I am thinking about knocking down the wall between my kitchen and dining room.
October 3, 2008 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I am considering knocking down the wall between my kitchen and my dining room. Multiple questions inside.

My house is pretty small, about 1250 square feet. I wish my kitchen was just a little bit larger, and also that I had just slightly more counter space. There is also a section of the kitchen that I feel the space could be used more efficiently (i.e. there is no counter there where there could be).

So, I am considering knocking down the wall between my kitchen and my dining room, and expanding the kitchen slightly. I already know that I want new counters, and the cabinets will either need to be painted white, or need new faces, but I am not interested in spending money on new cabinets. I don't think I will have to move plumbing.

Will knocking down the wall and essentially merging the rooms (there will be an island in between) hurt the resale value of my home?

What are some other things I need to think about when doing this?

Who do I hire, a general contractor? a carpenter?

Who do I talk to if I want someone to help me design a really efficient kitchen space?
posted by hazyspring to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am neither an architect nor a contractor. I'm just offering the anecdotal evidence that I grew up in a home where there was no wall between the dining room and the kitchen, and while at first my mother was bothered by that, after a couple months she got totally won over and loved the way it made both rooms FEEL even more spacious than they actually were. I've also seen plenty of other homes where there was no wall between the two, and plenty of people really do like that much of a spacious feel. So in short, no, I don't see why this would hurt the resale value, providing you don't knock out any load-bearing studs in the process or anything like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 AM on October 3, 2008

Does the wall have electrical outlets and light switches? If so, you'll either need to move them and deal with the wiring or hire someone to do it. Also, if you have forced air heating, there could be a vent on the wall that will need to be converted into a floor vent.

I'm not sure how to find out if a wall is load-bearing but that is probably the first order of business before you get the sledge hammer out.
posted by glip at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2008

Best answer: A general contractor can do this. A carpenter might be able to as well, but you'll probably wind up doing some sheetrocking, possibly electric, etc, and at that point you'll either need to act as your own GC or hire one anyhow.

There are kitchen consultants out there, although I get the impression they're generally attached to places that sell you kitchen cabinets. But I don't think you need one. There are websites that give scads of advice on efficient kitchen layouts. There are books you can check out of the library as well. Read both. You'll get a lot of ideas.

My wife and I did exactly what you're proposing (as part of a larger reno—check my flickr stream), and we just spent a lot of time mocking things up on our computer screens, or on the floor using tape and boxes. Our contractor had some useful suggestions that helped us tweak some of our dimensions as well. We're very happy with how things turned out, with only some minor aspects we would have done differently.
posted by adamrice at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2008

You can't remove walls without checking whether or not they are load-bearing. In a small home, chances are you'll have to leave some structure up, but that can work just fine around an island.

The general consensus these days is that "breakfast bars," islands, and open floor plans in general can add value to a home—a good kitchen is what sells a house, and kitchens that are good for "gatherings" and families are more valuable than separate, formal dining rooms.

On the other hand, damaging original features (like changing the floor plan of a classic bungalow, or replacing wood floors with cheap tile) can decrease value so you have to weigh both sides.

You need to hire a general contractor.
posted by bcwinters at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2008

In some people's minds this will be a plus. In other's a minus. Today it tends ti be fasionable for the the kitchen and the dining room to be a continum. In the 1920's it was almost as if they wanted to pretend the kitchen didn't exist. Personally, I think people who do the cooking will tend to be more enthused about a house with plenty of counterspace. The people who do the eating will not care that much.

The contractor/carpenter thing depends on what all you want to do. If there is no wiring to be removed or plumbing to be messed with a carptenter is probably all you need.

Do you know if the wall is load bearing? (If it runs perpendicular to the floor and ceiling joists it probably is.) If so, they'll have to do something to support the ceiling.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:10 AM on October 3, 2008

From watching home renovation shows, I've noticed that there's a trend towards open-plan kitchen/dining areas, reflecting changes in lifestyles and entertaining - it's considered to be more social if the cook isn't isolated in the kitchen while the diners are elsewhere.

Certainly in the UK, the renovation shows ('Property Ladder' etc) suggest that the two rooms are best combined and that this, if done right, can add to, not detract from, the value of the property.
posted by essexjan at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2008

Seconding EmpressCalipygos in saying that opening up a room(s) this way totally changes the 'feel' of the home, it just feels so much more open. I had a friend do so in a bitty condo they lived in and while the space was/is still small it surely is better living. I don't think it would take the value of the home down but rather increase it.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2008

If possible, go above and below the wall (basement/attic) to get a feel for what's going on inside it and what you're getting into. Be prepared for surprises when you open it up.

Personally, in a small place, I love the open kitchen/dining room. It adds light and opens up the space. I don't think it'll impact resale value, especially if you roll in a kitchen update of some kind and do the job well.

Go to some local stores (plumbing, tile, kitchen/bath showrooms) and collect business cards for remodeling companies and contractors. You'll find someone who can come take a look and give you a better idea whether your wall is load bearing and, if so, what your options are... load bearing doesn't mean you can't do it, but you'll have to replace the wall with a column or larger beam to carry the weight.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2008

Best answer: I agree with EmpressCallipygos that joining two rooms together can really make both seem more spacious even if there is a negligible change in actual floor space. You should get in touch with a general contractor, as you're going to probably need carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and flooring work done. Look for someone who specializes in remodeling. Some things you should think about:

- Is there anything load-bearing in the wall? Even if you don't have a second floor, does the wall support any rafters? Even if you don't have access to your home's plans, your contractor can probably figure this out. If it's load-bearing, knocking out the wall could be an exceptionally Bad Idea, but a clever contractor might be able to find a solution, like sticking a column for your oven and some cabinet space on the end of a half-wall of cabinets.

- What infrastructure runs through the wall? Plumbing? Electricity? Ventilation? A dryer exhaust tube? Anything coming up from the basement or down from the second floor (if you have either)? This is a less critical consideration than the load-bearing one, but if something important does go through that wall you're going to need to figure out how to send it someplace else. You can probably tell what goes through there even without a contractor, but if you're going to hire one anyways, definitely have him check that out. You also don't want to eliminate needed electrical outlets, so think about that too.

- What are you going to do about the floor? You've going to have what feels like a single room now, and it might seem a little odd to have different flooring dividing up the space. As you're going to have to do something about the floor exposed by the removal of the wall anyways, you should look into redoing the whole thing. I recommend a faux-hardwood laminate. Almost as pretty as the real thing, but a bit cheaper, and infinitely more durable.

- As far as design, a contractor will be able to do some basic work there, but you may wind up wanting to talk to an interior decorator. They do far more than help you pick out shades; a good one will have insights into efficient use of space and help avoid things like cabinet doors that interfere with each other.
posted by valkyryn at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2008

In my apartment, there is a "window" between the kitchen and living/dining area. It must have been done during renovation, because the otherwise identical unit upstairs does not have this feature. Ours feels sooooo much more open. Even if it is a load-bearing wall and you can't remove it completely, even just opening it up will make a huge difference. Go for it!
posted by radioamy at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2008

Will knocking down the wall and essentially merging the rooms (there will be an island in between) hurt the resale value of my home?

Not if it’s done right. It could even boost the resale value if it looks nice.

What are some other things I need to think about when doing this?

If the wall is load-bearing the job will be harder and more expensive. There’s no sure-fire way to tell but if it’s running the same direction as the ridge (perpendicular to the joists) of the roof it probably is load-bearing. This is only a rule of thumb though, depending on how the house was built. The dining room could have been an addition at some point, etc.

Electrical wiring is easy to re-route. Any electrician could do it or you could DYI if you’re handy and take the necessary precautions.

Who do I hire, a general contractor? a carpenter?

Either one. If they’re messing with the structure (load-bearing walls) they might need an architect or engineer to sign off on the plans.

Who do I talk to if I want someone to help me design a really efficient kitchen space?

An architect, kitchen designer, or a good friend who likes to cook. Walk into a cabinet store and talk to them.
posted by bondcliff at 9:15 AM on October 3, 2008

If the wall is load-bearing the job will be harder and more expensive. There’s no sure-fire way to tell but if it’s running the same direction as the ridge (perpendicular to the joists) of the roof it probably is load-bearing. This is only a rule of thumb though, depending on how the house was built.

Yeah--if house is single story and the roof was framed with trusses, there might not be a problem. Even if the house was built with standard framing, with ceiling joists and roof rafters, it might not be a problem if there's no posts running up to a ridge beam. Even if it is a load-bearing wall, all you'd really have to do is put in a couple posts and a beam to carry the weight the wall was carrying (unless the wall was designed as a shear wall, meant to resist lateral forces, but that's probably not a problem in a house this small--you're probably getting all your shear at the exterior).

If they’re messing with the structure (load-bearing walls) they might need an architect or engineer to sign off on the plans.

Probably not if the framing is pretty standard and the house is two stories or less.

A carpenter will probably be able to do most of the work, but the presence of electrical work in the existing wall or your future countertop should not be an "if" situation. By code, you're required to have outlets every so often, so you'll probably have to relocate or install a couple.
posted by LionIndex at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2008

I may be in the minority as liking there to be some separation between dining area and kitchen, both socially and in layout. I like that the kitchen is it's own cozy space (admittedly, ours is big enough for a small kitchen table, too) that we use as a hangout when it's just the two of us. From a layout point of view, you get one more wall to use for cabinets, counters, etc. Also, I've never seen a breakfast bar used for anything other than a big catchall for mail and junk. (Not saying it doesn't happen, of course.)

The thing that I don't like about the open layouts is that the appliances are usually on the back and side walls anyway, so if you're cooking, you're still standing with your back to your guests, they can just see you better. Superficially more social, I guess? I also like being able to kick people out of my kitchen when I'm busy with Thanksgiving dinner. Open layouts can be the proverbial peanut gallery.

I have an added temperature-control benefit, too. Having that wall between the kitchen and the dining room, plus a big window in the kitchen and an overhead fan, helps keep the stove/oven from heating up the whole first floor in the summer. In the winter, the heat from the stove/oven keeps the kitchen warmer than it would be otherwise, as it has some insulation challenges that the rest of the house does not.
posted by desuetude at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2008

It will very likely increase the home's value. Modern homes have more open floor plans. Aside from the value issue, I predict you will love the open space, and being able to talk to people in the dining room while in the kitchen.

I'm not a contractor, but I've owned a few old homes that I restored, including knocking out walls and updating kitchens. So here are some random thoughts:

Seal off the doorways to the rest of the house during construction. If there's a back door that can be used to access the kitchen, all the better. If not, use overlapping curtains of plastic sheeting in the doorways. The ability of dust, plaster, and sawdust to find its way into every crevice of your home can not be overstated. If you are running heat or AC, block off any registers or cold air returns in the construction area. A good contractor will usually do this, but some won't.

Resist the temptation to hang cabinets above you new island. It will close off the open feeling right away. (I think there was a Seinfeld episode about this!) I've had kitchens like that, and it gets really annoying, really quickly.

If your kitchen has linoleum or tile, plan for the possibility of having to add, remove, or replace subflooring to one or both rooms. In old homes, there can be layers of flooring in the kitchen. The difference in the floor is often covered by a threshold between the two rooms, but once the wall is gone it will be obvious. You contractor should be able to check for this when giving an estimate.

The same can be true of the ceiling and walls. Not so much layers being added, but differences in the finishing texture. Allow enough in your budget to resurface both ceilings and walls if needed. You really want the rooms to be seamlessly merged into one. Any hint of where the wall used to be will annoy you to no end. Again, a good contractor should take this all into account.

You noticed I said "contractor" a few times. That's probably the best way to go. There are contractors that specialize in kitchens. You don't just want a carpenter, because there are probably electrical issues, and maybe gas-line issues. Depending on the scope of the work and your local code, you might need a permit, and an inspector will have to sign off on the different phases of the project.

Good luck. I think it will be very much worthwhile.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:32 AM on October 3, 2008

Knocking down the wall and merging your two room will most likely not hurt the resale value of your home. Open floor plans are the trend these days and I don't see that changing in the near future. The way people want to live today is much more fluid, open, and varied so they want their homes to reflect the same.

Some of the other things you should think about is the structure of your home. If the wall contains internal columns that hold a beam then you will have to be sure that the beam is not compromised in the process. You should also think about the appliances you wish to use in your new kitchen, are you buying new ones or keeping the old ones? New appliances tend to be larger then that of old - side-by-side fridges, five-burner ranges, deep double bowl sinks, etc. Figure out what you want and make sure it fits.

I would steers you towards hiring a contractor than a carpenter. Working with a kitchen can be a very complex jobs, involving many trades - rough carpentry, plumbing, electrical, finish carpentry, cabinetry. A contractor can be your single source, whereas a carpenter won't have the other skills, nor the ability, to sign-off on building permits.

If you want to design a really efficient kitchen space you can talk to a, architect (more expensive), a kitchen designer (a little less), or a salesperson at a cabinetry store like high-end Poggenpohl or low-end IKEA (free if you buy their products).

However, consider the order of how you want to do things. (1) cultivate your idea: what do you want, what should it do, how much do you want to spend (2) take your idea to a designer to refine,source, and plan it (3) take your plan to a contractor to schedule it, pull the permits, and build it.
posted by spoons at 9:39 AM on October 3, 2008

Typically, in the UK, we use a reinforced steel joist (RSJ) to support a load-bearing wall. This is a steel "girder" that is used to span the distance between the walls with which the removed wall joins, to spread the load when the wall is removed. I gather that this is quite common in the USA too, which is why so many room combinations have a small archway where the dividing wall would be. You don't need the arch, it is a style thing to make the plaster-covered joist look more aesthetically pleasing, as it runs across the room below ceiling level.
So N-thing all the other people who say that you need an experienced contractor to look at the wall and assess the remedial work if it is removed. The people who bought our last house in the UK removed a similar wall by hiring an inexperienced contractor after they moved in. A few weeks later, a HUGE, gaping crack appeared in an external wall of the house. This has reduced their ability to sell the house substantially ...
Aesthetically, there is nothing more appealing than a wide open, spacious ground floor room. So having the wall removed is well worth it. It makes the space lighter, less cramped (a big deal when entertaining and serving), and less formal. Just make sure that you get a contractor with lots of experience to do this for you!
posted by sgmax at 9:46 AM on October 3, 2008

Another thing to consider if you plan on replacing floors in the kitchen. If you have older linoleum flooring there's a good change there is asbestos in it. This isn't a huge deal, and you shouldn't worry about your health, but it will need to be removed by a professional. Your contractor should be able to arrange to have a sample tested before construction.

I mention this from experience. It was a two week delay and (of course) an additional expense.
posted by bondcliff at 9:46 AM on October 3, 2008

I just did a project like this. I'm not a contractor, nor do I have formal training in construction. I did have a construction business friend look at the wall beforehand, and he determined it was load bearing, so instead of an island, we have a hole between our kitchen and dining room. His recommendation was that we could take out two studs from a load bearing wall without the house collapsing.

The house hasn't collapsed yet, and we love our new hole!

Some observations:
1. A sawzall is the tool you need for tearing out the wall.
2.Our house had some old, unused asbestos stove exhaust pipes hanging in the wall -- if you find something like that, you should call a professional. That said, I wore a dust mask and cut 'em out myself -- as a former smoker, I figure something's going to kill me someday, might as well be mesothelioma.
3.Make sure you turn off the power, and prepare to have to reroute some wiring.
4.This will cost more and take more time than you think.

Even if you have no construction experience, the Internet and a little confidence is all it takes to do drywall patching, cabinet building and whatever else this project requires. Don't let anyone scare you away from DIY.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:58 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You definitely need to make sure that the wall is not load-bearing before you tear it out.

Not a joke. Taking out a load-bearing wall can lead to the house collapsing.
posted by Class Goat at 10:02 AM on October 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the posts. I don't know if it is load-bearing and don't worry! I'm not attempting to do any of this myself. I'm going to hire a gc or a carpenter. I'm just trying to get a sense of what I need to do to plan for doing something like this.
posted by hazyspring at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2008

All good advice above. My sense is that the size of your home almost demands an open-plan reno. Even if you have architectural features you can do one that is sensitive and after completion can look like it came with the house, but you will want some experience or professional advice on how to achieve this.

You may want to look around your area for similar homes that have had renovations and take a look inside (with permission -- the easy way is to look for homes for sale, and these days there are lots), just to see how they did it. If you have a particular historic architectural style you can ask the local historic commission for some advice (brochures, books, maybe a local expert).

General contractors can do this; you can also in many areas find specialists in kitchen remodeling. A cabinet dealer probably has a list.

(The RSJ was neglected in a door remodel in the Fawlty Towers episode "The Builders", btw ... in the US they're usually just called a steel joist or header. Your local building code will specify whether you need a wooden or steel header depending on the span, and how to support it properly at both ends.)
posted by dhartung at 2:29 PM on October 3, 2008

As everyone's pointed out, the trend nowadays is for big open eating/dining spaces. Until that reverses (as it inevitably will some day, though probably not before you sell the house) then if you do the job competently and with sensitivity to consistent architetural style, your house won't lose value.

Still, I'm glad desuetude voiced a dissenting opinion. I grew up in the kind of century-old house with a tiny private kitchen in the back and a separate (not "formal", what a silly idea) dining room. That design is disappearing fast. Obviously it doesn't accommodate counters full of electric appliances and what-have-you, but I still like it for all the reasons desuetude mentions.
posted by tangerine at 11:25 AM on October 4, 2008

Thanks, tangerine. We looked at A LOT of houses before we bought ours, and I saw too many that were renovated to be more "modern" with pretty dumb-looking results. Sensitivity to existing architectural style is exactly right, though this can be more expensive. (That said, I have seen tiny kitchens opened up in lovely ways, even in the 100-yr-old houses in my neighborhood.)
posted by desuetude at 12:56 PM on October 4, 2008

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