Knocking the walls down
Most home improvements are cosmetic and/or functional and need only a rudimentary knowledge of DIY and how a house works. But if you wish to knock through two reception rooms to make a large one, or rearrange the rooms in your house, then a different level of competence is required as these are structural changes.
Removal of walls, to open up or add on rooms, is a skilled job and can require specific heavy duty equipment. While you can attempt to ‘do it yourself’, the best advice is to get the experts in – an engineer or architect to survey, and a reputable builder. Either way, it’s helpful to know the building process required and any knock-on effects the work can have.
Knowing your walls
Essentially, there are three types of walls:
Stud partition wall
Made of timber frame and plasterboard or lath and plaster, these non-supporting walls are easily removed and the surrounding damage ‘made good’ (cleaned up and returned to a liveable condition).
Generally four-inch-thick, brick or block internal walls. These walls can be fairly easily removed, but the work is very dirty and heavy-going. You will need to replaster and make good the flooring underneath. Partition walls may also be supporting, and a check must be done first.
External/Main supporting wall
Standard external walls are nine-inch thick brick or block. Knocking these through is a professional job and it is not advised to do it yourself as a professional should do this. It needs specialist equipment, such as scaffolding type screw jacks and support steels. A rolled steel joist is also required, the dimensions of which need to be obtained from a structural engineer or architect before you start. Taking load-bearing capabilities into account is paramount, and not easy for the amateur to undertake.
Getting expert advice
When you have an idea of what structural changes you want to make, the first thing to do is talk to an architect or engineer. They can tell you what sort of wall you have: you need to be certain that you won’t be knocking through a supporting wall and failing to put in a strong beam, for example.
If you are likely to be moving in the short to medium term, then it might also be worth looking at whether your plans will add or subtract value from your property. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors can help you to find a surveyor in your area, for more information visit www.rics.org.
In many cases the architect or engineer will advise that you get a professional builder in to do the job. This may cost you money, but will cut down on stress and potentially serious damage if something should go wrong. This is advice to seriously consider as the wrong decision could end up in someone getting injured.
Doing it yourself
If you are determined to do the job yourself, proceed with caution and be ready for a lot of mess and disruption. The general advice to follow regarding walls is to get professional help (i.e: an engineer or architect and a good builder) to do any work other than the removal of a stud partition. Smaller jobs may be easier in terms of building work, but working out if your walls are load-bearing and where hidden pipes and wires are can be difficult for the amateur. Some expert help and advice is available online from www.diydoctor.org.uk or www.bricksandbrass.co.uk.
Essentially, you need to:
Mark out the opening you require. Work out the size of the lintel or, if your wall is load-bearing, the reinforced steel joist. You’ll be able to tell whether it’s load bearing because the floorboards on the floor above will run in the same direction as your wall. Your support will need to be the same length as the floor joists in the floor above your wall. You can buy the lintel or joist from a DIY store or timber yard, and irrespective of whether or not it is load-bearing, make sure you hire enough props and scaffold boards to get the work done. Do not under any circumstances underestimate the difficulty of this job!
Hang dustsheets everywhere and remove the skirting board. If you have a load-bearing wall then now is the time to put in the wall supports and the props and boards – see the above websites for details and look also at the Collins Complete DIY Manual or something similar for illustrations and details. Remove the plaster and masonry, and put stones into the structure for extra support. Then lift the beam or RSJ onto the side bearings, make sure it’s level, make good and finish the floor. For a partition wall that doesn’t bear any weight, the job is simpler; take out the plasterboard and brickwork you don’t want, replaster and ‘make good’ or reinstate the floor.
There will be a lot of dust so wear a protective dust mask. Protect your eyes with goggles – don’t assume glasses will do as well. Wear hard footwear and sensible working clothes. Ensure that anyone helping you and working in the vicinity follows these appropriate safety precautions also.
With or without the experts, if your wall is load-bearing you need to calculate the size of beam needed for support. Your plan then needs to be submitted to your local Building Control Officer for approval. In the case of non-supporting walls, submitting a plan isn’t always necessary, but you still need to check with your Building Control Officer about issues such as fire regulations and/or change of use of rooms.
You also need to check whether you have enough home insurance in case of any accident while you’re working. This applies if you are getting an expert in, and especially if you are doing the job yourself. With Direct Line you can get Accidental Damage cover added to your Home Insurance (Accidental Damage Cover is included as standard with Direct Line Home Insurance Plus). This applies to DIY disasters such as drilling through a pipe or cable, as well as accidental damage to carpets, or ornaments. Adding Accidental Damage cover to your Direct Line Buildings Insurance will also automatically cover you for accidental damage to windows and sanitary ware. If you have any queries you can give us a call.
Making structural changes to your home could also result in a new room. This will affect your buildings insurance, so remember to keep Direct Line informed of any changes to your situation, so your home doesn’t end up underinsured. A new room could also mean increased furnishings or electrical goods, so you may have to amend your contents insurance too.
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