Load-Bearing Walls vs. Non-Load Bearing: How to Tell the Difference with Confidence

a room stripped back ready to be renovated

Over the last few years, home renovations have become increasingly popular, and finding out whether you have load-bearing walls in your home can have a significant impact on the improvement and extension. 

There are many reasons why renovations have become so popular. For starters, the years 2020 to 2021 saw a number of homeowners with some time on their hands.

This meant that many people who had “dreams” about renovating a home suddenly had the space and time to make it a reality, with home renovation spending rising by 36% in 2021 alone.

As well as this, renovating a home can be one of the best ways to add value to a property, making it a great option for those planning to stay long-term in a property or those looking to put it back on the market.

The Rise Of Open Plan Living

an open plan kitchen and living area with oak flooring

If you’re planning on joining the renovation craze, then it can end up becoming two different types of projects. The first is a full-scale renovation, including hiring a professional company that can assist with soft strip, dismantling, and asbestos removal – check out abruss.co.uk for more information.

The second is a small-scale renovation, done almost entirely by yourself and with little to no extensive changes. Making a lounge or kitchen bigger, for instance, can be done by knocking down a single wall.

If you have a room adjoining the living room or kitchen that you don’t use, there’s nothing stopping you from removing that interior wall and turning it into one big space.

Only, this is where inexperience can bite you. The problem with carrying out a small renovation as a DIY project is that you open yourself up to a number of pitfalls that can occur during the renovation itself – most of which come with manipulating the interior of a house. Knocking down a wall might seem easy, but it isn’t, and nor should it be.

The Mistakes Homeowners Can Potentially Make

The important thing to know is that several walls in your home are going to be load-bearing, which means they are an active structural element of the building.

In other words, it’s not a great idea to get rid of them! It is absolutely crucial, therefore, that you recognize which walls are load-bearing and which walls aren’t before you venture into the renovation playground.

The Definition of Load-Bearing Walls

a room stripped back ready to be renovated

A load-bearing wall is a structural component of a building that carries and transfers the weight from the roof and upper floors down to the foundation. This weight includes the load of the wall itself and the loads of the elements it supports, such as roofs, floors, or sometimes other walls above it.

Load-bearing walls are a crucial part of a building’s structure and stability. They are usually thicker and stronger than other walls and are typically made from reinforced concrete, brick, or other sturdy materials. Removing or altering these walls without proper support can lead to significant structural damage and even building collapse.

On the other hand, a non load-bearing wall, also known as a partition wall or curtain wall, does not support any structural weight from the building. It does not bear any load other than its own weight. Its primary function is to divide space in buildings into rooms or areas.

These walls are typically thinner and can be made of lighter materials, such as drywall or plasterboard. Non load-bearing walls can be removed or repositioned without affecting the structural integrity of the building, although care should still be taken with regard to electrical wiring, plumbing, and other infrastructure that may be housed within these walls.

How To Know If A Wall Is Load-Bearing

There are a number of clues that can help you check if a wall is simply separating a space or supporting a significant amount of weight.

Find the Joists

Firstly, learn how to find the joists. Typically, if a wall is running parallel to the floor joists above, then it is not a load-bearing wall, but if it is running perpendicular to the joists, then there’s a good chance that it is.


Load-bearing walls are often placed over or directly parallel to beams, columns, or girders, which are designed to handle the load. In many cases, these walls run perpendicular to floor joists.


They typically extend continuously throughout the structure, from the foundation to the roof, transferring loads from one level to another.

Another good way to find out about load-bearing walls is by going down into the basement and looking for any walls that go into the concrete foundation of the house. A house’s load-bearing walls will transfer their strain into a concrete foundation, meaning any walls that are directly conjoined to the lowest point of your house are walls that must not be removed.


Load-bearing walls are usually thicker than non load-bearing walls to accommodate the load they carry. The thickness may vary based on the building codes and the loads they are designed to support.

Opening Features

Openings such as doors and windows in load-bearing walls are usually smaller and less frequent. They also often have lintels, which are horizontal supports, over the openings.

Common materials used in the construction of load-bearing walls include:

  • Concrete, poured or in blocks
  • Brick
  • Stone, although less common in modern construction
  • Timber or engineered wood products

It’s important to note that just because a wall is made of one of these materials does not automatically mean it’s load-bearing – the placement and construction of the wall are key.

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Non Load-Bearing Walls

a man climbing up a ladder whilst renovating a house
Photo by Milivoj Kuhar

Non load-bearing walls, also known as partition walls or curtain walls, are not part of the primary structural system and do not bear any load other than their own weight. Their main function is to create divisions within an interior space, rather than to support the structural integrity of the building.

Unlike load-bearing walls, non load-bearing walls do not necessarily run perpendicular to floor joists and aren’t aligned with major structural components in the building. They can often be located anywhere the interior design requires, as their primary purpose is to define spaces.

Non load-bearing walls usually have larger openings for doors and windows, as they do not need to support loads above them. They are also typically thinner than load-bearing walls, however, this can vary based on the building’s design and the wall’s purpose. 

Finally, non load-bearing walls can be added, altered, or removed more freely than load-bearing walls without affecting the building’s structural integrity.

However, considerations regarding electrical wiring, plumbing, or HVAC ducts within the wall should be taken into account.

Common materials used in the construction of non-load bearing walls include:

  • Drywall/Gypsum board
  • Plasterboard
  • Wood
  • Glass 
  • Metal studs

It’s very important that you do not gloss over partial walls, drywalls, or any walls for that matter. Unless you were there during the construction of the house, you should assume that every wall is load-bearing and go at it from an angle of finding the ones that aren’t.

Checking Blueprints or Original House Plans

If you’re trying to determine whether a wall is load-bearing or not, examining blueprints or original house plans can be an invaluable resource. These plans should indicate which walls are designed to bear loads.

If you don’t have the blueprints to hand, you may be able to get them from the city or county building inspector’s office, the builder who constructed the home, or perhaps even stored somewhere within the home itself like the attic or basement.

In most blueprints, load-bearing walls are indicated by thick, bold lines, while non load-bearing walls are represented by thinner lines. However, this can vary depending on who drew the plans. When in doubt, consult with an architect or a structural engineer.

Sometimes, changes are made during construction that aren’t reflected in the original plans, or modifications might have been made after the house was built.

Use the blueprints as a guide, but also look for physical signs in the building itself. It’s always a good idea to consult with a professional before making any significant changes to your home’s structure.

Load-bearing walls are a crucial part of a building’s structure as they support and distribute the weight of the building from the roof and upper floors down to the foundation.

Removing or altering these walls without proper precautions can have significant and potentially catastrophic consequences.

If you have trouble, don’t hesitate to hire a professional who can ensure that your renovation ends in success, and not disaster!

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a very small commission if you click through and make a purchase. These links help to pay the editorial costs of writing a blog. For more information, please read my full affiliate disclosure here.

I also use Artificial Intelligence Image generators to create some of my images. These are to show you examples of my ideas and inspiration when I cannot produce the real images myself.

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