10 Questions You Should Ask Before Tearing Down An Interior Wall

published May 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

If you’ve ever watched any home makeover show ever, the big wall teardown signifies that Good Change Is Coming. It’s pretty much mandatory these days to knock down at least one interior wall in the quest for a more open floor plan. But, before you grab the sledgehammer (and pose for that obligatory kicking-through-the-wall Instagram photo op), hold up a sec. Here are ten questions you should ask yourself first.

1. Why Are You Doing This?

Instead of jumping straight to demo, take a step back and ask why you’re doing this, and if it’s right for you and your lifestyle. Do you want your space to look larger? Be able to keep an eye on your kids while you cook? Want to actually use your formal dining room on a daily basis instead of just holidays? Whatever your reasons, ask yourself: What problem are you trying to solve? Is there even a problem? And how will removing a wall address the issue?

2. Is it a Load-Bearing Wall?

Some walls serve a purpose other than dividing living spaces. Some of them have to do the that not-so-little job of holding up the house. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t remove an interior load-bearing wall, but you will need a plan for replacing that structural element (you may also need a permit from your city). Definitely get an expert involved to work out the best approach for, you know, keeping your house upright.

3. What Will You Lose?

You dream of a wide open space, but know that there’s a trade-off—starting with less privacy and more noise. Suddenly you’re minus a whole other separate room—one you might have used for alone time, for guests, for TV watching—and you can’t close the door and shut out unwanted sounds, the sight of dirty dishes, and people. Your home might feel colder, with more echoes. And it might be harder to heat and/or keep cool. Ask yourself how that will play out and if you’re okay with it.

4. Should You DIY or Hire A Pro?

It can be done as a DIY—we did it—but depending on your skill level and know-how, expect it to take longer than if you hire the job out. And even if you do the labor yourself, consider hiring someone to scope out the situation before you get started.

5. What’s Inside the Wall?

That wall may be hiding more than just the bones of your house. If there’s an outlet on the wall you’re talking electric lines in there. There might also be plumbing or HVAC, and maybe even an old gas line you don’t even know exists (been there!). Not only do you need to proceed with caution, you need a plan for rerouting or otherwise dealing with that stuff.

6. What Will It Mean for Resale?

When my husband and I first discussed going from two tiny bedrooms to one big one, my husband and I talked with our realtor for advice, who told us it really didn’t matter if we had one or two bedrooms, especially with only one bath. With that expert seal of approval, we tore down that wall. It’s worth talking with someone who knows your market well and can steer you in the right direction. They’ll know what buyers are looking for and potential deal breakers.

7. Are You Ready for Unwelcome Surprises?

If we’re talking about older homes, you may find little surprises like old newspapers, or less charming and potentially dangerous things like asbestos or lead paint. Have you done your homework to see what’s going to start floating around when the sledgehammer starts to fly?

There are also all kinds of hinky, unexpected things that can pop up. I desperately wanted an open floor plan for our third floor in our planned Airbnb, but when we got down to the studs and rafters, we found there was just too much weirdness in the ceiling for it to work. I also needed a place to mount the mini-split air conditioning system, so in the end we had to keep the wall.

8. What’s Your Transition Plan?

People tell me all the time that I should remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room in our old Victorian home. I have zero interest in doing this, but if I did I’d have to look at how to deal with the 10-inch deep space occupied by the wall and trim. What’s under there? If it’s the original hardwood floor (that’s been hidden for the last 128 years), how do I match it to the rest of the floor? If it’s not, now what? Do I have the skill to repair the ceiling, and match the unfortunate orange peel texture? Am I willing to paint the ceiling in both rooms, knowing that I can’t match the newly exposed area to the existing surfaces?

9. Can You Live With the Disruption?

This is especially important if you’re living in the same space where you’re taking out the wall. There is nothing easy or clean about removing a wall. I was painfully naive about the mess, the work, and how unbelievably long it would take when my husband and I removed the wall between our tiny bedroom and adjoining tiny spare room to make one big bedroom in our old house. No amount of plastic you hang around the demo zone can contain the drywall or plaster dust. (I’ve since learned that a rental HEPA air filter is well worth the cost.)

10. Where Will You Take Your Debris?

City waste collection services usually won’t take household construction debris. If you’re DIY-ing it, find a place that will accept your bags and bags (so many more bags than you can believe) of wall innards. Pro tip here: don’t go cheap on your contractor bags. Get the best money can buy or curse your decision when a nail rips a bag open then spews plaster dust everywhere. And double bag.

Bonus Question: Are You Up To Date on Your Tetanus Shot?

File this under “just in case.” My husband stepped on a decades-old nail when we tore out our wall out and we had to run over to urgent care where their first question was “when was your last tetanus shot?”