How to Check for a Load-bearing Wall for Foundation Repair

We get it – finding signs and symptoms of your home in need of foundation repair is scary. You’re seeing cracks on the ceiling that gives an impression your home is about to open a portal to another dimension, doors are difficult to open as though your home is keeping a secret, and floors are sloping as though a part of your home will slide off into your yard – which doesn’t happen. 

Thankfully, these things are cosmetic issues. The majority of the time the damage doesn’t reach the structural level. But there is fear in the back of your mind. There’s the question, “is the rest of my house okay? Is there more I need to worry about?” These questions can compromise your peace of mind.

If you’re concerned about structural damage, you need to know how to check for load-bearing walls to see if they’re damaged. That way you can check for any damages to alleviate any fears you’ve had.

Dalinghaus Construction has inspected over 10,000 homes in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada, having over 2,000 homes undergo foundation repair. All of these homes have one thing in common: they have load-bearing walls. We aren’t strangers to these walls and how they may be affected by issues such as foundation settlement or heave. We want you to know how to find these walls so you can be closer to your peace of mind.

What is a load-bearing wall?

A load-bearing wall is like that supportive friend that supports you through tough times. They help carry a burden on your shoulders. 

A load-bearing wall helps support the weight of a floor or roof of a structure. A single story will transfer the load from the trusses of a ceiling down to the foundation. A two-story home will have a load-bearing wall to carry a load from the floor joists on the second story down to the foundation.

Basically, it’s a wall that helps carry a load and transfer it down to a solid foundation. It supports weight better than a floating wall on a slab-on-grade foundation. They are an important structural element of your home.

If you want to add a second story to your home, you need to ensure the foundation can handle the extra weight added vertically. This is where the load-bearing wall comes in.

A load-bearing wall would need reinforcement. You would need pad footers and footings on the inside of the slab rather than only on the perimeter.

Materials used for a load-bearing wall

The materials depend on load designs. If it’s an actual wall, 2x4s are usually used. Most exterior load-bearing walls will be 2×6. Depending on the design, it can be a whole wall along a hallway, or a combination of glulam beams or beams, with posts that go down to the pad footers. 

Load-bearing walls are usually made of wood. Any concrete used for these walls will act as pad footers in the slab that the extra weight of the home is put on. 

What is a non-load-bearing wall?

On a slab, it’s a wall set up without a pad footer or footing. The wall is only put on the slab. 

If there is a raised foundation, a non-load-bearing wall is sitting on the floor joists. 

If there isn’t something in the foundation to reinforce the weight of the home, chances are that the wall is non-load-bearing.

Where you’ll find load-bearing walls for your home

Exterior load-bearing walls 

Imagine you’re outside and looking at your home. Congratulations, you found the exterior load-bearing wall. 

Exterior walls are 99% all loadbearing. Because the exterior walls are the perimeter of the house, there will be a footing it stands on top of. If there weren’t footings for the exterior walls, your foundation would give out from the weight. 

Exterior walls are usually beefier than your interior walls since they can carry more weight. 

Interior load-bearing walls

You can only find these while inside your home. Depending on the design of your home, you likely already have an interior load-bearing wall to support the design of your roof. 

If your house wasn’t intended to have two stories, you have to go back and reinforce with deeper footings to help carry the loads. That way you aren’t facing foundation settlement. 

Why would you have to check for a load-bearing wall?

Because if you remove it, the area of your home supported by the load-bearing wall can fall. They’re important parts of the structure, being able to distribute weight easier than other walls in your home.

You also want to check and see if a load-bearing wall is damaged. Don’t worry, the chance of your house collapsing from a damaged load-bearing wall is very unlikely. The extent of the damage would have to be massive.  That said, they will start giving away over time, which can have long-term consequences. 

To emphasize how your house is unlikely to collapse, Dalinghaus Construction has lifted a house that was settled 14-inches with damaged loadbearing walls. Even with that much settling, the house wasn’t in danger of collapsing. Our production crew was able to finish that job with ease and wasn’t in danger. 

You still want it fixed right away. A damaged load-bearing wall can be an issue later down the line. It is a structural problem with your home if it is damaged. 

If the house on the inside is settling, look for load-bearing walls in the off chance interior piers need to be put on the footing that supports the wall. There isn’t use in putting galvanized steel push piers and helical piers under walls that don’t actually carry the weight of your home.

How to check for a load-bearing wall

Slab-on-grade home

If it’s a single-story slab-on-grade house, the best course of action is to look in your attic to see where the trusses cross. The trusses will sit on the wall and be tied in. 

You can do the same thing for a two-story house or higher. Wherever the wall is, it will carry down to the story below.

What if your home doesn’t have an attic? 

You’ll have to open up drywall or drill to see if there is a grade beam. It’s very invasive, but removing drywall would be the easiest to do.

You see the trusses set on that wall to carry the load. These will be nailed down.

Raised foundation

It’s much easier to find a load-bearing wall with a raised foundation – assuming you haven’t forgotten how to crawl from when you were a baby. It involves going through your crawlspace.

You’ll find a concrete stem wall that is typically 18-inches to two feet above grade. The load-bearing wall will always sit on the concrete stem wall

If you check and you still don’t know if your wall is loadbearing…

Have a professional check your home. You don’t need to bear the burden of identifying a load-bearing wall. Some people are trained and certified to look for these specific things.

A framer would also be able to determine load-bearing walls. Also, a structural engineer is probably the best choice if you need a rock-solid answer. 

What if a load-bearing wall is damaged?

You will need to hire a general contractor to have it replaced. 

These companies will shore up each side of the load-bearing wall by building temporary walls to hold up each side. The load-bearing wall would be taken out and built back up.

If the damage is due to your foundation, you will want to hire a foundation repair company to reinforce the foundation and prevent further damage to your home. 

Why load-bearing walls are important when it comes to foundation repair

Again, they are the walls that are distributing the weight of your home to alleviate stress. You want to make sure your foundation can support those load-bearing walls like they’re best friends.

Reinforcing your foundation with push piers and helical piers will prevent settling, which can harm those load-bearing walls. Making sure your foundation is okay will likely mean your load-bearing walls are also doing just dandy. 

You know how to check for load-bearing walls. See if your foundation has affected your walls in any way

You’ve learned about load-bearing walls, why they’re important, where you can find load-bearing walls, and how to check for them. If you think your load-bearing walls have been damaged in any way, have someone come out to check and see if your foundation is damaged.

A settling foundation can shift your home and affect your walls. Granted the damage is cosmetic the vast majority of the time, but having an opinion from an expert won’t hurt you. 

Have multiple foundation repair companies come out to your home. You’re reading that right. MULTIPLE.

You want to compare as many opinions as possible to see which foundation repair company best suits you. Compare assessments, costs, methodologies, and see the overall “vibe” you get from the companies.

You can start with Dalinghaus Construction to schedule a FREE evaluation to see if your foundation has settled and it may affect your walls.

Read the article Should You Get Multiple Foundation Repair Bids? (How You Benefit) to see how receiving multiple bids works in your favor.

For any questions, call Dalinghaus Construction at (877)360-9277, or click the button below to schedule your free foundation evaluation today!

WRITTEN BY

Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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