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How to find out if a wall is load-bearing

Amy Buxton Amy Buxton
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If you've ever stood back in your home, looked at a large surface and wondered what the space would look like without it there, the first question you need to be really asking yourself is how to tell if it is a load-bearing wall! After all, it's all very well wanting a more open-plan interior, but if you start knocking walls out here and there without doing your research, you could end up damaging the structure of your home beyond repair and you know who won't help you? Your insurance company!

Ask any architect and they'll tell you that you are best off getting in a professional to tell you which are load-bearing walls in your home, but if you want to start planning an open-plan look, there are some tips that should set you on the right track for identifying your more critical divides! Come with us now and we'll let you in on all of them!

1. Location.

When it comes to identifying a load-bearing wall in your home, location will tell you a lot. Naturally, your facade walls will all play a critical role in the structural integrity of a building, but interior ones can as well. A good rule of thumb is to look at the directions of your roof beams, as this should give you an idea of which walls are offering extra support, not just space division.

2. What about multi-storey homes?

In multi-level homes, you have to be extra careful when removing interior walls! If you smash out the wrong one, you could find, to your chagrin, that a bedroom falls down into your living room! Our advice is to start identifying your load-bearing walls from the bottom floor, upwards, so that you don't risk any collapsing floors.

3. How thick is the wall?

The thickness of your walls can be a fantastic clue as to whether it is serving a structural or purely decorative function. Generally, the thicker the wall, the more likely it is to be load-bearing, which is why prefabricated concrete or cement block, ceramic brick or thermo-clay blocks are often used. In purely partitional walls, you'll usually find materials such as plasterboard being used, which is great, as these are simple to remove.

4. Brick can be tricky.

You might think that bricks will always be load-bearing, as they form a seriously strong structure, but that actually isn't the case! Bricks are used for simple partitions as much as they are for vital structures, so you need to look for other clues! Check the direction of the bricks, as this can give you an idea of function, when cross-referenced with beam directions and also, think about getting up in your attic to check where your gable ends rest!

5. It's not just walls to look out for.

Depending on the age and build style of your home, it might not just be walls that you need to be aware of, in terms of structural supports that can be removed. For example, in rural barn conversions, you might find large wooden supports, as seen here, but with the right solutions in place, they can be removed. 

6. Wall deformations can be a clue.

If very little is giving away the locations of your load-bearing walls, perhaps you need to look a little more carefully, for signs of damage. Over time, the toll of supporting a huge amount of weight, plus external forces, will naturally produce visible signs of strain, such as hairline cracks or crumbling materials. Any professional builder will be abel; to spot these things a mile away!

7. Can you have a home without them?

If all of these signs have made you genuinely start to question whether open-plan living is even possible, don't get put off! Professional construction specialists make the whole process wonderfully simple, by supporting heavy loads with acros, removing internal walls and fixing strong lintels into place in order to open up a fresh new space. It might seem tricky, but in the hands of experienced builders, the whole process is actually deceptively simple, once you know which walls you are dealing with!

For a little more open-plan inspiration, take a look at this article: Open-plan kitchens you'll be inspired by.

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