Last edited 09 Feb 2021

Loadbearing capacity

In construction, a loadbearing element (sometimes called a ‘bearing’ element), such as a structural wall, is an active structural part of a building. Typically, it carries and transfers dead or imposed loads down into the foundations. Loadbearing walls are often constructed from high strength materials such as brick, block or concrete.

Loadbearing capacity is the maximum ability of a structural member or material to take loading before failure occurs. For example, before the onset of unacceptable bending.

The opposite of a loadbearing structural member is one that is non-loadbearing and which only carries its own weight, such as a non-loadbearing partition. Typically, these elements can be removed or repositioned relatively easily since they carry no loads and so will not affect the stability of a structure. However, some elements that are generally considered to be non-loadbearing, such as cladding panels, may be affected by dynamic loads, such as wind loading which can cause deflection or suction failure.

In loadbearing construction, applied loads (dead, imposed and dynamic) are distributed in a variety of ways, including through walls, columns, beams, slabs etc. The builders of the large Gothic cathedrals invented a novel way to increase the loadbearing capacity of the external walls which may otherwise have been pushed outwards by the enormous lateral forces exerted on them by the roof vaults. The problem was solved by the addition of flying buttresses which relieved the loads from the external walls and conveyed forces from the roof into the ground.

The loadbearing capacity of an element of structure can be influenced by:

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