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How To Tell If A Wall Is Load Bearing

(Last Updated: 06/11/2023)
6 min read
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A load bearing wall is responsible for supporting the structural weight of a building. It differs from its counterpart, a non-load bearing wall, often called a ‘curtain wall’ or a 'stud wall', whose function is purely to divide rooms, not to carry the building’s weight. Many buyers viewing properties can be seen tapping walls to gauge whether a wall is structural or not and although as a rule of thumb the sound indicates the hollowness of a wall, it doesn't in anyway confirm if a wall is load bearing or not. In this article, we explain how to tell if a wall is load bearing.

How do you tell if a wall is a load-bearing wall?

Confirming if walls are load bearing falls outside of the scope of work of both the Level 2: HomeBuyer Report and the Level 3: Building Survey. These two reports focus on defects in a property. If your intention is to confirm if a wall is load bearing, you should speak to a structural engineer who undertakes this work. We have a nationwide coverage of structural engineers so you can always get it contact, to discuss what your plans are for the property or get a quote.

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What happens if you remove a load-bearing wall?

You must know the location of load bearing walls before carrying out any structural work involving walls in a property, such as building an extension, because not doing so makes a potentially life-threatening structural collapse possible. So, learning how to tell if a wall is load bearing is the first step.

That is why you must get an experienced structural engineer to inspect the property for you. They will have the necessary knowledge and, if their advice results in a structural collapse, they should at least have professional indemnity insurance.

It is a breach of building regulations to remove a load bearing wall without getting it strengthened or having the work signed off and registered at the local authority (council). On top of this, if you remove a load bearing wall yourself, without a survey and adequate sign off, you could invalidate your buildings insurance.

Walls which are load bearing can be removed, but it is a complex and expensive process which you need a structural engineer to oversee, therefore you should always take professional advice before doing so.

How do you know if you can knock down a wall?

A structural engineer’s inspection for walls which are load bearing will involve an invasive search for structural clues. They will have to access your property’s foundations and look beneath floorboards and possibly cut into drywall to find supporting beams.

    They start by going to the building’s concrete foundation, the lowest point in the home, and firstly look for walls directly embedded in it: these are load bearing and will, for example, include all four external walls which are all load bearing.

    They then locate the beams. Beams are sturdy pieces of wood which transfer the weight of the building into the foundation. They can go through many floors and therefore be part of many load bearing walls.

    They then work upwards and locate floor joists. These are wooden supporting beams and they are located on the underside of floors and support rooms above. If they meet a wall or a main support beam at a right angle, they are transferring the weight of the floor above into a wall and therefore, the wall is load bearing.

    They will follow similar procedures to locate internal walls.

A structural engineer can also obtain a building’s blueprints should further research be needed.

How to remove a load bearing wall?

  • Before making a hole in a wall which is load bearing, you have to support ALL the weight of whatever that wall supports by fitting a lintel – often a rolled steel joist (RSJ) bracing the ceiling of the wall. The dimensions of the lintel will be determined by a fine calculation of the support needed.
  • The professional operative drills holes very close to the ceiling and inserts strong steel ‘needles’ at two foot (61cm) centres across the full width of the opening. The needles must run either side of the wall by 18 inches (46cm). When these are in place, a timber known as a ‘head tree’ is placed beneath them at each side of the wall. This head tree is normally held up by props at two foot (61cm) centres.
  • With supports in place, the operative cuts the section out for the lintel’s insertion. The opening must be 12 inches (30cm) wider than the opening being made in the wall, to allow the lintel to sit on at least 6 inches (15cm) of masonry either side of the new opening.
  • When the lintel is in place, the masonry can be rebuilt and this may involve forcing in some sand and cement, mortar and even some roofing slate. Once the sand and cement have hardened, the needles and props can be removed and the opening in the wall can be cut, leading to the wall being removed.

This is a job to be undertaken by someone with appropriate experience and one that should ideally be advised upon by a professional. Many walls which are load bearing contain electrics and plumbing which will need to be dealt with by an appropriate professional.

We can help you with this service for a fee of £656 INC VAT.

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Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
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Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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