Houses are normally designed for the ‘average’ family. On the ground floor of British houses, this usually means a separate living room, dining room, hall, and kitchen (in some older houses, a few more rooms are thrown in for good measure). If this type of layout does not suit your needs, or if small rooms are a result, then there is an alternative: knock down one or more of the dividing walls to give you the space you want. The most popular wall for the ‘knocking through treatment’ is the wall dividing the living and dining rooms.
Often, the dining room is a seldom used part of the house. If this is the case, combining it with the living room will create more space for everyday living, as well as making the house seem larger. If you want to keep some form of division between the two rooms for certain occasions, say if you have children who have to study or want to entertain friends, a simple foldaway screen can be used. Other walls, depending on the layout of the house, can be removed for an open-pian effect.
The wall dividing the kitchen from the dining area in some homes could be replaced by a breakfast bar, with the seating on the dining side. A pleasant effect can also be achieved, in some situations, by taking away the hall wall and incorporating the stairs in the living area. Bear in mind that in a cold climate, removing walls can make the house more difficult and expensive to heat. In a hot climate it will help keep the house cool. Either way, unwanted noise will more easily spread throughout the house.
Removing an internal masonry wall is not simply a question of hacking the bricks or building blocks away to form the opening. Most internal walls support some other part of the house structure, and this support has to be replaced when the wall is removed. This is done by placing a lintel across the top of the new opening to carry the masonry, floor joists and so on above. In Britain, all structural alterations within the house have to be approved by the local building inspector before work starts. You will have to have plans and calculations passed by him, showing that the structural strength of the wall to be removed will be adequately replaced. The first job is to determine the function of the wall you are replacing. Few walls are simply room dividers. Even if they are not continued on the next floor, they may still be used to support floors joists, and their removal will require additional strengthening. The best way to solve this problem is, literally, to get on top of it; in other words, go up to the floor above (or into the loft if you live in a bungalow).
By measuring the upstairs room dimensions and comparing them with downstairs, you will be able to tell if your wall supports another. By removing a section or more of floorboards as near as possible above the wall to be removed -obviously this will not be necessary in the loft-you can see how the joists are arranged. In many situations, only a short length of board needs to be removed, say between a pair of joists, and a combination of mirror and torch can be used to carry out a complete examination.
To remove a section of floorboards, you can use either a power saw or a special curved hand saw. Take care not to risk cutting through electric cables or water pipes running across the joists. If you are using a power saw it is best to set the blade slightly shallower than the thickness of the floorboard. The thickness can be ascertained by carefully drilling a hole with a hand drill and noting the point on the drill bit when it breaks through the board. Once the cut has been made, the final severing of the board can be done carefully with a chisel. To enable you to replace the piece of board easily, cut it as near as possible to the joists, so that battens can be nailed to the sides of the joists to carry the replaced board. The location of the joists can usually be determined by the position of the nail heads in the floorboards. Before cutting, however, check that you will not be cutting through the joists as well. Careful probing with a bradawl or drill will normally be a sufficient guide to the exact location of the joists.
The picture above show examples of most situations you are likely to encounter.
1. The wall is not continued above the level of the upstairs floor, but the joists run across it and bear on its top. Joists arranged like this are usually lapped above the wall. Such a wall, whether the joists are lapped or not, is usually load-bearing, and its removal will necessitate the installation of a lintel.
2. A situation where the joists run parallel with the wall. At first sight, the wall appears to be non-load-bearing, but check carefully. In some cases the wall may also carry a beam running outwards from some point on it, which may be used to support the joists or other structure. If so,the top section of wall carrying this member will have to be retained, and a lintel inserted below it to carry the weight of the floor.
This situation may also be found where the wall continues up through the floor. It is not a common one, however. If you have this type of arrangement, where the downstairs ceiling and upstairs floor surfaces extend over the top of the wail, it is likely that the wall has been added later. The wall does not carry any weight, and can simply be knocked away. A lintel must be used to support the remaining masonry, but it is still necessary to check the position of the joists, so that.proper temporary support is given while the wall is removed. This is obviously essential if a major disaster is to be avoided.