What You Should Know Before Knocking Down That Wall - Part 1

A common trend among renovations is the take out interior walls and create open concept common spaces with the living room, dining room and kitchen.

This makes sense in any home.

In a later post, we'll discuss this in terms of the main floor of a home, and how to add value by transforming this space into an open concept living area.

But for now we'll discuss this in respect to basement spaces; in particular, how they can benefit suites.

2 Reasons In A Basement Suite

There are 2 main reasons why this makes sense in a basement suite.

First, scarcity of floor space in the basement means that an open concept room will feel much bigger, and a lot of dead hallway space can now be maximized for living.

Hallways are kind of like dead spaces and should be eliminated

Hallways are kind of like dead spaces and should be eliminated

Secondly, combining common rooms can reduce overall space need, and potentially allow you to meet the floor space requirements of the building code for each room. This in turn can also reduce natural lighting requirements - a potentially expensive feature.

Slow Down

Before you take a sledgehammer to that otherwise “useless” interior wall, it’s very important first to determine if it is a load-bearing wall or not. In other words, if there is a structural function to support the floor, wall and roof structures above.

I’ll go over some of the things that you should know before considering removing a wall for a basement suite. Before I begin, I’ll need to warn you that before you take out any wall, you should seek the advice of a qualified code designer, architect or structural engineer first.

6 Things To Consider

Here are some things to be aware of before pretending you're in the rage room.

1. Is It Supported By A Beam Or A Load-Bearing Wall

Many basement spaces will have a structural beam or wall running down somewhere near the middle that directly supports the floor joists above. If it's a beam and post system, you're in luck. If it's a structural wall, it's going to be more complicated.     

Post and beam system is much more ideal for opening up a basement space compared with a structural wall

Post and beam system is much more ideal for opening up a basement space compared with a structural wall

2. Footings Of Load Bearing Walls

To expand on the point above, load bearing walls will have strip footings below that support their weight. If you are removing a structural wall, you will need to add beams, possibly new posts, and all this would need to be engineered. Those new posts now will likely need to have new footings to support the new point load.

Under no circumstances can structural walls or posts be simply built on top of a slab concrete floor without a proper footing underneath.

3. What About Perpendicular Walls?

Many people mistakenly assume that just because a wall is parallel to the floor joists of the home, it is not a load bearing wall. This isn't always true. Often you will have joist that change directions mid way through the home.

Sometimes that wall is supporting another wall above, which in turn is supporting the roof structure. It's always important to determine if there's anything important resting on the wall, regardless of whether it's perpendicular or parallel.

4. What About "Skinny" Houses?

Sometimes, you have narrow homes which are about 12 to 18 feet wide, particular in semi detached 2-story homes. In many cases, none of the interior walls are load bearing regardless of which direction they run.

However, there is one important factor for this, which is whether the floor joists above are large enough to span the distance between one structural wall to the other. Some calculations need to be done here first.

No load bearing walls at all in this basement

No load bearing walls at all in this basement

5. Electrical, Plumbing & Mechanical Considerations

Even if it's a non-structural wall, consider that there may be other important things to consider. There may be existing wiring, plumbing and drain pipes, and mechanical equipment such as ducts or radiator pipes.

All of these items need to be addressed property, and do require consideration as part of your permit, which segues us into our last point.

This non-load bearing partition wall contains both plumbing and electrical components

This non-load bearing partition wall contains both plumbing and electrical components

6. Permit still might be required

In addition to the items above, removing even a non-load bearing partition wall still might need to be permitted.

Of course if this is part of a new basement suite, it will be considered. But if removing a wall is the only thing being done, it can have implications on the building code in terms of things such as floor space, natural lighting and ventilation, which is why a permit is typically requirement, even if there is no structural concern.

Less Really Is More

If you're going to take away only one point from this article, let it be this: Make sure to find out if the wall is structural before removing it! As an inspector, I've lost count as to how many walls have been removed willy-nilly, which can have serious implications to the house and occupant safety.

And remember that even structural walls can be altered, but it's critical that it is designed and engineered properly. Always make sure to hire a qualified code designer, architect or engineer and do a proper assessment before taking out any wall!

It's a cliche to say less is more, but when it comes to interior walls in a house, that really is the case.

Thanks to The Food Network, cooking in front of our guests is now cool

Thanks to The Food Network, cooking in front of our guests is now cool

Thanks for reading! What do you think about removing interior walls the make the spaces bigger? Still good to do, or passe? Comment below.