Renovating properties means you will need to have a great team of tradies behind you. Some of those are obvious choices, like builders, carpenters, plumbers or electricians. However, in many jobs we’ve found a key role early in our planning and demolition is a Structural Engineer.

Commonly we’ve required their expertise when we plan to remove, or move internal walls to reconfigure spaces. A Structural Engineer will ensure your renovations are compliant, strong, safe and structurally sound.

We’ve completed many renovations in apartment blocks, where the floors between the levels of the buildings are concrete slabs and we’ve wanted to move walls. It is possible to do some reconfiguring of floor plans with the right engineering and building techniques.

In any building there will be structural walls and non-sturctureal walls. Structural walls will be taking the weight of the building through them and transferring the load out and down to the foundations…a very important job to ensure your home stays standing! Non structural walls, however, are there toi divide the internal space of the home to create rooms. These are the ones you can play with!

Non structural walls can generally be moved easily, but recommend you still need a structural engineer’s  onsite review and report before you start demolition. Preparation, preparation is a key tio success and avoiding little, or big, surprises later in our renovation. 

Over time a building will ‘settle’ and in some cases non-structural walls may be taking some load. When we’ve renovated in apartment blocks this is often the case. The concrete slab above has settled, or slightly bowed over time (even just millimetres), and now an internal wall is taking some load. 

Knowing this is important, because if you just go ahead and remove what you think is a non-strucutral wall without professional advice, you risk damage to the building, and especially to the room/space above where you’re working. The flow on effect can be significant. You don’t want your renovation budget contingency money being spent on someone else’s reno!!

Remember your walls are holding up the ceiling, which includes a lot of weight. If it’s a single level home you have the combined weight of the rafters and trusses, plaster, and of course the roof finishes, and if that’s tiles there’s a whole lot of weight being distributed. Also, if there are additional floors above, just keep adding the weight to your support walls! So structural engineering is important, even if it feels frustrating, as it ensures all that weight is evenly distributed and safe. 

An additional consideration, if your’e renovating in an apartment block, and especially if you’re planning to move walls, is to ask your builder to document a dilapidation report. This is a report with photographs, of the condition of structures and finishes in apartments above, below and next to you prior to renovating. Work with your neighbours to show them you’re concerned for their property and they will almost always assist you. 

During your renovation you will make noise, but more than that you will cause vibration and disturbance to the structure of the building. Hopefully this is minor disturbance, but strange things can happen during renovations, and you need to be prepared. The works being done in your property can transfer to properties around yours. It’s all fun at the beginning when you rip into demolition on your own ‘demo day’!....until you have a neighbour bashing your front door down screaming at you! Then you’re really going to want to have spent the money on a dilapidation report! 

Renovation works done without the right advice, or the right checks and balances,  can cause damage to other properties and you can easily end up liable for any repairs. This can range from cracks in plaster or masonry walls, through to tiles ‘popping’ off walls or wooden floor boards lifting due to vibration or concrete slab floors ‘sagging’ when walls are removed. You wouldn’t want that to happen to your place, and neither does your neighbour. 

A dilapidation report allows you and your neighbours to have a ‘baseline’ record of the condition of neighboring properties prior to renovations starting. If there are allegations of damage, you can reference this condition report to see if any damage was caused, and if so the extent of what you might be responsible to fix. However, if you’ve engaged the right advice and followed it, the risks are much reduced. It’s all about planning and managing the risks. 

Making your home beautiful starts with the foundations and planning, including an understanding of the structural impacts, way before you think about the finishes and features of those beautiful rooms. 

June 15, 2022 — Mark McKie

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