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Knocking down internal walls for your new kitchen? Here's some advice

Are you considering an open plan kitchen? Do you intend to go knocking walls around in your house? If so, you could be putting your home and family at risk. Your walls have a purpose and it's not just for keeping the wind out. Most have a structural role to play and messing around with them without expert advice could leave you with a costly repair bill or worse. This article will help guide you as you bring together the right team for your project. If you've got big plans and you're removing walls you might need the help of a structural engineer.

Kitchen wall removed
Here is a recent Your Space Living kitchen project in Sully, South Wales. A great deal of forward planning went into this wall removal.

There’s more to this than you might think

We are involved in all sorts of kitchen renovation projects, large and small. Regardless of the size and complexity of the project, we make sure we work with specialists who focus on specific details so that our clients can rest assured that we have everything covered. There is a current trend for people to open up their kitchen by removing a wall or two. Combining the dining room with the old kitchen to create an open space for the family to enjoy is a very popular solution. I recently wrote about the subject in this post. Do bare in mind that building work needs to comply with lots of regulations and legal obligations. Don't look at this blog post as a substitute for specific advice on your project. The aim here is to provide a general guide to get you started in the right direction. If you're making structural changes, you'll need to comply with building regulations and if your house is a listed building, you'll also need to apply for special permission. All of this information can be obtained from the building regulations team at your local council.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Remember, it's not just the wall you're removing. It's whats inside and underneath that will also need consideration. Electrical wires, hidden radiator and gas pipes will need to be checked. Don't forget that your flooring will need to be fixed once a wall has been removed.

Structural engineers

Removing a non structural wall with minimal internal complications is a relatively simple process. A sledgehammer and some degree of common sense is pretty much all you need to get started. But what if the wall you are about to remove is holding the rest of the house up? Well, things definitely get more complicated and the chances are you'll be looking for the services of a residential structural engineer.

A structural engineer is a professional civil engineer that has a specialised understanding of the forces and loads related to buildings. This could include bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers. Residential structural engineers specialise in the design of residential buildings, just like the house you live in. They are qualified to calculate the forces at work within your home. They will ensure all the elements that keep your house from falling down are of the correct specification. It's important to realise that anyone can call themselves a 'Structural Engineer' so you'll need to check credentials before handing over any money or signing any contracts, more on that later.

A good structural engineer will come up with a solution to meet your needs, balancing the physical capability of materials, legislative requirements, site constraints, personal objectives and financial constraints.  

an example of structural engineer calculations

Here is an example of the work carried out by a structural engineer

It's not compulsory to employ a structural engineer but depending on the job at hand, it could be very wise. Your local council's building regulations department will need to see a detailed set of drawings that show how your structural work has been designed. All of the load calculations will need to accompany the drawings and you'll need to prove that your work has been completed in line with the structural plans. Don't try and "wing it". Make a mistake with the structural integrity of your property and your world could literally fall down around you. On top of that, if ever you plan to sell your house, you'll need to demonstrate that your alterations have been approved by your local building regulations department.

A common scenario

Let's say you have decided to open up your kitchen by knocking through to the dining room. You need to know if the wall is load bearing or not. If you don't have the original architectural drawings of your house to guide you, I recommend going for the "tap, tap, tap" method. That is to tap on the offending wall and listen out for a "hollow" sound. If the wall is hollow, it won't be load bearing and you won't be needing a structural engineer. If you hear a "thud" you've probably discovered a load bearing wall and you WILL be needing a residential structural engineer to design a new beam to take the load. A quick look upstairs will guide you as to what is being supported. If there's another solid wall directly above, you can guarantee that you'll have some structural work to do. If you're remotely unsure about the wall in question, ask a local builder to come in and inspect it for you. They should be more than happy to do this because it might lead to them landing the job to do the work.

a recent open plan kitchen project

A recent open plan kitchen project by the Your Space Living team

Putting a few details in place

Before you pull out your tool box, it's worth reaching out to your insurance company. Keeping them informed of your plans will ensure you are covered in the event of a disaster. The next point of call is to commission a builder or architect. (Whilst we're on the subject of insurance, make sure any builder you commission has public liability insurance.) If it's simply a single wall removal, you won't be needing an architect but if it's something more complex, such as an external extension or the removal of more than one wall, I'd always go to a good architect before anyone else. Structural engineers and quality builders can advise but an architect should be in charge of building design. As with all building work, make sure you perform due diligence on whoever you commission to work on your home. That includes qualifications, experience and testimonials. Don't go on price alone, that is a false economy.

instilling a structural support beam in an open plan kitchen

Fitting a structural beam isn’t a one man job

Finding a structural engineer

It's often the case that your architect or builder will recommend a structural engineer or commission one themselves as part of the process. If they don't, you'll need to find one. Don't be told you don't need one. Building regulations are very strict and failure to present the proper plans and structural calculations will put you in a very difficult position later on. You may also invalidate any insurance you have on your property.

Finding a structural engineer is pretty straight forward. Good Ole' Google will do a great job but make sure you've gone through your own contacts first. Speak to friends and family who may have had building work done. Make sure you check any credentials on their suggested engineer before going forward. You might also like to look at the Institution of Structural Engineers website. They have a comprehensive search tool for finding registered engineers.

steel support beam in an open plan kitchen

Here’s another example of a steel support beam on one of our open plan kitchen projects

Once you find an engineer, it's worth checking to make sure their previous work matches your needs. If not, keep looking until you find someone who's more experienced in the type of job you're planning. The extent of the engineer's involvement depends greatly on your individual project. You may require them to advise before putting in for planning permission. Some also offer a service to oversee your project by monitoring the progress of your builder. If your building work adjoins another property, your surveyor may offer "party wall" advice that could prove invaluable to you and your neighbour.

I’m here to help you

At Your Space Living, we have worked on numerous kitchen renovations that have involved complicated structural drawings and calculations. We've worked with a number of structural engineers and built strong relationships with several key people in our area. We know that we have the best experts close to hand in order to make sure your project runs safely and smoothly. It's vital that you have the best experience when you renovate your house because it makes all the difference to the way you feel about your home once the work is complete. If you have a bad experience, your home will act as a constant reminder of what you should have done and that's a horrible feeling.

stub support in structural beam

Some solutions can be more complex than others and you need an experienced team to make sure things are done right!

To sum up, it's vitally important that you choose the right people to help you improve your home. When you're planning a structural change, you need to bring in an expert who's going to come up with a safe solution that keeps you on the right side of the regulations. Pulling down structural walls isn't straight forward and you don't want to put your home at risk. Don't make the mistake made by so many people who are looking to improve their home. Get the advice you need from genuine professionals who are experienced in the project you're about to undertake.This blog post isn't going to answer all of your questions but I'd be happy to discuss your plans in more detail if you need more help.  Contact me today, I can't wait to help you get started.

Categories: building projects