transformation month

9 Crucial Things to Know Before You Knock Down a Wall

updated Sep 14, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

So you’ve completed some of the smaller fixer-upper projects you’ve had on your to-do list for years, and you’re feeling confident about your DIY game. Now you’re looking at that wall between your kitchen and your living room, and you know: it’s got to go. You’ve got grand plans and big dreams of open-concept living, and that wall is standing in your way.

But wait! Before you grab a sledgehammer and go full-on demo-day, there are a few things to take into consideration. Chris Rhodes, partner at Stone Ridge Custom Homes in Tennessee, explains the nine crucial things to know before you knock down a wall.

Is the wall load-bearing?

A load-bearing wall is a wall that is imperative to the structural integrity of your home, so knocking it down without implementing some other kind of support (such as a beam) is not something you want to do.

So how do you know if a wall is load-bearing? 

Rhodes says most people with experience can usually tell, but if you’re a newbie home renovation artist, you can go on a little investigation journey to find out if the wall you want to knock down is load-bearing. He suggests following the wall (above and below).

“If you were to go above that wall, is there another wall on top of it? If there is, keep following that line. What’s above that?” says Rhodes. “If you are up in the attic and see that supports are coming into that wall, that’s a load-bearing wall.”

Similarly, he said if you have a crawl space underneath your home, you can also look for the signs of load-bearing walls, such as cinder blocks or support beams that would line up with the wall in question.

If it does turn out to be a load-bearing wall that you want to remove, that doesn’t mean you can’t remove it, you’ll just need to add in some extra steps.

“It’s not the end of the world, it just has its challenges,” says Rhodes—challenges that are probably best handled by a pro. A structural engineer or architect can help determine how to move forward and what size beam you’ll need to use if the wall comes out.

Where are the ceiling joists?

Rhodes says it’s also important to take into account where your ceiling joists are located because your wall might also be supplying their support.

“While that wall may not be necessarily load-bearing, you would still have to put a beam in to carry those ceiling joists,” he says. That’s another instance in which hiring a pro is the best call.

Are you going to run into plumbing?

While some wall plumbing may seem obvious (if there’s a sink backing up to the wall, it’s likely going to have plumbing in the wall that will need to be re-routed), but other plumbing might sneak up on you, so you’ll have to use your investigation skills again.

Rhodes says if you have a second floor above the wall you’re wanting to take out, check upstairs to see if there’s a bathroom on either side of the wall (or sink, washing machine, etc) that could potentially drain water or waste down pipes in the wall you’re wanting to take out. If you have a crawlspace, you can also easily check for pipe placement.

Rhodes says this includes checking for the location of your plumbing vents, as those are vital to your home’s airflow.

If you do run into plumbing pipes, you’ll likely want to hire a pro to reroute them, but don’t worry, you can still remove that wall, it just might be a bit more expensive.

What about electrical lines?

“You can almost guarantee that any wall you remove is going to have electrical in it,” warns Rhodes.

Depending on what you find behind the sheetrock, some electrical wiring can be rerouted semi-easily, but some might prove to be more of a challenge than you want to take on. Remember, you always have the option of hiring an electrician—an advisable move if you’re an electricity newbie.

Do you need a permit?

Rhodes says to check with your local municipality, but you’ll likely need a permit before you start knocking down any walls.

Where will your furniture and lighting go?

This may seem obvious, but if you’re considering knocking down a wall, it’s also time to give some thought as to how that will affect the layout of the room, and possibly make room in your budget for additional furniture purchases or new lighting.

How will the open space affect your noise levels?

Having an open concept living area may seem like a great idea, but if you’re knocking down a wall from your office to create a larger living area, take into account how that common space noise will affect your day-to-day life—especially crucial if the area serves as your work-from-home office.

Or if the kitchen is your zen spot, but you’re considering knocking down a wall to open it up, do you really want to hear all the noise from your partner’s latest reality show obsession? (Maybe you do. No judgment here!)

Be prepared for anything

“As much as you plan and do your research and think you know what’s in a wall, there will always be something you weren’t anticipating,” says Rhodes.

Worst case scenario is there’s more going on behind the wall than you feel like messing with and you have to put the drywall back up. 

“But anything is possible,” says Rhodes. “You can add in foundations and steel beams.” If knocking out that wall is really important to you and you have the time and budget, you can make it happen safely.

Don’t be afraid to call in a pro if you’re in over your head

I asked Chris if a pro would be annoyed if you called them mid-job once you discovered knocking down a wall might be over your skill level (kind of like going to a hairstylist after you’ve already messed up your color job), but Rhodes assured me any pro should be happy to step in. 

“I’m not going to be annoyed!” he said. “You’ve done the investigating work for me, so I know what I’ve got to deal with.”

Rhodes also added if you are going to hire a contractor, make sure they are licensed, insured, and check out their past client reviews.

So before you tear into your wall, do as much investigation as you can, pre-plan to the best of your ability, and then be prepared for the unexpected.