What is a Load Bearing Wall?

5 min read
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 co

Can you confirm if a wall is load bearing in a HomeBuyer Report or Building Survey?

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 call us today to discuss what your plans are for the property - 0333 344 3234 (local call charges apply) or click to get a quote.

Why must you know where load bearing walls are when making structural alterations to a property?

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.

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

It is a breach of building regulations to remove a load bearing wall without getting it strengthened and 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 can you tell if the wall is load bearing?

A structural engineer’s inspection for Walls which are load bearing in a building 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.

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

2 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.

3 They then work upwards and locate floor joists. These are wooden supporting beams which are located on the underside of floors which supports 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.

4 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?

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.

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

What is the cost for removal of a load bearing wall?

The cost for removal of a wall which is load bearing can vary considerably and in total must include inspection, professional labour, parts (e.g. the RSJ) and possibly paying for a Local Authority permit. It naturally increases with the size of the wall.

For a 3 metre by 3.6 metre wall, we were quoted prices starting from £2,500 and upwards at press time and these were subject to change pending a full structural inspection.

NB: A RICS surveyor may comment on whether a wall is load bearing however you cannot rely upon this as they are not qualified to definitively confirm. Only a Structural Engineer can definitively confirm if a wall is load bearing.

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