I’ve been professionally designing and renovating homes for over 30 years now. The question that comes up most often by homeowners is “can we remove this wall?” Whether it’s an exterior wall that will be opened up to a new addition, an interior wall that will be removed to create an open concept, or simply the widening of a window opening or doorway, the answer is always “yes you can”.
Before starting, there are important considerations to bear in mind. Firstly, is the wall a structural wall (is it supporting something above it) or a partition wall (simply dividing spaces)? If it’s a partition wall, roll up your sleeves, get the sledgehammer out and have at it. (Pre-approval from your spouse is strongly recommended.) If it’s a structural wall, however, you will need to do a little more planning. (If you’re not sure, treat the wall as a structural wall or call in the pros.)
When removing a structural wall there are three main considerations:
- The specifications of the beam that will span the opening where the wall was removed.
- The posts that will support the beam at each end.
- How to support the load above while the wall is being removed.
The first two considerations are easy. You will need to hire a structural engineer to specify the size and composition of the beam and posts and how everything should be connected together. Hiring an engineer sounds expensive, but it’s not, often $500 to $750, depending on the complexity of the structure and how much you shop around.
There are also point load considerations the engineer will advise on to properly support the new posts. These are the points where the two posts will transfer all the weight to vs. the removed wall which spread the weight over more area. Think of it like wearing snowshoes. If you jump into deep snow wearing just your boots (the two posts), you will sink deep into the snow. With snowshoes, your weight is distributed over a wider area (similar to the wall), and you will only sink a few inches. Because all the weight above is now resting on two points, whatever is under your floor must be able to support the posts. The engineer will tell you what’s needed.
When removing a structural wall, it is very important to adequately support the structure above while the wall is out and before the new beam and posts are in. The best rule-of-thumb on this is to build a temporary wall on each side of the wall to be removed, and construct the temporary walls the same way the structural wall was built. For example, if the wall you are removing was built with 2x6 studs at 16” spacing, build your temporary walls the same way.
Needless to say, don’t remove the temporary walls until the new beam, posts and point load provisions are all in place as per the engineer’s specifications.
One last consideration is the re-routing of electrical wires, ventilation ducts and plumbing pipes into alternate walls. You will need to do this as per the building codes and without jeopardizing any performance efficiency.
Following the engineer’s specifications, city permit regulations, and good common sense will ensure the project is done safely and that the outcome aligns with what you envisioned when you first started dreaming about that wall disappearing.
If you’ve been hankering to try out those tools you have in your garage, and you don’t mind a little dust and sweat, then do your research and get to work. If you are a little less ambitious, hire an experienced and competent renovation contractor you can trust to work in your home and take care of the entire project for you.