Major Renovations

John Mahler, principal at JM2 Architecture in Farmingville, knows a thing or two about major remodeling projects, like removing a wall or putting in a new staircase. These are not really do-it-yourself jobs and they entail more than a trip to Home Depot and advice from a shelf stocker.

Long Island Pulse: Before any work starts, what are
 the regulations?

John Mahler:
There are usually zoning issues, so you have to check into township regulations. Many people don’t know there are also health department requirements for wastewater that are regulated just as much as zoning. And, if you’re in the flood zone you need to figure that out before you do anything.

Pulse: Can you ever take down a load-
bearing wall?

They can be removed, but they need
to be replaced by some other structural 
element to carry the load. That’s usually
in the form of a beam that spans the
opening [a header] and is supported at
the ends by posts. It’s not about dealing
with the load-bearing wall, it’s the whole
transfer of load down to the foundation.
You might be able to cut a hole through
that bearing wall and put a beam in and M some posts to support what that load was carrying. But below those posts we have to look at where that weight is being directed and we have to introduce other structural elements at the base so that the weight isn’t going to cause a failure.

Pulse: How do you go about moving or installing new stairs?

There are a lot of requirements for stairs and you definitely need help from an architect with that. The standard width for egress is a 3-foot minimum and there are very strict codes on the heights of the stairs’ risers (they should be about
7 1⁄2 inches) and the depth of the treads (10 1⁄2 to 11 inches) and handrail heights (34 inches above the treads). And all those riser heights need to be the same dimensions. The code is very specific and they allow only about a 3/8 deviation from step to step, which isn’t very much at all. They’ve found that people will start to trip if it’s more than that.

Pulse: What about adding a wall of windows?
That project would look very similar to taking down a load-bearing wall. Chances are that outside wall is going to have some weight on it, so we need to put in headers and posts to support the frame for the opening that the windows can be put into. If it’s a whole big wall of glass, the thing I would do is try to bring in some intermediates [usually 2x4s] between the windows that look like they’re part of the window, so I can reduce the span of the header, which will often save a lot of money by lightening up that beam.