Open floor plans are becoming more and more popular. When rooms are merged together, you get more light, more space, and a better sense of flow. The openness not only adds a sense of calm to your home, but can also help you in living a more minimalist lifestyle. After all, when your home contains fewer nooks and crannies, you have fewer places to stash objects you don’t really need and fewer spaces to allow clutter to accumulate. If you’ve always wanted a more open floor plan, you can achieve it simply by knocking out the wall between two rooms. It sounds like a big job—and it is—but knocking down a wall is a project just about anyone can accomplish in order to create a floor plan you can enjoy for years to come. Planning is key, and we’ve laid out all the steps below.
- Pry bars
- Reciprocating saw (with a blade strong enough to cut through nails)
- Trowels (various widths)
- Dry wall screws
- 2X2 or 1X2 boards
- Drywall compound
- Drywall tape
- Flooring to match the existing floor
Step 1: Do the Groundwork
Don’t worry, the “groundwork” involved in knocking down a wall is pretty straightforward. First, you need to line up some helpers. You need at least two people to get the job done safely and efficiently, but a group of 3 or 4 is ideal for getting the job done quickly, especially if the wall you need to remove is a large one.
The most important piece of groundwork is to inspect the wall to make sure it’s actually safe to remove it. First, you’ll need to determine if the wall is load bearing. Load bearing walls support the weight of your home from the roof down to the foundation and are absolutely necessary to your home’s structural integrity. If the wall you want to remove turns out to be load bearing, you should keep it intact if at all possible. If it’s essential that a load bearing wall be removed, you’ll need to call in a structural engineer to determine how to do so safely. Involving a professional is NOT negotiable here. If you try to remove a load bearing wall without an expert’s help you will cause extreme damage to your home, and quite possibly extreme injury to yourself and your helpers.
If the wall isn’t load bearing, you still have a little more investigation to do before you can get down to business. Now, it’s time to find out what’s inside the wall. You want to be sure that the space inside the wall you’re going to remove doesn’t contain electrical lines or plumbing. If it does, you’ll need to hire an electrician and/or plumber to move them before you can proceed with demolition.
You can, of course, hire a contractor to come out and check the wall for you, but determining what’s inside it is actually pretty easy (and much cheaper!) to do on your own. First, if there are electrical outlets on the wall in question, then it must obviously contain electrical wiring. If there are vents in the wall, then it must contain HVAC ducts and pipes. If the wall ever supported a sink, tub, toilet, or washer/dryer then it must contain plumbing.
If there are no obvious outward signs that the wall contains anything, you still want to dig a little deeper before you start knocking it down. Especially in older homes, there’s always the possibility that the wall in question sported outlets, vents etc. in the past, and that the evidence will still be there inside the walls. The most thorough way to check for this is to buy or rent a digital viewer—a device with a small camera attached to a thin flexible shaft that can be fed into the wall through a small hole which can be easily patched if it turns out you don’t want to remove the wall after all.
Now it’s time for the final piece of groundwork: determining whether you’ll need to get a permit to knock down the wall. If the wall isn’t load bearing, you probably won’t need a permit, but it’s always best to look up the specific laws for your city.
Step 2: Rent a Dumpster
You know that knocking down a wall is going to be a messy job, but you may not realize just how much mess there’s going to be. When you factor in the sheer volume of drywall from both sides of the wall, plus the studs you’ll be removing from the wall cavity, you’ll have way too much debris to leave out at the curb.
A dumpster rental is a much easier way to dispose of such a large quantity of debris rather than trying to bag it all up. If space permits, you can even opt to have the dumpster placed under a window of the room where you’ll be working, making clean up even easier. For an average size wall, a 10 yard dumpster is probably the perfect size for the job. But if you’re unsure about size, a representative can advise you on what would work best when you call in and explain your particular project.
Once your dumpster has been delivered, it’s finally time to start the real work of knocking that wall down.
Step 3: Prep the Room & Suit Up
A little prep work beforehand will save you a lot of clean up after the job is done. Lay down a drop cloth or tarp to protect your floor. Because you’ll be swinging sledgehammers around, you might also want to lay down a sheet of plywood if your floor is hardwood, ceramic tile, or some other more fragile flooring type. You’ll also want to cover any vents in the room to prevent dust being sucked in and blown throughout your house. You can do this by leaning pieces of plywood against them, taping plastic bags over them, covering them with another drop cloth, or whatever works for you.
To get yourself and your helpers ready for the job ahead, you’ll want to suit up in long pants, sturdy shoes and work gloves. Because you’ll be kicking up lots of dust and wall fragments, it’s also a very good idea to wear eye protection and face masks.
Step 4: One Last Wall Check
Even though you’re pretty certain at this point that there’s nothing inside the wall, it’s not time to go smashing in just yet. First, use a normal hammer to make a small hole somewhere in the wall at about shoulder height. Wearing gloves, tear the drywall away from the edges of the hole until it’s large enough for you to get your head and shoulders through. Use a flashlight to double check that there’s nothing inside that would prevent you from knocking down the wall.
Step 5: Knock Down the Wall
Now comes the fun part: use your sledgehammers to knock out the dry wall on both sides of the wall, pausing periodically to make trips to the dumpster. Keeping the area as clear as possible will make the job go faster and reduce the risk of accidents from tripping. Another word of caution: always make sure you have adequate space to swing your sledgehammer. Be aware of where your helpers are at all times.
If there’s insulation inside the wall, pull it out after you’ve knocked out and removed the dry wall. Even if you didn’t use them up until this point, you’ll definitely want to wear eye and mouth protection while handling this material. Although insulation is NOT carcinogenic as many people believe, it will cause significant irritation if it’s inhaled or comes into contact with skin. Handle it carefully as you pull it from the wall and move it to the dumpster immediately.
Step 6: Remove Studs & Plates
Using a reciprocating saw, cut through the studs and tug each new half out of the wall. Make trips to the dumpster as needed to keep the area clear. When you come to the wall plates (the last stud on either end of the wall), have a helper hold the stud while you run the saw between the stud and the wall, cutting through the nails. Once the nails are cut, your helper can pull the stud from the wall, using a pry bar to help if necessary. Do the same for the floor and ceiling plates (the horizontal studs that anchored the wall to the floor and ceiling). Once you’ve removed all studs and plates, use pliers to remove any nails or nail pieces that were left behind.
Step 7: Patch the Ceiling
Congrats! The wall is down and you’re almost ready to enjoy your new open floor plan. But the work isn’t done just yet. Now that the wall has been removed, there will be a hole in the ceiling where it used to be. To patch it, place strips of 2×2 or 1×2 across the hole, sixteen inches apart down the entire length of the hole. Secure both ends of each strip to the existing ceiling with screws. Cut a piece of drywall just slightly smaller than the hole and secure it to the strips using dry wall screws.
Using a narrow-bladed trowel, spread drywall compound around the edge of the hole. Push drywall tape into the wet compound, add another layer of compound, and smooth it all with the trowel.
Allow the compound to dry as indicated in the directions for the particular brand you purchased. When dry, sand the patched area until it is level with the existing ceiling. If desired, you can repeat this process several more times, using a wider trowel each time you apply the compound, allowing it to dry and then re-sanding. Repeating the process a few times will create a more seamless integration with the existing ceiling.
When satisfied with the patch, apply drywall sealer and primer, then paint the area to match the existing ceiling. If the ceiling hasn’t been repainted in many years, you may need to repaint the whole thing in order to get the colors to blend properly.
Step 8: Patch the Flooring
If your existing flooring is carpet, linoleum, or a similar material, simply cut a piece to fit the hole and secure it in whatever manner is appropriate for the material in question. However, if your existing flooring is hardwood, tile, or some other trickier material, you may need to have a professional install the new section. This is especially true for hardwood, since it can be very difficult for an amateur to make the new wood pieces fit properly with the existing flooring.
If the two rooms you’re merging have different flooring types, it’s now time to decide which type you want to keep and redo the other side to match. Or you may decide to nix both existing flooring types and redo the whole space with something new.
An open floor plan leaves you with endless possibilities for how to use your home’s space–and creating an open floor plan couldn’t be simpler. While knocking out a wall is hard work, it’s not difficult work. A small group can get the job done in a day with the right planning ahead of time. If you decide to create an open floor plan in your home, comment below to share your tips.