A very popular remodeling project, especially in older homes, is to remove interior partition walls in order to create the "open concept" spaces that are so much in demand in today's real estate market. Such a project can greatly improve the real estate value of your home, as it converts two small rooms into a larger communal space that enhances family living and makes it easier to entertain guests. But for DIYers, this project is only really doable when the wall is non-load-bearing: The removal of load-bearing walls requires substantial additional labor to ensure the structure is properly supported.
Once you've determined that it doesn't serve as essential support, the actual removal of a non-load-bearing interior wall is easier than you might think. It is messy, dusty work, but it's not a difficult job, and most walls come out more cleanly than you might expect. But there is no such thing as removing a wall as a stand-alone project. Wall removal always comes with other, more difficult tasks, such as moving plumbing, wiring, or HVAC ductwork, and this work can be quite advanced. And wall removal necessitates a considerable amount of floor, wall, and ceiling repair to complete the project. For this reason, wall removal isn't a job you want to tackle until you're ready for the entire challenge of a major remodel.
Before You Begin
Before beginning work on removing a wall, it's essential to verify that it is not a load-bearing wall—a wall that carries the weight of the roof and upper stories down to the foundations or to a beam supported by posts. A common mistake is to think that only exterior walls are load-bearing, but this is not the case. In many types of architecture, a center wall running perpendicular to the floor joists over a center beam will assist the outer walls in supporting a good deal of the home's weight. If the wall you want to remove, however, runs parallel to the floor joists and is not supported by foundations or a beam, there's a good chance it is not load-bearing and thus can be removed without compromising the home's structural strength.
If you have blueprints of your home, they usually will make it clear which walls are load-bearing. Or, you can consult with a builder or architect to identify the load-bearing walls. Removing a load-bearing wall can be done, but it is a project that almost always requires professional help since it involves installing additional headers aimed at supporting the weight once carried by the wall. Very few DIYers are qualified or skilled enough to do this kind of work.
Second, you will need to have a plan for altering any electrical circuits, plumbing pipes, or HVAC ductwork that runs through the wall you want to remove. This may involve removing wires or pipes and capping them off in a code-approved manner. Or, it may require rerouting them above or below the removed wall to their destinations. Rerouting wires and pipes is advanced work for a DIYer, so many homeowners will want to hire professionals to do this part of the project.
Finally, you will need to make arrangements for disposal of the demolition debris, which can be considerable if you are removing a large wall. Some homeowners choose to do this by renting a small dumpster, or by hiring a hauler to pick up the debris once it is removed from the house. Municipal trash collection services usually don't handle demolition debris.
Any demolition work is potentially hazardous since it will expose sharp nails and raise copious amounts of plaster or drywall dust. Make sure to wear sturdy work boots, good work gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, and a particle mask, eye protection, and hearing protectors while working.
Any wall removal project that involves rerouting electrical circuits, plumbing lines, or ductwork will probably require a building permit and inspection. Never bypass this legal requirement—the permit/inspection process exists to ensure that critical mechanical work is done in a safe manner.
Equipment / Tools
- Non-contact voltage tester
- Drill (if needed)
- Reciprocating saw with demolition blade, metal-cutting blade
- Flat pry bar
- Dust mask or respirator
- Hearing and eye protection
- Utility knife
- Work gloves
- Shop vacuum
- Plastic sheeting (optional)
- Construction trash bags
Pinpoint Utility Lines
Locate all wiring, plumbing, and HVAC lines or ducts in the wall before starting demolition. It is usually obvious when a wall has electrical lines running through it since there will usually be receptacle outlets and light switches visible in the wall. But the wall may also include hidden plumbing pipes and HVAC ducts running through it even when there are no plumbing fixtures or duct vents evident.
Disconnect Water and Electricity
Turn off the power to all electrical circuits in the wall you will be removing by switching off the appropriate breakers in your home's electrical service panel (breaker box). Remove all outlet and switch covers from the wall and check for voltage at each electrical box, using a non-contact voltage tester.
After verifying that the power is off, disconnect and remove the wall switches and outlet receptacles.
If there are water supply pipes located within the wall you're removing, shut off the water at the nearest branch shutoff (if available) or at the home's main shutoff valve. If the pipes in the wall are vent or drain pipes, it is not necessary to shut off the water.
Remove Doors (if Needed)
Remove any passage doors in the wall by unscrewing their hinges from the door jambs. If you plan to reuse a door, you can remove the door case molding and cut through the nails that run through the jambs and into the wall framing, using a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade. Then, slide the entire jamb frame out of its opening in the wall.
Remove Trim Moldings
Carefully remove all trim moldings from the walls, including baseboards, door casings, and crown moldings from the wall, using a flat pry bar. If you plan to save the moldings for future use, use care to avoid cracking or damaging the molding as you pry it off.
Prepare for Demolition
Cut through the paint and/or caulk where the wall meets the ceiling and adjacent walls, using a sharp utility knife. When you remove drywall, this will prevent peeling of the paint and drywall paper on the adjacent surfaces.
Enclose the work area with clear plastic sheeting to contain dust. Hang the sheets from the ceiling so they extend all the way to the floor to the floor. Drywall or plaster dust is extremely fine (yet abrasive) and can easily drift from the work area if the rooms are not sealed off. Make sure any exposed HVAC vents are covered with plastic.
The next steps get messy, so now is the time to don eye and ear protection, heavy gloves, and a good-quality dust mask or respirator.
Punch Starter Holes
Punch, cut, or drill a few starter holes in the wall surface. With drywall construction, it's an easy matter to tap some holes in the drywall with a large hammer. With a plaster wall, it's best to drill some large holes with a masonry bit or hole saw to provide access for the saw blade.
Cut Between the Studs
Install a demolition blade into a reciprocating saw. Insert the blade into one of the starter holes, and cut horizontally in both directions until you reach the studs. Wall studs are usually located 16 inches apart, from center to center, leaving a 14 1/2-inch space between studs. The goal is to cut sections of wallboard or plaster that you can grasp and remove in single large pieces. Pieces of plaster wall can be quite heavy, so cut them into smaller sections that can be managed easily.
There is the potential for cutting through electrical wires or plumbing pipes during this stage, so it's critical that the power and water are turned off.
Pull Off the Wall Sections
Pull off large sections of drywall or plaster to remove them from the framing. Drop the removed pieces into a bin or set them in a stack for removal.
Remove the wall surface from one entire side of the wall, exposing all the studs as well as any wiring, plumbing, or HVAC ducts inside the wall.
Remove Opposite Wall Surface
Repeat the process to remove the drywall or plaster surface from the opposite side of the wall. It's often fairly easy to pry sections of the wall away from the studs now that the back side is exposed.
Remove and Terminate Utility Lines
If the wall contains electrical, plumbing, or ductwork running between the studs, remove them. A metal-cutting blade in your reciprocating saw does this work fairly easily. Electrical boxes can be pried or unscrewed from the studs.
Electrical circuit wires must be removed back to an existing fixture at a point before they enter the demolished wall. Or, they can be terminated inside an approved electrical junction box, provided it remains accessible. This may be a job for an electrician. The electrical code does not allow for circuit wires to simply be capped off outside an electrical box.
Any plumbing lines you remove must be capped off or rerouted in a manner approved by the building code. This, too, may be a job for a professional plumber if your DIY skills aren't up to the task. Changes to HVAC ductwork are similarly best left to a professional.
If your project involves rerouting these mechanical lines, make sure the work is reviewed by a building inspector. Professionals normally are responsible for applying for permits and arranging for the inspections, but it's a good idea to make sure this step is followed.
Remove the Studs and Plates
Use the reciprocating saw to cut each stud horizontally near the middle of its length. Pull back the cut ends of the studs toward you to pry them away from the nails securing them to the top and bottom wall plates.
When all of the studs are removed, use the pry bar and a hammer to pry the top plate from the ceiling framing. Do the same with the bottom plate, prying it away from the subfloor.
It's a good practice to bend over or remove nails from each piece of framing after it is removed. Leaving even a single nail sticking out of wood is an accident waiting to happen.
Clean Up the Area
Clean up the area and remove all drywall dust before taking down the plastic sheeting. Begin cleanup by removing nails, electrical boxes, plumbing pipes, and any other metal items by hand. (these items may be recyclable.) Next, remove the wall pieces and framing members that were demolished, placing them outdoors in a dumpster or a demolition pile for pickup. Finally, sweep up the bulk of the dust with a broom before vacuuming with a shop vac. Taking down the plastic sheeting is the last step in cleanup.
Your project is now ready for repair or patching of the floor, walls, and ceilings to remove the signs of the wall that was once present.