You’ve bought an apartment that you’re totally thrilled with, but it’s not quite perfect. All you need to do is knock down that wall between the kitchen and the back room and enlarge the door to the balcony and you’ll have a great new living space that opens up onto the garden.

Simple, right? Well, not quite. Before you grab a sledgehammer, remember that the internal wall you’re about to knock the hell out of may well be supporting your upstairs neighbour’s floor structure, not to mention some internal walls, and possibly even the roof.

Removing the whole or even part of your wall could lead to massive and costly damage to the building or even personal injury.

The solution is to look and think before you demolish. Whacking away with a sledgehammer is possibly the most cathartic part of any renovation project but it’s important to have a thorough understanding of how the structure of your home works before you get started.

Firstly you need to identify whether the wall is lightweight or masonry. This will determine what technique you should use for demolition and will also indicate whether the wall is likely to be load-bearing or not. Masonry walls are more likely to be load-bearing as they are capable of supporting loads by themselves.

Lightweight walls generally cannot support the loads of a roof, concrete slab or similar without the assistance of structural columns, usually steel, embedded within them. You will need to remove the plasterboard lining to see whether there are any columns present.

Ideally you should get the advice of a structural engineer who will be able to tell you how much of the wall, if any, it is safe to remove. Generally it is safe to remove as much as you like provided you replace the load-bearing function with something else.

This usually means installing a lintel, with or without new supporting columns, to take over the structural function of the wall. You need to be able to do structural calculations to work out the size of lintel required.

With so much at stake, handing this complex problem to a professional will allow you to be confident that no structural damage will occur as a result of your renovations.

Remember that making even a small hole in a structural wall might lead to failure that could cause irreparable damage so it’s important to get advice before you demolish.

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