Five Things to Consider Before You Knock a Hole in the Wall

Removing a wall can double the size of your room, let in light and satisfy your desire for open plan living. It can also be a recipe for disaster. Here’s what to consider before you get busy with the sledgehammer.

#1:      Do you need permission?

Whether you need a building permit varies from city to city. As a general rule, knocking down a non-structural wall does not need a permit. If you live in an apartment block you may need permission from the body corporate or owners’ corporation before you undergo any building work. The owner has the right to refuse, no matter how innocuous your plans.

#2:      What’s Inside the Wall?

Most walls contain electrical cables, so don’t pick up your power tools until you know where the cables run. Rerouting electrical, plumbing and other embedded systems is not a job for the unqualified. Employ an electrician to check out the wall before you begin. Interfering with power cables is dangerous – consulting a professional could save your life.

#3:      Is the Wall Structural?

Unless you’ve studied structural engineering or have building experience, it can be hard to tell whether a wall’s load-bearing or not. Taking down a load-bearing wall can cause your house to collapse, so call in a second opinion. A short consultation with a builder, architect structural engineer or architect could save you a lot of time and heartache in the long-run. This is particularly important for two-story homes, as the upper story places significant stress on the ground level structure.

#4:      Do You Need a Lintel?

Lintels carry the load left behind when you take out a structural wall. Without a lintel, your wall cannot support the weight of the rest of your building, and you expose your home to structural collapse. Lintels vary in size according to the weight they have to bear. You definitely will need a structural engineer’s recommendation before you take down a load-bearing wall – most builders will not remove the wall without one.

#5:      Can You Do It Yourself?

If your wall’s non-load bearing and doesn’t house any electrical, plumbing or HVAC cables, then possibly. Often, the difficulty comes not from removing the wall, but from fixing up the floor and ceiling afterwards. Hardwood floors, in particular, are tricky to patch up in a way that looks seamless. Ideally, you’ll replace the entire floor covering.

Matching a smooth-skim ceiling is fairly straightforward for anyone with basic plastering skills. If you have molding, it’s hard to patch up the gap between the two former spaces, particularly if the molding is old or architecturally unique. In this instance, you might have to commission bespoke or replacement moldings.

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