Sunday, December 6, 2015

DIY: How to knock down a wall

One of the most enjoyable parts of a major renovation is bashing down walls you no longer need. It's something that's definitely DIY-able, though there are a few caveats, so I thought I'd run through the basics in case anyone is feeling like breaking out the sledgehammer.

Before and after plans - rough version
We've rearranged the living spaces in this house, turning what was the lounge into our new kitchen, and the old master bedroom (with the best views in the house) becomes the lounge. The bedroom and old lounge were divided by a passage to nowhere (it was the entry passage until the downstairs was added in the late 80s), so we're removing the wall between the bedroom and passage to make the lounge larger and use the dead space.

The passage - currently dead space as it leads nowhere. That wall has to go!

Because we're rookies (and the wall we're removing is load-bearing), our builder will be sorting out the structural side of things, but to save costs (and because it's fun) we're doing the demo ourselves.

That means that in this case we'll be stopping at the studs because otherwise we'd be leaving the ceiling unsupported. Our architect has designed for a beam to be inserted in the roofspace and tied in to replace the need for the studs, but until our builder is on site with props later this week the studs have to stay.

1. Make sure you know the function of the wall

If it's load-bearing or a bracing element you need a building consent. If it's neither of those things there'll still be a bit of building work to make it good, so do your due diligence. Before you smash anything up make sure you have a plan for getting the house back to a liveable state. For us that means calling in the builder at some point - and if you're not too sure that probably means you're in the same boat.

2. Check the location of wiring and plumbing

Where the switchboard used to be
We've already had the sparky remove all the wiring from this wall - in fact the switchboard was mounted on it, and we had a new one installed on a different wall specifically so we could remove the wall. We needed to rewire the whole house anyway, but the relocation still cost a bit extra.

It's not always obvious that there are services hidden inside walls, but if you crawl around in the roofspace above the wall and have a good look you should get a reasonably good idea.

3. Safety first

Get your earmuffs and dust mask out. This is noisy, messy work and you want to stay healthy so you can enjoy the fruits of your labour.

4. Remove door, architraves and skirtings

If there's a door take it down and get it out of the way. Then it's time to break out the flatbar, crowbar and sledgehammer (our lovely set were wedding gifts). It should be possible to tap the flatbar in behind each piece of timber and then pry it off. For long pieces, like either side of a doorway or a long stretch of skirting, you may need to lever it off in multiple places before it will come away. We're saving skirting and architraves so that we can match up new doorways in this old house - if so you'll want to be a bit more cautious. They tend to come off in one piece reasonably readily, though.

5. Let the smashing begin!

Finally, the fun part. If your walls are just gib it'll be easy to break through and then take it off in big shards. Though smashing stuff into smithereens is fun it's not really the most efficient method so try not to break up the sheets too much - this will help reduce the dust and the job will go a lot quicker. If your house is old like ours there might be sarking behind the gib, which does increase the work - two layers to remove.

Where you've removed trim you'll probably have an exposed edge which will allow you to start levering the wall lining off. So you might not have any excuse to smash - but I won't tell if you do a little bit of smashing anyway. ;-)

So that's our process - not sophisticated but gets the job done. I probably don't have to say it but I definitely recommend checking in with a builder or similarly qualified expert before doing anything - I'm not advocating knocking down walls all over the place, and I'd hate for your house to fall down. But there's room in this process for amateurs to get their hands dirty - we'd know because we are definitely amateurs!

Before and after - looking towards the kitchen

And we're far from finished our new lounge, but we can already feel the difference in the space - heaps more light and it feels huge even though all those studs are still limiting the useful space.

Before and after - looking down the passage

Have you ever knocked down a wall? Do you think it looks like fun or would you leave it to the pros?


  1. Cool! I have a wall to come down in my kitchen - there was once a large larder where the boiler used to live (and a hot water cylinder in the hall cupboard, amazing how much space this all took up). The previous owner took the doors off the larder but now I need to knock the wall down between it and the kitchen. It's brick, not load-bearing but I'm going to get the pros to do it anyway. It's going to be a messy job! Some electrical work required too, relocating a light switch. The wall behind it needs boarding over though so that should be a good chance to hide some wiring and put a new outlet in too.

    1. Oh, brick does sound like hard work! Nice that you can reclaim the space though, I always find it amazing how people in times gone by, even in very small spaces, didn't bother to maximise what they had. But I guess hindsight is 20/20...

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