Our house was built in the early 1980s. Back then, Ryan marketed this house as a combination of the elegance of yesteryear and modern-day amenities. I guess yesteryear was quite fond of dividing walls, half walls, spindles, and soffits. Or maybe that was modern amenities? Hard to know.
We knew when we bought the house that more than half of all the interior walls on the first floor were going to have to go. Most of them aren’t load bearing, anyway. The few that are run horizontally down the middle of the house. They’re still targets for removal (at least in part), but we’re leaving that to a contractor.
In four days over the Winter break, we took out nearly all of the non-load bearing walls. The goal: to get a step closer to the open floor plan this house so desperately needs, and to make the best use of limited contiguous home improvement time.
Here’s a picture of the layout of our first floor from the original marketing brochure, with mark-up showing these nasty, unnecessary walls.
How to Decide Which Walls to Remove
As a general rule, we think the less walls, the better. Exterior walls provide ample space for hanging decorations and pictures, and furniture and area rugs can be used to create distinct spaces. The mantra of yesteryear–that each room needs to be sufficiently divided by drywall–certainly no longer applies.
The red markings in the diagram show the walls we decided to remove in round one. These walls created division between the left, center, and right of the house and simply made little sense in a modern design. The portion of the wall to the right of the staircase will be replaced with a banister, while the others will be left open.
Since these walls are not load bearing, they are a prime target for do-it-yourself removal. The joists in this home run from the front of the house to horizontal supports in the middle of the house, and then continue to the back wall. These walls do contain some electric, including the main thermostat, but fortunately are void of plumbing.
We recommend only removing walls that are not load bearing. Review your plans with a structural engineer before you begin to tear down a wall. Make sure to consider how to deal with the electric before removing a wall.
The blue marking shows the location of a load-bearing wall we’d like to remove. Unfortunately, time and finances didn’t permit for this round, but we’re planning on hiring a contractor for that job in early Summer.
The green marking is the location of our kitchen pantry. Since we aren’t ready to redesign the kitchen, we didn’t want to take out those walls yet. We’re saving that project for the Summer, when we’ll knock out that pantry and replace it with a large pantry cabinet that matches the rest of the kitchen cabinets, but will likely put it in a different location.
The original layout of our first floor gives us 4 major spaces: a kitchen, dining room, family room, and living room.
The dining room is relatively small for our entertaining tastes, and the duplication of furniture in a living room and family room seemed as unnecessary as the walls we wanted to remove.
We also wanted a new room to support a study environment for our kids. We decided to re-arrange the floor plan to meet our needs:
The only challenge of this layout: the dining room lamp needs to be moved and there’s no overhead lighting in what was the living area.
We’ll tackle that challenge when we have a contractor remove the wall between the family room and dining room in the early Summer.
Pictures of Walls to be Removed
The top-down layout can tell you a lot, but the pictures of the space really show the division. Here’s the wall between the kitchen and the family room:
Here’s the wall between the foyer and the living room:
And here’s the wall to the right of the stairs (viewed from the dining room):
Steps to Take Before Removing a Wall
Here’s the steps we followed to prep for removing these walls. Some variation of these is required in every interior wall removal.
Step 1: Be sure the walls aren’t load bearing. Don’t assume; verify! If you aren’t qualified to make the determination, make sure to get the assistance of a structural engineer before you start.
Step 2: Anticipate any electrical, plumbing, or HVAC moves. A visual inspection can tell you a lot: are there receptacles or switches on the wall? Is there a thermostat on the wall? Is there electric on the floors immediately above or below the wall to be removed? Are there HVAC vents nearby or in the floors above?
Even walls that don’t have visible signs of electric might be concealing wiring traveling between floors or around the room. You can use an A/C voltage detector to detect hidden electric in walls.
Remember! It is illegal to splice electrical wires outside of a junction box that is accessible to the finished room. Removing a wall may require you to install a junction box in a less-than-optimal location. Think about the location of any junction boxes before you start cutting Romex.
Step 3: Turn off water at the main (if plumbing is expected), and turn off the relevant breakers in the panel. Reinspect the wall using a voltmeter or an A/C voltage detector before starting tear out.
How to Take Down a Stud Wall
Once you finished prep, you’re ready to tear out walls. The only rule: be willing to clean up any mess you make! We used a corded reciprocating saw, claw hammers, and a pry bar to do the job. Total removal time: 3 hours (not counting a trip to the landfill).
Here’s a picture about 15 minutes in. The half wall between the kitchen and dining room is already out and we’re working on the wall closer to where it joins the exterior:
An hour and a half into the project and we’re taking down the wall between the foyer and living room. This wall posed some particularly difficult challenges, including moving a thermostat and rerouting some wires that required an additional electrical box.
Two and a half hours in, the wall between the dining room and staircase is starting to be removed:
Challenges of Removing Walls
While this renovation didn’t require plumbing or HVAC re-routing, we did encounter a number of challenges that are the subject of future articles:
- Patching drywall on the exterior walls and ceiling where the walls were removed.
- Moving a programmable thermostat to a new location.
- Removing a switch and taking a receptacle off of that switch.
- Moving an outlet to an exterior wall location.
- Re-routing electric that was running to the second floor of the home.
- Dealing with gaps in flooring until we replace the whole first floor with hardwoods.
Pictures with Walls Removed
Truth be told, I’d love to wait to show you after pictures until we had the hardwoods installed, all the drywall patchwork completed, a new dining room light, etc.
But that’ll be months, so you’re going to have to use your imagination a little. Here’s a shot from the study across the front of the house into the new dining room. You can see the new banister isn’t installed yet, and the drywall still needs to be mudded and sanded a second time.
For the first time, you can see all the way across the front of the house with no breaks. Taking the wall back on the staircase made a huge difference in the open feel of the house.
And here’s the family room, as seen from the kitchen, also with some drywall patch work remaining on the ceiling.
A Special Thanks
(Nearly) Completing this job in four days was no small feat, and there’s no way we’d have accomplished it without some help from our friend Chris. Had to give him the shout-out here, since he lived with us for four days straight to make this happen. Big thanks, Chris!
What do you think? Planning to remove walls in your home? Already done the job? Let us know about it. We love to help share inspiration!