Can I take this wall down?
Reworking the floor plan of your existing house is a great way to complete a renovation or open up some more space in your home. Whether you work with an architect or want to try to DIY, you will likely come across a wall that you want removed.
So, how exactly can you tell if that wall is safe to take down? Most homeowners will immediately question whether or not the wall is load-bearing, but that's just part of it.
MEPS is a useful acronym for the four primary concerns when removing a wall. Mechanical (ductwork), Electrical (outlets, switches, concealed wiring), Plumbing (water pipes and plumbing vents) and Structure.
This one is pretty obvious. If you have a forced air heating and cooling system is there a vent in the wall? If not check in rooms above and below to try to make sure that there is not a vent in those locations that is being supplied by a concealed duct in the wall you want to remove. If so the vent will have to be relocated. Often times it can simply be moved to the floor, ceiling or adjacent wall but in all cases this involves not only new ductwork but disturbance to areas beyond the wall itself.
Again this is typically fairly obvious in that it is visible, and again these things can typically be moved, and again be aware that there may be concealed wires that are supplying things above or below the wall you want to remove.
Plumbing can be a little trickier in that pipe can be running through a wall from a related area but the same basic rules apply as with Mechanical and electrical.
This is usually the most significant is of the MEPS. It is not always obvious if the wall in question is a bearing wall (aka structural) but there are a few ways to try to determine if the wall is structural. Be sure to consult an architect, engineer or contractor if you aren't sure.
If the framing either above or below is exposed, this will let you see if the framing members (joist for floors, and rafters for roofs) are resting either on the wall from above or if the wall is resting on a beam or wall below.
If you have hardwood flooring it is typical (though not always the case) for the hardwood to be laid out in a direction perpendicular to the joists which in turn are perpendicular to the bearing walls, so the flooring could give away the fact that the bearing walls are parallel to the flooring
In addition other things to consider especially if it is a wall that completely divides two spaces without any openings are floors and ceilings:
Are the floors and ceilings plumb and level and will they align after the wall comes down? If yes, great, if not you may have to level things out which can get involved.
For the floors, this can get tricky, especially if the floor finish has thickness to it such as hardwood. You may have to remove a good deal of the hardwood and replace it.
Removing a wall can be a quick easy way to radically change the feel of the spaces in a house. With the proper foresight the task can be undertaken in a productive manner with as little disruption as possible.