Ask the Architect

We’d like to open the house up


Q. We were at a friend’s house recently and admired how they opened all the walls so that their kitchen, dining room and living room are all open to be one big room. We like the open look, so we called a relative who’s a contractor. He looked at our house and said it would be very expensive because we’d need big beams, and it’s a lot of work. We still want to do it, but he made it sound like it’s risky, and scared us a little. Is it really expensive, more than it might be to do larger door openings and just redo our kitchen? What are your thoughts?

A. Fear of the consequences has stopped many from doing work that would have been a major improvement in their lives. I’m not sure which fear is bigger, though — the fear of the cost or the fear of how to do the work.

I often see people’s homes after the big job has been done, and will ask if the work was designed by an architect or an engineer. Lately, several people have told me that they did the work with a contractor during the pandemic, without plans or a permit because they thought the work was interior and didn’t need a permit. Construction work needs a permit. I’ve seen enough of these renovations to know, when I see even the slightest sagging, that the work wasn’t done correctly, and that deficiencies will follow, like small cracks that won’t go away after multiple repairs, consequential movement in tile floors or roof shingles above, leading to potential pipe or roof leaks, in a domino effect.

The fact is, it does cost a little more. In a conversation recently, a couple told me that their contractor wanted $30,000 more just for the beams, not the demolition, not the sheetrock, new flooring, insulation or electrical work, which were all going to be done anyway. A relative whose home I was recently involved with did have all the walls removed, and the cost for labor and materials was less than $12,000 for the installation of three 24-foot-long beams while all the work around was being done. Cost may fluctuate with plumbing issues, recent material increases and the contractor’s overhead and profit, but your fear leads to their higher prices. Perception plays a big role in the process, which is why people call a licensed professional, in many cases, only if they have to, being talked out of the perceived expense instead of really knowing what the costs may be.

Designing for beam replacement involves examining the complete picture, from roof to foundation, applying laws and formulas that trained professionals know when to apply. For example, the removal of beams across the long expanse of the rooms opens you up to an issue with wind pulses, called wind shear, that can cause serious damage to the structure in high-wind episodes. Wracking and cracking are just the beginning of more serious consequences.  Good luck!

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.