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Change Your House - Keep It Standing

Apr 18, 2008
So you want to smash down some walls, open up your living space and put in big modern windows and folding glass doors. Just about anything's possible, but sounds like you need a good builder.

Moving internal walls around, adding windows and other new openings and building on extensions take home improvement to a whole new level. These sorts of alterations require major changes to the building and its crucial to get a structural engineer and a good firm of builders involved. Occasionally you hear on the news about buildings collapsing because one too many walls have been taken down. A good engineer and builder will ensure this won't happen to you.

The starting point is to know which walls are structural i.e. supporting the building, and which are partition walls that merely separate internal areas.

Many older houses are built of bricks and mortar or stone. Newer homes often use concrete bocks. In a typical British terraced house the external walls support the weight of the roof and also the floors. There may also be some internal supporting walls. And the foundations support the combined weight of the roof, floors and walls. The roof and floors are also important as they help keep the building rigid.

Having understood the structure of a typical house, you can see that making a major change to an external wall could cause at least partial collapse. So any change must be compensated for. Builders do this by installing a lintel or beam above the new window or door opening, so that the weight of the building above is still carried. The size of the beam will depend on the size of the new opening and the weight of the building above (three storeys will require more than one).

Internal structural walls can be identified in two ways. Knocking on a wall is a good start. A dull thud indicates a structural wall that needs to be treated carefully. A lighter, hollow knocking sound usually means the wall is merely a spatial divider and is not integral to the building's structure. Also, if you have original timber floors then floorboards usually run across the house from side to side with the supporting joists from the front to the back of the house. A wall that runs parallel to the floorboards is more likely to be structural. Removing all or part of it will require installation of a beam to safeguard the strength of the building.

The other crucial area for a builder to work on is your home's infrastructure i.e. the heating system, electricity and plumbing as these will most likely be affected by structural changes. Although connecting up to a mains supply is the job of the utility companies, its your builder who will take care of arrangements within the building and up to the connection.

Making structural changes may give you the opportunity to upgrade your existing services. For instance electrical wiring systems should be checked every five years and usually need replacing every fifteen to twenty years, so while your home is disrupted it may be worth getting this sort of work done as well. Waste pipes and drains can get clogged up, so again, make the most of the domestic disorder and get these checked out while floors are up and piping is being rerouted.

Making structural changes to your home can revolutionise the way you live and make your space more practical and more aesthetically pleasing. But it is vital to have professionals on the job who can ensure your project is carried out safely and that your renovation is built to last.
About the Author
Expert buider India Cooper advises the public to seek out a good builder when executing major renovations within the home. To find out more please visit http://www.ratedpeople.com/find/builder
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