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What is a load-bearing wall?

A load-bearing wall is any wall of a building that is part of its structure and fulfills the function of providing support for it and other constituent elements, such as beams, vaults, lintels, pillars, columns, and others. 

When carrying out renovations, it is important to respect and maintain the structure of the load-bearing wall since removing it could mean damaging the stability of the building. This could even lead to its collapse since this cancels out its main function: supporting the building’s loads. 

A load-bearing wall is responsible for distributing loads to the ground where it is set up. This should therefore be on foundations that are stable to prevent the wall from being driven into the ground. The foundation of load-bearing walls consists of a linear or continuous footing – that is, a foundation (usually made of concrete) located under the pillars of the structure. 

What are the characteristics of a load-bearing wall?

  • Load-bearing walls are made out of resistant materials, such as stone, steel, concrete, or brick. These materials make it possible to bear large loads without any deformations. 
  • Load-bearing walls act to support the building. They differ from other types of walls whose function is to separate spaces. 
  • Load-bearing walls cannot be taken down in renovations.
  • The weight that load-bearing walls support is distributed from the ceiling and presses down and out through the foundation.
  • The load-bearing walls are designed and planned to support more weight than expected, so it maintains both the structure and the elements inside it. 
  • All of a building’s exterior walls bear the load, so they are load-bearing walls.
  • Load-bearing walls are more than 30 centimeters wide.

How to identify a load-bearing wall?

There are several ways to recognize a load-bearing wall. Some of them are through:

  1. Blueprints: these walls are in a thick outline with different textures inside and a thick axis in the center. 
  2. Location: in the infrastructure, the load-bearing walls are located on the perimeter of the building and support the roof. 
  3. Materials used: they have to be very strong to withstand the load.
  4. Thickness: load-bearing walls are bulky and robust, depending on the function they fulfill.
  5. Structure: if the structure is built based on beams, the load-bearing wall acts as their support. That is, any wall perpendicular to one or several beams is a load-bearing wall. 
  6. Distribution of floors: the load-bearing walls start from the ground floor and reach the highest floor, keeping the same distribution between them.
  7. Sound: load-bearing walls are solid. One way to identify them is by the sound they make when you hit them: they should dull a thud. If the sound is hollow, it is probably a partition wall.

What is the difference between a load-bearing wall and a partition wall?

A partition wall is a thin wall, about 10 centimeters thick, while load-bearing walls are usually 30 centimeters thick or more.

Differentiating a load-bearing wall from another type of wall or dividing elements in buildings is essential to carry out renovations and maintenance measures. Partitions are dividing walls that do not put the stability of the building at risk in the event that it is knocked down since they don’t bear loads, unlike load-bearing walls.

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