Knocking down internal walls is a common job for those carrying out a house renovation. Removing internal walls can be the only way to remodel an existing layout that isn’t working properly, as well as being a good way to increase the natural light levels in gloomy interiors.
Adding an extension is also something that requires the removal of an internal wall or two.
If removing internal walls is something that you are considering, steps will need to be taken early on in the project to ensure that the property remains structurally sound and that any period character is retained.
Do I Need Planning Permission to Remove Internal Walls?
You can normally knock down internal walls under your permitted development rights (all the same, it is always best to double check with the local planners before you begin).
Listed buildings will almost certainly require planning permission to carry out this type of internal remodel.
You might also find that you need to make a Building Regulations application. Building control will visit you to inspect the work and, providing you fulfil the requirements, issue a certificate.
Although the removal of non-loadbearing walls is not normally a problem, it is still wise to consult a structural engineer or builder before knocking down any internal walls.
In the case of structural walls, where a wall above is being supported by the wall beneath, it will be necessary to insert a suitable beam or some other supporting structure so the remaining loads are safely transmitted to the ground.
Removing Internal Walls — Fire Regulations
Before knocking down internal walls you should investigate whether it currently provides protection in the case of fire. For example, where the loft has been converted, the walls around the staircases offer protection, allowing you to escape in the event of a house fire. Removing these walls will require Building Regulations consent, even if they’re not loadbearing.
On a similar basis, should you want to carry out a loft conversion in the future, partition walls that separate entrance halls from reception rooms are best left intact, since they form a ready-made fire escape corridor to comply with Building Regulations.
Party Wall Issues
In terraced or semi-detached houses, where new beams need to rest in the party walls that separate you from the neighbours, it’s also advisable to first talk to a specialist Party Wall surveyor to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation.
A Completion Certificate is Essential
If there is no completion certificate to prove that the internal wall removal work was properly carried out, problems could lie ahead.
No matter how well the work was carried out, without Building Control approval you could be in trouble. The best course of action is to contact Building Control and arrange an inspection. The worst case scenario is that you will be asked to obtain a Regularisation Certificate, which is the equivalent to making a retrospective Building Regulations application.
This normally requires a certain amount of physical opening up of the work to establish that it is structurally sound and verify compliance; the cost of making good afterwards will be down to you.
There is a good degree of mess involved with the removal of internal walls so be prepared for some disruption and aim to seal off some ‘clean’ spaces
Knocking Down a Load-bearing Wall
Some internal walls are fundamental to the structure of the house, whereas others were simply built in order to divide up the interior space and are relatively straightforward to alter or remove.
Removing internal walls between formal dining spaces and the living room is a popular way to increase light and space in renovation projects. Image: Charlie O’Beirne
Contrary to popular belief, tapping a wall to see if it sounds hollow is definitely not enough in the way of investigation.
Some stud walls are load-bearing. On the other hand, solid masonry internal walls aren’t always ‘structural’ — some were built as simple partition walls.
How to Identify a Load-bearing Wall
In order to check whether or not a wall is load-bearing, your structural engineer or builder will check whether it is supporting the weight of any of the following:
The roof: In older houses the roof structure often relies on support from an internal wall. More modern roofs with W-shaped roof trusses (introduced in the late 1960s) are designed to span right across the house from the main wall to another without internal support
The floor: Floor joists rarely span more than about four metres without support from an internal wall or beam. Look for nail runs in floorboards to identify the direction the joists are running in (usually at right angles to the direction of the floorboards)
Other walls: Ground floor walls often continue above as bedroom walls. However, sometimes upstairs walls are offset or supported on a beam. Most modern houses have lightweight stud walls to the upper floors
External walls: Some old houses rely on internal walls for ‘lateral support’, where the walls help to secure the external walls together.
Before any demolition work is carried out, the masonry above must be temporarily supported while a slot is cut for the new beam or lintel.
This slot normally needs to extend either side of the opening with a bearing of at least 150mm. To spread the load, additional support will be needed under the ends of the lintel. The new opening can then be cut out underneath.
Party walls in older properties aren’t always up to the job of supporting new loadings. Some were only single skin (one-brick thick or about 100mm), and may not be sufficiently strong for this new role. In this case, it will be necessary to build new brick piers or install steel columns to support the new beam — which could mean having to excavate small foundations internally, adding significant expense and disruption.
Removing Internal Walls: Need to Know
Building Control normally requires that you hire a structural engineer to specify an appropriate beam or lintel, and this should be done before getting quotes from builders so they know how much to charge.
Ensure the below are factored in from the outset:
- Removing internal walls creates a huge amount of dust and debris — ask your builders to put up dust screens to contain the mess
- Factor in the costs of repositioning of any radiators, switches and electrical sockets
- Ensure all necessary plastering and decoration to areas of exposed masonry is included in the price
- Take care not to damage original features and ensure original skirting boards are retained so that everything matches when the joinery is made good
- When removing a load-bearing wall, the new steel beam that will take the load it once supported will have to rest on something at each end. A small end section of the original wall (known as a ‘nib’) may need to be left in place
- For new door openings, the upper part of the old wall will be left in situ above the new opening (known as the downstand)
Removing a Wall Can Affect Ceilings and Floors
You might not have considered how the ceiling will look after the removal of an in internal wall. However, when an entire load-bearing wall is removed, a it is important to realise that the new supporting beam is often be visible.
Steel beams need to be boxed in with plasterboard to comply with fire regulations. If a continuous ceiling is aesthetically important to you, one solution is to build a new suspended ceiling in order to conceal the beam.
Another consideration is floor levels. In old houses, the floor heights often vary from one too to another and removing an internal wall can leave it horribly apparent that the floor levels in the newly conjoined rooms aren’t perfectly aligned — simply because they were never designed to meet.
In the case of large differences in floor level, a split level design can become a design feature, but where the difference is small (millimetres or centimetres, for example) some floor levelling work will need to be undertaken.
How Long to Remove an Internal Wall?
Structural drawings in hand, a wall removal project should take no longer than a week — although obviously this will vary depending on the size of the wall, access etc.
Removing an internal wall, along with the insertion of a joist, can be done in a day or two, while plastering of the newly exposed sections of wall and boxed in joist should take no more than another day. Finally, painting can be carried out.
Steel Lintels May Be Required
“Specifying steel members that are safe requires expertise that will be beyond the capabilities of most self builders,” says chartered structural engineer Simon Pitchers.
“A professional steel beam design from a chartered structural engineer can be purchased for a few hundred pounds. Many manufacturers of proprietary steel lintels will employ engineers who can design their products to suit specific situations. They will often provide this service free of charge, again avoiding the need for a self-builder to attempt this specialist exercise.
Visit the Institution of Structural Engineers’ website to find out whether a structural engineer is needed for your project.
How Much Will it Cost to Knock Down an Internal Wall?
Although quotes vary according to area and the scale of the job, use the below as a guide when budgeting.
|Quoin up and make true the end of the wall||£65/m²|
|Open up a kitchen/dining room with a square opening 1.8m wide to load-bearing wall||£1,200|
|Plus the following:|
|Form a new single door opening in an internal wall (cut opening, fit concrete lintel, quoin up jambs, fit 50x100mm softwood frame, stops and architrave, and make good finishes):|
Check Your Insurance
It is worth bearing in mind that your existing home insurance policy may not cover works undertaken as part of a major home improvement project, such as removing internal walls.
Homebuilding & Renovating has partnered with leading insurance specialist Self Build Zone to provide bespoke solutions at market-leading rates.