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TOP TIPS FOR GOING OPEN PLAN; Taking down a wall can be straightforward, but it can also be dangerous. By Julia Gray.

Byline: Julia Gray

OPEN-plan living is all the rage, particularly kitchen-diners because they're a sociable space, perfect for entertaining friends and family, and also a space where all the family can be together at the same time, even if they're doing different things.

If you have a separate kitchen and dining room (or another room that could be put to better use) next to each other, creating one big space is a great way to enhance your home, but it's not simply a case of getting out your sledge hammer and letting the wall have it.

The first thing you need to establish is what sort of wall it is. Both stud-partition walls (plasterboard over a wooden frame, or lath and plaster) and partition walls (bricks or blocks) are usually straightforward to remove.

The former are rarely load bearing, although they can occasionally become load bearing over time, while the latter can be structural. Main supporting walls, which are made of bricks, blocks or stone, are also structural.

Structural walls should never be taken down without using supports and inserting a steel beam to take the weight the wall was supporting.

Identifying a stud partition wall is easy - it sounds hollow when you knock on it, but partition and main supporting walls can sound similar, so don't take any chances. One way to find out if a wall's structural is to look at the floorboards, providing they're original. If they are parallel to the wall, it is structural because the floor joists will run under it at 90 degrees.

Checking out the roof braces in the loft is also helpful, as they should be parallel to non-structural walls.

Still not sure what sort of wall it is? Consult a structural engineer - it's not worth taking a risk because removing a structural wall without supporting it properly could make your home liable to collapse. A structural engineer will also be able to calculate what type of steel beam is needed.

Unless you live in a listed building (in which case, you'll need consent from your local council's conservation office), you shouldn't require planning permission to remove an internal wall. You may, however, need the permission of the freeholder if your home's leasehold because knocking down a wall could potentially affect the whole building - check the terms of your lease.

Work like this must comply with building regulations. With structural walls, the council's building control department will want to inspect the steel beam in situ, and you'll need a certificate to say that the work complies with building regulations.

Even removing non-structural walls can be of concern to building control, if, for example, it would create a layout that breaks fire regulations.

Removing a wall can even impact on your neighbours' homes if the work affects a wall or other boundary you share, like a floor/ceiling. In this case, you'll need a party wall agreement with them in order to comply with the Party Wall Act.

As well as taking down the wall and fitting a steel beam, if necessary, there's a lot of other work that needs to be done. You may have to replace or make good the flooring, move radiators and pipework, sockets and switches, etc, as well as replastering and repainting. But it should be worth it in the end.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2012
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