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Other than looking up blue prints, which many homeowners may not have, are there ways to determine if a wall is load bearing?

Methods I can think of might include:

  • Going up in the attic to check if ceiling trusses run perpendicular to the wall
  • If the wall is an exterior wall

Any others?

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  • 8
    Also in earthquake country another question needs to be asked. Is it a shear wall? Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 2:39

4 Answers 4

46

Without looking at blueprints, all you can do is make an educated guess. Possible methods include:

  • If it's an exterior wall it's almost always load bearing.
  • If the joists are not continuous over the wall (they are cut short and meet on top of the wall) it is definitely load bearing.
  • If there is a load bearing wall or beam directly above or below this wall, it is likely load bearing.
  • Check the direction of the joists (as you mention). If a joist is running perpendicular to the wall, or happens to fall directly above/below the wall, it can be load bearing.
  • If there's a single top plate, the wall most likely isn't load bearing, unless the wall uses deeper studs than 2x4 (such as 2x6).
  • Expose the wall over a doorway or pass-through. If it's a solid 2x6 or greater turned vertically going from the jack stud on one side to the other, there's a good chance the wall is load bearing.
  • If there are only cripple studs on a flat 2x4 to give you something to attach the drywall, it likely isn't load bearing.
  • Look for signs that the wall was added after the house was built, newer wood materials, drywall or finished flooring that extend over/under the wall, etc. If the wall was added, then it isn't load bearing.
  • Calculate the span from the known load bearing walls on either side of the wall you are removing, look at the type, size, and spacing of joists above the wall, and calculate if the joists can support the load above the wall without the wall being in place. If the joists can't support the load without the wall, then by definition, it's load bearing.
  • When removing the wall, cut the studs with a sawzall. If the blade begins to bind in the middle of the stud, then there's load coming down from the ceiling through that wall and there's a good chance it was load bearing. Stop what you were doing and sister a stud to the one you were cutting.
  • If, after you remove the wall, your home collapses, it was load bearing.
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    The last one is not a sure-thing. There are many other reasons your home could collapse. For example, removing a wall with small explosives could cause a house to collapse; doesn't mean it was load-bearing. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 13:21
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For many houses, a wall running down the middle of the house, parallel with the roof ridgeline is nearly always load bearing. You also may have easier access to the basement to check joist direction.

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    Unfortunately, the basement option is out. I've got a one story on a slab.
    – Doresoom
    Commented Jul 21, 2010 at 20:30
  • This is only true for homes built before the 1970s. Almost everything after has engineered trusses and very rarely will there be center bearing points.
    – isherwood
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 18:07
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If the wall is above a basement or open crawlspace, you can look from below to see if it is on a beam or above a support post. If it is not, it still does not mean it is not load bearing, but it can help to understand the structure.

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The answer by BMitch is very good. There are additional considerations:

  • The sawzall approach is one way to tell if a beam/post is load bearing. But actually we can frequently simply try to manipulate [push/pull] by hand. If it is [significantly] load bearing the post will not budge. If not you can often actually jostle it a bit: i'm talking millimeters but there is an obvious difference. After doing this for a while you can even start to get some sense of how much the post is carrying: e.g. the difference between a typical stud and a major footer-reinforced beam.

  • Over time a wall not intended to be load-bearing may in fact start to share load due to settling of the home. In fact in my living room there are two 4-x4 identical posts in a partial wall that are more than likely not intended to be structural. One of them is still non-load bearing: I can manipulate it by hand. But the other one is carrying quite a bit of weight. I had intended to remove both of them to open up the living room but upon discovering that fact there is no way I'm doing so, and in fact am planning to reinforce at least the one [now] carrying load.

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  • In my case, when I opened the passageway between LR and DR, we put in an appropriately supported paralam beam even though it wasn't supposed to be a load bearing wall, just to be sure. 100 year old house, cheaply built at the time (factory worker housing),, some subsidence, gods only know where stresses now run.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 15 at 23:38

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