Q&A / 

Wall Removal Tips

DEAR TIM: I’m bound and determined to remove a wall between my kitchen and dining room to make the space more open. My husband says it can’t be done saying there are too many things in the wall, and that it could be a bearing wall. I’m frustrated. Money is not an object as I recently came into a sizeable inheritance. What are the real obstacles when removing a wall, and is it possible to achieve my goal of an open space? Can you share any tips to help me? Beth G., Charleston, SC

DEAR BETH: I’m sorry for your loss, but happy for your gain. The good news is that you can have that open space you desire. The cost to get there is directly related to how complex the job turns out to be. Believe it or not, this job could be as low as a 2 on the AsktheBuilder.com difficulty scale, or it could pin the meter at a 10. You often don’t know until you do some detective work.

Let’s start by describing some of the things that are hidden behind the drywall, plaster or paneling that’s covering your walls. For starters, there’s a very high likelihood you have electric cables in the wall. Very few walls have no electric cabling in them. These cables are not hard to relocate.

Inside the Wall.
These are just a few of the surprises you’ll discover behind drywall, plaster or paneling when you go to remove a wall. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

You could have cable TV cables, doorbell wires, heating ducts, cold-air return ducts, radiant heating pipes, steam pipes, plumbing drain or water supply lines, central vacuum piping, clothes dryer exhaust piping, pluming vent pipes, support columns, huge beams, etc., inside of the walls. That’s a partial list of challenges.

The good news is that almost all of these can be relocated, but there’s always an expense involved. Some things are much harder to move and relocate than others. Massive beams and support columns hidden in a bearing wall can be logistical and engineering nightmares. Rerouting a large plumbing drain line in a wall can be a daunting project for a plumber.

The first thing I’d do is to contact a seasoned remodeling contractor, builder, or carpenter. They often know how buildings are constructed and can easily spot clues that tell you what’s in the wall in question. This discovery expedition is much easier if your home has an attic, basement or crawl space that allows you to see both the top and bottom of the wall in question.

For example, if you have access to the top and bottom of the wall, you may clearly see plumbing drain lines exiting the floor or plumbing vent pipes exiting the top of the wall in the attic. You may clearly see heating pipes or ducts that penetrate the bottom of the wall in the basement or crawlspace.

Hidden beams and support columns are tougher to spot. In the last house I built, there was a wall between our family room and breakfast room that had a door way and a pass through opening. You’d think that would be easy to remove that wall. The truth be told, there was a massive support column in that wall, and the roof load on top of it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to relocate.

My situation is very rare, and for most houses you can almost always open up the wall in question. You may have to install a small corner vertical chase or fatten up a nearby wall to handle the things that will need to be relocated, but almost always it’s possible.

If you can’t get a contractor to come out, you may be able to rent a great tool that can help you. I have a wonderful digital viewer that allows you to poke a small hole in a wall and insert a small flexible shaft that has a camera attached to it. On the tool’s screen, I can see what the camera is seeing inside the wall. The tip of the tool has a LED light to illuminate the dark cavity.

Using this tool and making numerous small holes that can be patched, you can quickly see electric cables, plumbing pipes, ducts, etc., inside the wall. However, this camera will not be able to easily tell you if you’re looking at structural columns and beams. It’s smart to use one of these diagnostic camera tools to see what you’re up against.

When you do go to remove the wall, understand that if the house was built prior to 1967 there’s a good chance you’ll be dealing with lead paint. Unfortunately, the EPA enacted insane regulations in the recent past that stipulate harsh penalties to contractors that don’t follow the safety measures.

These regulations have added thousands of dollars to the average cost of doing simple demolition in houses. While there is a risk with lead paint dust, there are measures that can be taken to deal with this dust that are less expensive than what the EPA mandates.

What’s more, you may find it very hard to even find a contractor that’s willing to do the job because of the regulations. Many contractors have decided, after consulting with their liability insurance companies and their attorneys, that it’s not worth it to bid on jobs like this. The EPA regulations had an unintended consequence of creating a horrible lopsided supply and demand situation. Fewer contractors to do demolition work means much higher costs. Thanks so much, Uncle Sam.

You can watch an informative video that shows a video on wall removal right here. Just type “wall removal video” into the AsktheBuilder.com search engine.

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2 Responses to Wall Removal Tips

  1. I am in the process of doing this same wall removal and a total remake of the master bath in a home built in 1969. The one thing that wasn't mentioned is the Asbestos abate required due to asbestos in the drywall mud (and atleast in my Georgia home, almost every other surface I want to redo -- such as updating the floors which also have asbestos in the mastic, updating insulation in the walls, ...) In any case - yet another expense

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