They will also look at your home before giving you an accurate price estimate.

In conclusion, the cost to remove a load-bearing wall can vary a lot depending on things like whether the wall is load-bearing or not, where it is located and how big it is, if permits and inspections are needed, and if there is electrical, plumbing, or ductwork in the wall.

To get an accurate estimate of how much it will cost to take down a load-bearing wall, it is important to talk to licensed contractors or professionals.

The cost can vary a lot depending on the specifics of the project.

Bearing wall uses

Buildings for living in:

When building a house, bearing walls are often used to hold up the roof and floors above.

Most of the time, these walls support the building's structure and carry weight.

Without them, the roof and upper floors wouldn't be able to support the building's weight, which could cause the building to fall down.

Business buildings:

In commercial buildings, bearing walls are used in the same way as they are in homes.

But because commercial buildings are bigger and heavier, the bearing walls tend to be bigger and stronger.

These walls must be built so that they can handle not only the weight of the building, but also any extra weights that might be put on it, like equipment or machinery.

Additions and changes:

When making changes to an existing building or adding on to it, bearing walls may need to be changed or taken down.

This can be hard to do because removing or changing a bearing wall can hurt the building's structure.

So, it's important to work with a qualified engineer or architect to make sure that any changes to bearing walls are safe and follow building codes.

Open-concept designs:

In both homes and businesses, open-concept floor plans have become more and more popular in recent years.

To make these designs feel more open and roomy, supporting walls are often taken down.

But, as we've already said, taking out a bearing wall can be dangerous and needs careful planning and execution.

Buildings that can withstand earthquakes:

In places where earthquakes are common, buildings must be made to withstand the sideways forces that come with them.

One way to do this is to build the building with bearing walls made of reinforced concrete.

These walls can help spread the force of an earthquake throughout the building, making it less likely to fall down.


As we come to the end of our trip through the world of bearing walls, it's clear that this simple-looking feature is very important in the field of engineering.

Bearing walls are an important part of building design because they keep the structure stable and make modern open-concept living spaces possible.

But as we think about what would happen if we changed or took down these walls, it's important to remember that a bearing wall is important for more than just its function.

Like a person's skeletal system, the structure of a building is more than just a bunch of parts.

It's a complicated web of parts that work together to make a unique and intricate whole.

By understanding and respecting the role that bearing walls play in this network, we can make buildings that are not only useful but also beautiful and last for a long time.

So, let's keep in mind that, just like in life, the most important parts are sometimes the ones that go unnoticed.

The bearing wall may not be the most eye-catching part of a building, but it is one of the most important.

And in the end, the things we take for granted are often the ones that mean the most.

Links and references

Dictionary of Architecture and Construction

"Introduction to Architecture" by Francis D.K.