What's in The Wall?

When you start thinking about modifying existing walls, you need to consider what runs through their bays. The walls in most houses are strung with a network of wires, pipes, and ductwork for the various utility systems. If you decide to move or get rid of a wall, you must deal with the utilities it contains.

At the very least, a wall usually contains some electrical wiring. You'll see evidence of it on the surface in the form of receptacles or switches. Wiring is easier to reroute than other utility systems.

As for plumbing and ductwork, the best way to determine if the wall contains one or the other is to get underneath the house in a basement or crawlspace and see what goes up into the wall. These utilities seldom run horizontally through a wall, so if you don't see anything running up into the wall from underneath, there's probably no plumbing or ductwork in the wall. Note likely utility locations on your plan.

Once you have an idea of what you are up against, call the appropriate trade professionals and explain the situation to them. Tell them what you are doing and ask at what point they want to come and remove, reroute, or add to the system. Most will want you to notify them when the wall is stripped of its covering so they can come and get right to work.

Electrical wiring

Electrical wiring is found in most walls. Most receptacles are wired in conjunction with receptacles on other walls, so changing the wiring may be more involved than it first appears. Check both sides of a wall and neighboring walls.


Plumbing can be involved in a wall's modification, too. If there is a bathroom or kitchen directly above (and sometimes below) the wall you intend to work on, you will probably find pipes in that wall.

Heating and air-conditioning

Heating and air-conditioning ductwork is difficult to trace. Often, second-floor vent lines and return air lines pass through stud bays but are difficult to spot from underneath because other ducts block them from view.

Drain-Waste-Vent lines

Drain-waste-vent lines can be trickier to locate than plumbing supply lines; they take less direct routes. Besides being much larger than supply lines, drains and vents often run from the basement through the roof, requiring extensive rerouting.


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