Who Needs Walls?

One of the things with old houses is they defined spaces much more narrowly than current new construction.  While there is some appeal to having a function for every room, Michelle and I both enjoy having some of that open feel that is currently in vogue.  The house had a large dining area, but it was so segregated from the other rooms, it felt small.

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Michelle did really like the arch look of the doorway, but we thought that opening it up would really make the dining room live a lot larger. In theory, tearing down a wall like this is a really simple process: you knock a hole in the drywall, pull off the sheet rock, then tear down the studs.  However this process can be complicated by a couple of considerations.  One of the most obvious is the question: Is this wall load bearing?  The second issue we had to contend with was outlets and light switches in the wall we were set to remove.

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Leaving these considerations for later, our first weekend in the house we got to work starting the demo process.

After we got most of the sheet rock out of the way, we started considering those issues I just mentioned.  The question as to whether a wall is load bearing isn’t always straight forward, especially in older homes.  Exterior walls are going to always be load bearing, and interior walls that run parallel to the roof line tend to be load bearing as well.  We got into the attic space to check the structure of the roof, and it was pretty clear that load was being transferred onto the wall in question.  We also had a contractor come out to look at it and confirm our suspicions.

As a brief aside, general contractors can be a great resource.  We found a great guy who was willing to come consult for free on the notion that it would eventually turn into some paid work (it did).

After determining the wall was indeed load bearing, I did quite a bit of research on the appropriate wall structure to span the space in question.  I looked at the code for the dimensions for lumber to span the space in question and went with that.  We ended up using 2x8s for the header to keep the roof from falling down. My dad came into town to help finish demo, rewire, and reconstruction.

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Rewiring the outlets and lights was a challenge with the house being a mix of knob and tube and modern romex, but that’s a story for another time.  Once we got the wiring sorted out, we were ready to pull out the studs and remaining sheet rock.  The challenge with this process is to keep the house from falling down during the time in which the original studs are gone and before the replacement header and associated wall structure can be put up.  We bought a bunch of 2x4s to use as braces under the roof joists to take up the weight that the existing wall was originally holding.

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We were pretty confident in our support system, but still wanted to minimize the amount of time relying on it.  We constructed our header on the ground before pulling down the existing wall.  In general, you want your header to have the same width as your wall.  Due to variances in lumber, placing two 2x8s side by side was a bit off on the correct width.  We were able to find some thin MDF (medium-density fiberboard) to place between our 2x8s in order to get the appropriate width.  Once this was done we quickly tore out the studs and got our header in place.  This process was a little difficult, but two people made it possible.  I was able the hold the header in place while my dad placed the supporting studs.  Once the header was in place, we pulled out the supports.  IMG_4860

From there we hung new sheet rock and corner bead.  While mudding and texturing is definitely something a home owner can do, I long ago decided it was not something I would do.  So we called our helpful contractor from earlier and they did the mudding work.  They still have to come back to finish the texture work, but our new entry to the dining room is nearly done! From there it’s just paint and trim.

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3 thoughts on “Who Needs Walls?

  1. You’re fortunate that you didn’t have to deal with lath and plaster in an older home. Our 1931 Tudor had that which made removing 5 layers of wallpaper easier than off sheet rock, but we didn’t remove any walls. We had the pretty arched openings as well, but the one between the LR and DR was almost the width of the DR, standard airplane bungalow design. Good work! I bet the LR/DR space does feel larger!

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