Owning a home

Making your home open plan

5 min read

The way families live in their homes has changed and designs of new homes reflect these changes. Living spaces are more open, windows and doors are bigger, and decks now extend living areas to the outside.

Depending on the site and aspect, houses are positioned to take advantage of the sun’s warmth, with living areas reaping the rewards from the hottest part of the day. But more often than not, houses built before the 1980s were built for road frontage appeal or just positioned where developers thought best. Houses were built for the period and often this meant living rooms, walls, doorways and even hallways could separate kitchens and dining areas. 

The way we live now, the kitchen has become the hub of the home. An island isn’t somewhere tropical to holiday; it’s the kitchen bench where kids and adults congregate to chat about their day. Milk is spilt and tears are shed, but it can all be wiped into the sander mount stainless sink and washed away with a top mounted chrome faucet. So if you have an older home and you want to transform closed off living areas and claustrophobic kitchens into open living, here’s a few tips and ideas to get you started.

Where’s North?

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, so the hottest part of the day is in the middle - the North.

It makes sense to use the sun and its warmth to heat our homes and especially the areas we spend most of our time in. It’s nice to have early morning sun entering the kitchen and dining areas, so think carefully about relocating these rooms, even if it means moving a bedroom. It might sound crazy and expensive, but I have done this many times and the result has always been positive.

A big no is to have the prep area of a kitchen facing West, the late sun will hit you straight in the eyes when you are preparing the evening meal.

Making your home open plan image1Know your home and how it’s constructed.

Knowing how your home is constructed helps you understand how easy it is to deconstruct. And getting open plan living nearly always requires walls to be removed.

The important thing about walls is that they provide separation between rooms, internal walls, and of course separation from the outside, exterior walls. Nearly all exterior walls are loadbearing, which means they hold up the roof. They also provide bracing so that wind doesn’t blow the house over. Internal walls are the ones you may want to remove to create a more open space. Your home’s roof construction, will determine whether these walls are loadbearing or non-loadbearing.

Making your home open plan image2Beam me up

If the wall, or walls, you decide to remove are loadbearing they will need to be replaced with something to help hold the roof up. This usually means a beam or a lintel.

A lintel is a beam that can generally be specified by an architect or designer. They can span up to 4m depending on the roof load and are usually constructed from two pieces of timber nailed together.

Beams are a bit more of an issue as they require an engineer to design them. Steel beams come in many sizes and shapes. For general residential requirements P.F.C. and U.B. type beams are used. U.Bs - universal beams - take up the least room of all beams, for maximum span P.F.C., preformed channel are ideal for wide openings in exterior walls as they are the same width as standard framing. More and more common are L.V.Ls, laminated veneer lumber beams. These span further than standard timber framing and are lightweight. Glue laminated beams can be made to suit your requirements and if a beam can’t be hidden in the ceiling space these are often left exposed as a feature.

Making your home open plan image3Hold up and hold on

If a wall is removed and replaced with a beam the load of the roof is now transferred to the beam. But what’s holding up the beam and what’s holding up what’s holding up the beam?

It’s obvious that the beam needs to be supported and for a clear open space it will only have supports at the ends. These supports need to be designed to take the load of the roof, the beam and the ceiling. Below these supports new foundations are generally required to transfer this load all the way to the ground. In a lot of cases the wall being removed may be a structural element be it loadbearing or not. This is because it will be a brace wall.

Brace walls externally and internally prevent wind and earthquakes from pushing houses out of shape. If you remove a brace wall, bracing needs to be recalculated and added into the design so the house still has its integral strength.

Permit me

You’re going to need consent from local authority to do this sort of work. Changing walls, moving plumbing, putting in new and bigger windows all require a permit. To get a permit you need a plan and to draw a plan you need a Licensed Building Practitioner with a design certificate, an architectural designer, a draughtsman, or an architect.

And finally

Changing a house to suit you best is important to a healthier, happier home. The sense of open plan living in the modern day is important to the unity and cohesion of a family. While Dad’s cooking dinner, Mum’s reading the paper, and the kids are playing trampoline on the new sofa, everyone’s together and everyone’s happy.

Home loan top-ups

Pay for home renovations, big purchases, and/or events and if it's insulation or heating you need, you could be eligible for a special home loan top up.

Find out more today.