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7 tips to identify a load-bearing wall

Naia Carlos Naia Carlos
Modern home by amBau Gestion y Proyectos Modern
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When renovating a house that involves moving or eliminating divisional elements, it’s important to determine whether the walls are merely to separate the spaces or they’re load-bearing walls that are part of the house’s foundation. Load walls, also known as supporting walls, are known to have structural function, working in solidarity with other structural elements of the building such as arches, vaults, beams and others that work to support the building.

This process is particularly important when reforming or rehabilitating houses that are located in old buildings and rural or countryside settings as these architectural types commonly count on a load-bearing construction. There are instances when a house or building has collapsed due to having made a change without appropriate permits or technical advice regarding the load-bearing walls.

Fortunately, architects are more aware and equipped to deal with the dangers of handling load-bearing walls nowadays. Professional consultation is best if you’re planning to make adjustments on your walls, but knowing the basics could also be advantageous. Get started by reading the easy ways on how to tell if it is a load-bearing wall or not.

1. Location

A key detail that can tell us whether we’re looking at a supporting wall is its position inside the house. After all, the position is a good indicator of a wall’s primary function. Façade or exterior walls are usually load-bearing walls as they’re also quite good for thermal and acoustic insulation. 

The position of the rest of the supporting walls can often be determined by the distance between them and the walls of the facade or by their relation to other structural elements. Since the exterior walls are only on the sides, internal load-bearing walls are usually located near the center of the house to offer additional support.

2. Go bottom to top in multi-storey buildings

If the building has several storeys, it could be very useful to observe the position of the walls that may be serving as a building structure on the different floors. To find out which walls of the house are loaded, it is best to begin from bottom to top. At the lowest point of the house, look for walls with beams that connect directly into the concrete foundation. These are likely to be load-bearing walls, transferring the weight and the strain directly into the foundation. Interfering with these walls during renovations are not recommended.

3. Thickness of the wall

The width of the wall offers clues regarding its function and whether or not it is a load-bearing wall. A basic rule of thumb is, load-bearing walls are usually a good deal thicker than the partition walls that are simply used to separate one room from another.

It’s important to note that the thickness of load walls can vary greatly from one case to another with different factors such as type of building and material. Materials commonly used for load-bearing walls include concrete, pre-fabricated concrete or cement block, ceramic brick or thermo-clay blocks.

4. Brick walls

One would think using brick would make it more difficult to identify the load-bearing walls, but the same rules actually apply. Brick-built load-bearing walls are typically thicker than partition walls of the same material. Other ways to identify it are by the direction in which the brick is placed on a supporting wall, the gaps between the bricks and finding walls built with several sheets of bricks to increase the thickness.

5. Look for beams and slabs

Load walls are not the only elements that serve to preserve the structural integrity of a building. Beams are known to have structural functions, particularly important in keeping the structure more stable. These usually span different floors, but if the beam goes from the foundation to any wall above it, this wall is likely to be load-bearing. Beams can usually be located behind a drywall. They can be built from different materials with common ones being solid wood or metal.

6. Find structural deformations

In old buildings – or ones that aren’t too well-constructed – the beams and forged slabs can get deformed as the years pass. This causes a shift in the structure. Walls that didn’t use to be load-bearing can become an active part of the building and end up supporting the weight of the structure. This is why it’s important to enlist the help of good technical experts when breaking down walls in old buildings. Dismantling these walls does not just compromise the stability of the building, but a more common effect is cracks and leaks.

7. Renovating a house with load-bearing walls

When working with old buildings and undertaking new renovations, an architect will start by studying the building to determine which walls to retain in the structure. The work will also include making the necessary calculations to propose the most appropriate solution in case it is necessary to make changes on a load-bearing wall. This way, the stability of the house or building will not be compromised.

After renovations come decorations. For more tips on how to spruce up the home, check out these 6 beautiful decorating ideas for high walls

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