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The role of a load-bearing wall is to provide strength and support to the overall structure of a building. Ultimately, it is responsible for holding it up.

Load-bearing walls are integral to a building and their removal can result in severe damage. They must be located during a renovation project as the removal of one can essentially pull down a building.

For more advice on renovations, why not check out our tips for renovating a listed building?

What is Meant by “Load”?

In terms of structural engineering and construction, the term “load” refers to “the weight which is transferred down a structure”. The weight from the ceiling of a building will be transmitted through the load-bearing walls to reach the foundations of the structure.

Not all walls within a building are load-bearing, and they will not all have the same function of supporting the weight of the building.

A plaster wall

What is Used to Construct a Load-Bearing Wall?

A load-bearing wall is most likely to be made from the following materials:

• Brick
• Blockwork
• Concrete

How thick the load-bearing wall is depends on the type of building, how many floors it will be responsible for supporting, any other elements in the building that it will be accountable for (such as furniture and imposed loads), as well as how many floor levels it will support.

What Does a Load-Bearing Wall Support?

A load-bearing wall contributes to the overall strength of a building and supports other elements of the structure. Parts of a building’s structure that a load-bearing wall can support include, but are not exclusive to, the following:

Floor Joists

Floor joists are usually found on the first storey and upward floors of a building. They are implemented to provide support for open-floor areas and are commonly located above a load-bearing wall, or alternatively, built into one.

The Roof

A load-bearing wall can be included in the structure of a roof. For example, the ceiling joists can be backed with the support of internal, load-bearing walls.

Another Wall

It is not uncommon to discover that a load-bearing wall is responsible for supporting another wall located on top of it. This may seem like common sense, in that anything situated below a building’s structure will be absorbing weight from above. Therefore its removal will inflict incredible weakness on the building’s construction.

There are other areas to watch out for, such as a chimney stack that has been disconnected on the ground floor.

 A dividing wall between a living room and other room

What is the Difference Between a Loading-Bearing Wall and a Partition Wall?

A partition wall simply divides the space within a building and has no responsibility in its structure and strength. Due to this, removing them has little impact on the structure of a building. In theory, they are more adaptable and easier to move around, as well as being a cheaper modification in comparison to a load-bearing wall.

A partition wall will usually be made from fewer substantial materials and could be created from just plasterboard or plaster, for example.

However, it is also important to point out that some partition walls may contribute to the structure of the building, despite not seeming as though they are responsible. For this reason, it is always advised to source a structural conveyor who can seek out the purpose of all the walls in a structure.

For example, timber walls are often loadbearing, and shouldn’t be assumed that they are not loadbearing just because they’re not masonry.

A plaster wall.  A man writing notes on a desk.

How to Tell if a Wall is Load-Bearing

With a considerable amount of experience as structural engineers in Plymouth and Cornwall, here at Martin Perry Associates, we advise that in any circumstance where a building is being reviewed for a change in structure, a qualified and experienced structural engineer needs to assess the situation.

This investment can prevent costly and time-consuming damage that may be overlooked without the experienced eye. In cases where a load-bearing wall is desired to be removed, an alternative beam will need to be designed as a replacement.

If you are currently in the process of renovating a building, Martin Perry Associates offer a range of property and structural engineering services. Get in touch with us today for more information on what we provide.