After a month of sleuthing into my house's structural makeup, I decided to visually open up the non-bearing wall between the kitchen and dining room. Knocking it down completely would require adding cabinetry or leveling the floor to match the height of the original sub floors, which would be a pain. It would also require moving some electrical and possibly some vent ducting, which is also a pain. Total time for this project was about 12 hours (careful pre-planning is necessary) and only 50 dollars worth of trim and various material. Note: I had several tools already, including a nail gun and air compressor, but they can be rented from your local home improvement store for the day or weekend if necessary. My pass through is about 5 feet wide by 3.5 tall, which fits between two studs. I'll explain that later on. It turned out to be a surprise for the wife, and a great success at that!
Note: several municipalities require permits for any type of home construction, deconstruction, or repair - so check first!
2-3" finish nails
4" exterior screws
Trim (account for 20-30% extra for mistakes)
2x4 for header / footer / jack studs
1x6 pine boards
Spackle/ Joint Compoud
Measuring tape / Pencils
Step 1: Pre-Planning
Okay, I cannot stress this enough. You MUST consult a structural engineer or someone familiar with weight loads to assess the wall before you do anything to it. In my case, my home inspector was a structural engineer and said it was non-load bearing. We also have friends with the same model and have removed the same wall entirerly without an LVL header beam, or support post. Many companies will install temporary walls just in case, which is fine too. In addition, the wall runs parallel with both the attic trusses and from the crawlspace below, i saw that the wall was sitting on a sistered 2x9 (common practice even for non-load bearing walls) but was seven feet from the nearest concrete support for the beam running perpendicular to the wall.
Finally, I used a deep-scan stud finder to locate the exact ceiling studs, and saw that the top plate of the wall sat between two studs above, so no major weight was being passed through it to the crawlspace (blue painters tape). All five or six clues led to be believe that I was good to go. Note: If at ANY time I saw, heard, or felt ANYTHING that made me think otherwise, I was prepared to call in an engineer to assess what structure must be installed to keep the upstairs bedroom upstairs. Always have a back up plan, and never push your own limits!
Step 2: Sneaky Window Time
So in an effort to plan as much as possible, and not alert the wife, I cut a small hole in the sheetrock to get a good view of the interior without her noticing (we had a large painting over it). It was like this for a month- sneaky sneaky! From the hole, I was able to see the electrical outlet below on both sides, as well as the wires for the light switch on the kitchen side. No plumbing or venting was present. Also I was able to measure up to the top plate from inside, again to verify that the wall wasn't load bearing (single top plate usually means non-load bearing). 1960's cement-board sheetrock was cool to see too!
Step 3: Verifying Your Plans and Cutting Drywall
At this point, I made a few last measurements with various levels, studfinder, and plumbobs. I wanted to make sure the outside of the pass through sat exactly next to two studs for rigidity. I also used the finder to draw a quick little blueprint type to verify that the measurements were correct, and mark the studs for removal. I'm no art teacher, but you get the idea!
Step 4: Sawwing Away...
When all seems nice and level, go ahead and use your drywall saw to poke a hole and start hacking away. DO NOT POUND THE DRYWALL WITH A HAMMER OR RUN THROUGH IT LIKE THEY DO ON TELEVISION! I can't understand why anyone does this, it just makes a huge mess and takes forever to clean up. Go slow, watch for hidden wires, etc, and take one piece off at a time. Wear a dustmask, gloves, and eye protection throughout the whole process. Asbestos and some other gross stuff can lurk behind old walls, better safe than sorry. Also, I'm 6' 3" but I used a stepladder to make sure the cuts were even. Don't try to get this part done fast, take your time and be smart and safe.
Make sure your drywall saw is cutting level, and that you don't poke holes through the other side that you don't mean to. I repeat: take your time here, the cleaner the cuts the less clean up later on!
Remove the drywall from between the studs, and clean up the edges with a jigsaw or rough sandpaper if you'd like.
Step 5: Cutting Studs
Okay, there's no going back now.
Reminder: IF YOU SEE ANY CRACKING, HEAR ANYTHING WEIRD, OR IF THE SAW BLADE BINDS UP AS YOU CUT THROUGH THE STUDS, STOP IMMEDIATELY AND CONSULT AN EXPERT! A BOUND UP SAWBLADE MEANS THERE IS WEIGHT PUSHING DOWN ON THE STUD!
Use a reciprocating saw to slice through the studs in the middle. Doing it this way allows you to make precise cuts on the top and bottom and not have a huge chunk of wood go flying across your dining room. If you cut the studs flush with the drywall (size of the opening you'd like) you'll actually end up with a smaller opening since the header and footer 2x4's will rest of top of the studs, shrinking the hole.
Note: cut your final opening 2 inches LARGER on top and bottom to compensate for the 2" height of your header/footer piece and final trim. In the picture you'll see the extra amount of sheetrock I had to cut off to make room for my header beam. Also, there's a picture of the electrical stuff in the wall that I was able to avoid.
Step 6: Framing
At this point, you have a "rough opening" consisting of 2x4 studs either floating or hanging there behind the drywall. To give your pass through some structure, you'll want to throw out those old studs and measure new 2x4 lumber. Get straight lumber, professional grade, with as little knots as possible. A lot of the cheaper 2x4's are bent as much as a half inch over the span, and that's crazy.
The old saying "measure twice and cut once"? Wrong. Measure 17 times, minimum, and then cut and then measure again. BE OBSESSIVE HERE - get it snug for the best fit. You want the footer to go in diagonally, then tap it down with a hammer or rubber mallet so it sits flush on the studs and between the outside (king) studs. Use the level to make sure everything sits nicely. If not, take the footer out, trim the floating studs (the ones you cut) to try and get them as flat across as possible. You'll see if the picture how the new side (jack) studs don't sit evenly. I corrected the problem now, instead of later. Do the same process with the header piece, and then put in the new side (jack) studs to keep everything in place. Pre-drill and use 3.5 to 4"exterior grade screws to hold the header and footer to the studs, and the jack studs to the king studs (the ones you didn't cut on the outside of the pass through). You can also toe-nail (angle) screw the board to the King studs if you wish.
Step 7: Cleaning Up the Rough Opening
At this point, you have a framed opening. It doesn't look good, but that's okay - we'll fix it now. This is also where you can make some minute changes to make everything flush and flat and nice. Use wooden shims to level out some 1x6 pine boards (the exact with of the wall) and make sure everything lines up. When you're happy, use the nail gun and air compressor (or an old fashioned hammer) to shoot nails down through the boards, through the shims, into the 2x4 footer below. I used 2" nails, which worked just fine. You'll cover up the nail heads with joint compound later on.
Step 8: Trim Time!
Okay, so the house didn't fall down on you - that's good. You also framed out the rough opening - good also. Now, let's make it look real nice like. You'll want to examine the pine board for any rough edges, and get them sanded down smoothly. You can also start measuring your trim. Remember, even if the opening isn't perfectly level or flush - make the trim level. Your eye will never notice the opening. My ceiling has a .35" slope to the inside of the house after 50 years of settling, but the trim is level - and that's important.
Rule: Angle cuts MUST BE 45 degrees - use an multitude of angle instruments avaialble at home improvement stores to get an exact 45 degree angle - or use a miter saw which dials in the 45 degree angle perfectly every time. I found that starting with one piece, usually the side piece (use your level to keep it perfectly up and down) worked well. Use the nail gun one or twice to allow you to move the piece around just a bit to compensate for the other pieces. Also, I suggest measuring seventeen times and cutting one again, (it's okay to be obsessive! trim is expensive!) and remember the rule:
Measure inside to inside OR outside to outside. It seems silly, but measuring distance between inside angles worked the best for me. 53" inside to inside I'd say, then check it again, and again, and again. If the inside is 53 - the outside (or top of the piece) might be as much as 6 inches longer. You really want to use your brain here, and common sense. In my case, the beadboard paneling kept me from cutting full trim pieces, so my trusty jigsaw sliced it down to an inch height to compensate from the top of the beadboard to the pine board in the pass through.
Use painters tape to hold everything in position until you're absolutely positive it all works. Then go nailgun happy and attach that stuff to the wall. 2" nails are more than enough to hold it to the drywall, but try to hit the new 2x4 header/footer/jack studs when possible.
Now, go through with your wood putty, spackle, or joint compound and fill in the nail holes, corner cracks and everything else you don't want to see. Wait an hour or so, come back and sand it smooth, then re-apply. You may have to use some non-cracking caulk around the outside edges, or between the trim and the pine boards. Make it look great!
Afterwards, either prime or paint, or just paint, using at least two coats to get good coverage. I've included the first picture here to show the gap left before adding trim, and the amount of jack stud left over to give your something to nail to!
Step 9: Enjoy!
Here's a few final shots of the pass through, with a before and after for comparison. There's much more natural light in both rooms now, the mirrored wall now reflects sunlight through to the kitchen, and there's a much more "open" feel to the downstairs - without spending much time or money!
Thanks for reading, and good luck!