Five Questions to Ask Before Tearing Down an Interior Wall
It may not be safe to do so at all.
The more time we spend indoors, the more we look for ways to redesign our homes to make them more accommodating. "Our homes have had to become more fluid with our changing lifestyle," says home renovation expert Jean Brownhill, founder of Sweeten. "Bringing down a wall to create an open concept living space delivers the rush of openness and natural light that we crave."
However, tearing down a wall can be a pricey and time-consuming project, especially if you're unfamiliar with the process. "The demolition part of the job is easy enough that most people can tackle it on their own, but patching the gaps and repairing any damages done can become expensive," Robin Lewis, host of Robin Lewis Makes on Smart Healthy Green Living, explains. "Engaging a structural engineer or an experienced builder will give you peace of mind, but this adds to the cost." Thinking about removing an interior wall in your home? Whether you hire a professional or tackle it DIY-style, read ahead to hear what factors Brownhill and Lewis say you should take into account before you begin the process.
Is it a load bearing wall?
If an interior wall is designed to support the weight of the floor or roof above it, removing it might not be an option. "Load bearing walls are much more complicated to remove and in many cases not possible," Brownhill explains. "These structural walls will require rerouting plumbing and gas lines, which will be more costly, since the area that is being supported will continue to need support during (and after) the removal."
Additionally, Lewis says it's also important to remember that just because you can't physically see something attached to a wall doesn't mean it isn't providing structural support elsewhere. "Most modern roof systems are generally designed to send the roof load to the external walls, but in some cases an interior wall is counteracting a force you may not see immediately," he explains.
What is behind the wall?
Opening up a wall can often uncover more problems, which is why Brownhill says finding out what's behind the wall before removing it is crucial. "If there are electrical, plumbing, HVAC, or ventilation lines behind the wall, rerouting them can be difficult, and in some cases, impossible," she explains. Additionally, Lewis says that it is not uncommon, especially in older homes, to find hazardous materials like asbestos, hiding behind the walls. "There's not much you can do about this besides to work with a builder and come up with a solution," he says.
Will I need a support beam?
If you're able to move forward with removing a load-bearing wall, Lewis says it will likely require installing a support beam that spans the length of the new opening. "This should be considered when designing the space, because putting the beam inside of the roof cavity is often significantly more expensive than keeping the beam below the ceiling," he explains. Lewis notes that you will also have to pick a style of support beam that suits your individual needs. "Steel can carry greater loads in a smaller size, but it's hard to work with (and more expensive)," he says. "While timber, or laminated veneer lumber, is easy to fix but more visually heavy."
Are there ways to integrate what's leftover into the design?
If you can't remove the entire wall, Brownhill recommends researching ways to incorporate what's left of it into the overall design of your home. "Retain as much of the structural wall as possible and look for design-friendly solutions," she advises. "For example, you can turn a column into a shoe closet, or attach a custom partition to it to create a cozy dining nook."
What will need to be done to complete the look?
Before a wall comes down, Brownhill says you should consider all the work (and costs) that will need to be completed after the wall is removed. "Patching the floor and ceiling will likely be required, but refinishing the floors and painting the entire ceiling may be necessary if you want a truly seamless finish," she explains.