Blog Cabin 2012: First-Floor Focus

Blog Cabin 2012, originally a rabbit warren of small, boxy rooms, is opened up to accommodate the needs of a modern family.

On Blog Cabin’s first floor, every single interior wall was removed, transforming what had been seven rooms into a single space that encompasses everything from a mudroom entryway to the kitchen, with only the master suite segregated behind doors.

“Opening up a floor plan provides so many benefits,” says Knickerbocker Group architectural designer Kim Tuttle. “It makes the house feel larger, it allows the family to spend time together even while doing different activities and it makes life more comfortable and efficient.” In this house, it also means the family and guests will enjoy water views from almost anywhere.

Tearing out walls is never simple, and the Waldoboro, Maine, project proved no exception, says construction manager Marcus Golding. Before a 25-foot load-bearing wall that separated the living room from the parlor and a first-floor bedroom could be removed, a temporary stud wall had to be sledgehammered into place. The old wall was then replaced by a 25-foot steel I-beam, lifted by a crew of four men using a block and tackle (a system of pulleys that provides extra leverage). The temporary wall could not be removed until hefty posts were placed under each end of the steel.

Although non-load-bearing walls came out without a fuss, Marcus faced another challenge: chimneys. A decision was made to preserve chimney stacks, defining elements of the building’s exterior, but to remove first-floor chimneys that obstructed the open floor plan. To prevent stacks from toppling, each chimney was sandwiched between two sturdy laminated veneer lumber beams within the first-floor ceiling. Bricks and mortar within the first floor were then smashed out with hammers and masonry chisels and steel caps placed over chimney tops.

Opening up an existing floor takes careful thought and consideration. The Blog Cabin 2012 process offers some crucial takeaways for homeowners interested in making the most of living space

Determine the Wall Type

Never remove a wall without consulting an engineer or a knowledgeable contractor. A load-bearing wall, a wall designed to carry the weight of the structure overhead, typically has exact matches on all other floors of the house (and a beam or wall directly underneath it in the basement). Also, a load-bearing wall is usually perpendicular to the joists in the floor, which means it most likely runs parallel to the direction of wood flooring.

Decide Whether or Not to Hide the Beam

To take out a load-bearing wall, your contractor will have to install a beam. At Blog Cabin 2012, that beam is situated below the finished ceiling. But beams can also be buried in the ceiling. To do this, a crew must build a temporary wall on each side of the old wall, remove the old wall, open the ceiling and cut back each joist to create a pocket for the beam. The beam goes into place, with posts at each end and joists attached to it with metal brackets called joist hangers. Hiding the beam is a labor-intensive job that can double the cost of the entire wall-removal project, but yields, once drywall is installed, a smooth, level ceiling.

Consider Pipes, Wires and Ducts

Even a non-load-bearing wall can be tricky to remove if it contains ducts, pipes or wiring that feed other parts of the home. Your contractor would have to find alternate routes for those lines, which can be extremely costly and involve extensive demolition. If you are gutting the house entirely, rerouting becomes a fairly simple process.

Don't Forget About Patching Costs

Removing a wall means some significant repairs to the ceiling, walls and floor once it’s gone. Any good drywaller can repair the walls and ceilings fairly easily, but the floor is a trickier matter. Weaving new wood into an old floor is time-consuming, costly and, if not done with expert care, quite obvious to the naked eye. All floors were replaced at Blog Cabin 2012, but in cases where existing floors are patched, a carpenter can install a large piece of lumber in place of the wall. “It becomes a design element,” says Golding, “and a quirky detail that helps to tell the history of the house.”

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