Removing Kitchen Walls - Some Challenges

June 2, 2017

After years of removing walls between kitchens and dining rooms, it seems this trend is here to stay. For most clients the benefits of open-space and circulation between eating and dining far outweigh the challenges. However, before you take the sledge hammer to the wall, you should consider some of the challenges of the opened-up kitchens.

 

Trade-offs with wall space and islands

Removing a wall in a kitchen means removing valuable wall space and cabinets.  Oftentimes the removed wall is supplemented with a new island which can make up for substantial base cabinet storage.  Not all kitchens are large enough for islands. 

The other side of the kitchen wall is also lost - treasured dining room buffets or other furniture pieces as well as wall art will have to find a new location.

 

How large an opening?

Planning is critical. For a wall opening, the question is "how big should the opening be"?  Before you answer, "As big as possible", consider the following:

  • The larger the opening, the larger the required beam - if the wall is a bearing wall.

  • The larger the opening, the larger the transition floor piece.  If your flooring will not be the same between kitchen and dining room, you will need a transition piece or threshold.  For small openings (doorways), this is expected, and we are psychologically used to this transition; for larger openings, a change in floor level seems odd, can be bad aesthetically,  and often becomes a tripping hazard.

  • You will likely want to keep similar trim/moulding around the opening - at least from the dining room or other room side. Make sure your opening allows for this.

  • You will likely want some portion of wall to hide the sides of cabinetry or appliances on either side of the opening. If the opening is the full extent of the wall, you will see the somewhat odd profile of 12" wall cabinets over 24" base-cabinets as well as the clutter on the counter in-between.

  • For some kitchens, the opening can be be broken up by visual elements such as chimneys enabling an open feel, but still providing for designated separate spaces . Project below by Murphy General Contractors, Greg Martz, photo.

 

Structural and Mechanical Challenges

 

For many, there is a big fear that a wall may be a bearing wall. Removing a portion of a bearing wall is not that difficult - it just takes a bit more planning, time and, of course, money. The two principle structural considerations are a) the beam itself that has to support the portion of the wall above it (even if only 12" - 24") as well as anything that the wall is supporting above it.  This could be other walls on upper floors; it could also be (and is quite often) the bearing wall for floor joists above it.  You will want to engage an architect or engineer to size the required beam. Oftentimes the beams used are LVLs (Laminated Veneer Lumber). These are very strong beams made from wood particles and glue - surprisingly a better sustainability choice than milled lumber due to the use of wood particles vs. pure lumber. Here is a helpful table to help size beams provided by Weyerhaeuser a manufacturer of these products. 

 

With conventional lumber framing, this beam generally rests on two (2) 2 x 4's as post on either side. It is critical to trace the bearing of the post down through the house and to a foundation. Depending on the size of the opening and the bearing required of the beams and posts, and new post and foundation may need to be created in the floor underneath the opening (generally the basement) to provide support for these posts.

 

It is always a fun "surprise" to find HVAC ducting, radiator pipes, or plumbing pipes in the middle of the wall that you want to remove.  These will have to be re-routed in order to have your desired opening. Project below by Murphy General Contractors, Greg Martz, photo.

 

As long as these considerations are planned for, the resulting open space will likely provide an improved flow to your home, a great gathering place for entertaining,  and a more often used dining room.

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