Open plan living is very much in fashion. You only have to watch any of the property shows on TV to hear them talking about ‘knocking through’ to make two rooms into one. This can be an effective way to open up your living space and can completely transform your home.
Removing a dividing wall, whether it’s structural or non-loadbearing, is a major undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be daunting, as long as you follow some basic rules.
Do you really want to convert two rooms into one?
Before you go jumping into anything, stop and think for a minute. Ask yourself:
- Will the shape and size of the new room suit your needs, now and in the future?
- Will most of the family activities take place in the same room – eating, watching TV, homework, playing with toys – and will that work?
- Will remove a wall deprive you of privacy within the family, or from passers by?
- Is there continuity between the rooms? E.g. do the skirting boards match? Will there be two doors, or two fireplaces, for example, and should you keep them both?
- Will heating and lighting need to be modified?
- Will the loss of a wall make furniture difficult to arrange?
If you’re still happy that this is the right decision for your home, here are some basic tips to help you.
Steps to convert two rooms into one
The first thing you will need to do is determine whether the dividing wall is loadbearing.
If the dividing wall is loadbearing
You need to seek approval from your local authority’s Building Control Officer before removing a loadbearing wall. They must be satisfied that the removal of the wall won’t weaken the structure of the house or any buildings attached to it.
You’ll need to submit a drawing showing the proposed opening and its overall height and width, and how it will be supported. You will need to install a beam (usually a rolled-steel joist, or RSJ) that spans the opening and rests on bearings at each end. Building control may ask for a structural engineer to calculate the size and type of RSJ required. In fact, involving a structural engineer can be a very cost effective way of making sure the correct steel work is used. They can also provide you with documentary evidence that the job is structurally sound to avoid any problems if you come to sell the property.
To remove part of a loadbearing wall:
- Hire adjustable steel props and scaffold boards on which to temporarily support the wall above
- Remove the skirting boards from both sides of the wall and mark the position of the beam
- Insert ‘needles’ through the top of the wall by cutting away plaster locally and chiselling a hole through the brickwork so you can slide the wooden ‘needles’ through and support these on your props
- Once your supports are in place, you can hack the plaster off the wall to be removed using a club hammer and bolster chisel, then start to cut out the brick work, working from the top down.
To insert the beam:
You’ll need to cast a pair of concrete padstones and set these on brickwork piers at either end of your opening to support the RSJ. It will take more than one person to lift the RSJ in place, so make sure you have a suitable, sturdy platform to work from. When you’re ready, apply mortar to your padstones and lift the RSJ into place. You’ll need to pack the spaces between the beam and your brickwork with a mortar mix.
When everything is set, remove the props and needles and fill the holes. You can then clad your beam with traditional wet plaster (after applying a mesh), plasterboard or other fireproof board before decorating.
If the dividing wall isn’t loadbearing
If you’re certain that the dividing wall is simply a lightweight non-loadbearing partition wall, it can be removed without permission from your local authority and without worrying about temporary supports. For stud walls:
- Remove the skirting and disconnect any sockets or switches
- Strip the plasterwork using a claw hammer
- Remove the framework
- Repair the gaps left in the ceiling and walls, and possibly floor.
If your partition wall is made of concrete blocks, start by removing individual units from the top using a bolster chisel and club hammer. Work from the centre out to the sides. Chop off the plaster first so you can see the joints then drive your chisel into the joints to remove the blocks.
Once the big structural changes have been done, it’s simply a case of tidying everything up. You’re likely to need to plaster around the area, paint and decorate as a minimum. You’ll also need to remember to allocate budget for flooring and some electrical work so light switches operate as you’d like them to, for example.
Can I do this work myself?
As you can see, this job is much simpler when dealing with a partition wall rather than a loadbearing one. If there are structural considerations, it might pay to get some professional help to make sure everything is secure, even if it’s just for the knocking down of the wall and installation of the RSJ.
Having said that, if you do decide to tackle it yourself, you’ll need to rope in at least one mate to help with the heavy lifting – see if you can find one who’s done this kind of DIY before so you can benefit from their experience.