By Gene and Katie Hamilton
Before You Begin
Before any demolition work begins, confirm with a construction professional about whether the wall is bearing or non-bearing. A bearing wall supports any vertical weight or load, in addition to its own weight. Any wall that runs perpendicular to the floor or ceiling joists is most likely a bearing wall. If you remove a bearing wall you have to add a beam or header to span the opening and transfer this load to other bearing structures in the house. Removing a bearing wall is definitely a job for a building professional, not a homeowner. Most local building codes require the expertise of an architect or structural engineer if any bearing walls are changed.
But a non-bearing wall is more of a partition and supports only its own weight. Look on the floor of the attic to find exposed joists. In the basement look overhead to find the floor joists. If the wall you plan to remove runs parallel to either, it probably isn't a bearing wall; but if a wall runs perpendicular to the joists, it's likely to be a bearing wall. The less you have to transport debris, the better so have a dumpster delivered so it is as near as possible to the work zone. If there's a window in the room, make a window shoot using a scrap piece of 4x8 plywood tied to the window frame to get the debris out of the house and down to the ground. From there use a heavy garbage container or a wheelbarrow to transport debris to the dumpster.
Step 1 : Prepare the room
Turn off the electricity to the circuits supplying power to the lights and receptacles in the work zone and nearby rooms. Use a neon voltage tester to confirm there is no power in the receptacles. To keep the amount of dust to a minimum, tape heavy plastic sheeting over doors and openings that lead to the work zone. This protection helps, but count on having dust and dirt permeate throughout the house. Protect any permanent woodwork or trim in the work zone with layers of newspaper taped around it.
Step 2 : Carefully inspect the wall cavity
Before you start the demolition, use a hammer to make some holes in the wall so you can inspect the cavity. Poke a hole large enough to put a flashlight inside to see what's there. It's possible to find an electric wire, disconnected or live, that leads to other parts of the house. Pass an inductive voltage tester over the wire at several places along its length to be sure there is no current flowing through the wire. When in doubt, kill power to the entire house, before proceeding with further demolition. If you find a water pipe in the wall, call a plumber to reroute it.
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