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Community and Q&A

Making Upgrades While Walls are Open

Astrieanna | Posted in General Questions on


Context: I live in a couple hours east of Vancouver, BC; my climate zone is probably 5C. My house is a 1970’s ranch over a full basement.

I had one wall and a popcorn ceiling tested for asbestos last year. A friend is advocating for removing all the drywall on the main floor in one go, since there’s a couple more non-structural walls I’d like to rearrange in the next couple of years to make the floor plan work better for me.

If I do have all the drywall down, it’ll end of summer this year or sometime next year. Adding/replacing insulation in the exterior walls is on my radar, and I want to add Safe’n’Sound to the interior walls (there’s no insulation at all in the walls between rooms currently, and making the house quiet is a priority for me).

What else should I try to do at the same time, while the walls are all open? This is my first house and would be my first big renovation, so I’m worried that I won’t know to consider some option that convenient while the walls are open.


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  1. rhl_ | | #1

    Install all new plumbing, electrical.

    Consider radiant surfaces.

    Install intello as an extra air barrier.

  2. jberks | | #2

    I agree,

    Plumbing and electrical improvements can be big on quality of life stuff. especially if your plumbing is older, that'll be a good time to replace. And then you can increase capacity at that point if you want, as in increasing main diameter, adding a water line for the fridge (or future fridge that will have a water connection), washing machine (or future washing machine), his and her sinks, his and her shower heads, add a hot water recirculation loop if you want.

    Just adding safe n' sound won't do much for sound proofing. Surely it helps, but Consider 5/8" drywall for your interior partitions for better density with sound proofing. 5/8". Also do some google research on decoupling for sound proofing and sealing (avoiding flanking) for sound proofing.

    Another big one for nerds like me, consider running Cat6 cabling throughout. Consider where you'd like to have tv's, and add wall blocking, cat6 cable and an electrical outlet so you can cleanly wall mount them.

    add blocking everywhere, it makes life in the finishing stage easier and the overall user experience at the end much better. add blocking for stair railing, kitchen cabinets, towel holders, toilet paper holders, vanities, for baseboards around door casements, window curtain rods, ceiling fans, any triple or quad gang electrical boxes.

    Any gas lines for a rear bbq, or if you would ever consider having a hot tub or backup generator, you might as well run the rough-ins piping and electrical conduit for them too. And don't forget exterior electrical outlets and hose bibs Front and back. they're super handy.

    1. Astrieanna | | #4

      Thanks for the great suggestions! Wall blocking, avoiding flanking, adding cat6, and exterior outlets are all things I'm adding to my list. Especially the wall blocking.

      > Just adding safe n' sound won't do much for sound proofing. Surely it helps, but Consider 5/8" drywall for your interior partitions for better density with sound proofing. 5/8". Also do some google research on decoupling for sound proofing and sealing (avoiding flanking) for sound proofing.

      So 5/8" drywall with resilient channel behind it would do more than Safe'n'Sound for partition walls?

      1. jberks | | #7

        "So 5/8" drywall with resilient channel behind it would do more than Safe'n'Sound for partition walls?"

        Do all three combined. Soundproofing details is a synergistic approach.

        The resilient channel decouples. The safensoud dampens airflow (and adds some density). And the 5/8" drywall ads more density than regular drywall.


        1. Patrick_OSullivan | | #8

          Be mindful that once you move away from 5/8" + 2x4 wall + 5/8", you're into the realm of non-standard wall thicknesses which means your door jambs will need to change accordingly. It's not a 'problem', per se, that time and money can't solve, but just know you won't be able to walk into Home Depot (or equivalent) and buy in stock pre-hung doors.

  3. frasca | | #3

    >> "I had one wall and a popcorn ceiling tested for asbestos last year."

    you didn't tell us the results of that test :)

    +1 on skipping the Safe-n-Sound and going with 5/8 drywall for sound reduction. The Safe-n-Sound will make it hell if you ever try to fish cabling through those cavities, and it will get in the way of room-to-room temperature normalization, possibly making some rooms hotter and some rooms colder.

    5/8 drywall on both sides of a wall is a LOT of mass compared to the ultralight 1/2 stuff, it doesn't cost much more, and with any luck the drywall crews will stop complaining after the first day.

    +1 on CAT5 and Romex to every wall of every room where you think you might need it.

    +1 on addressing the air barrier in the exterior walls, if you aren't confident on the one on the outside of the framing!

    1. Astrieanna | | #5

      >>>> "I had one wall and a popcorn ceiling tested for asbestos last year."
      >> you didn't tell us the results of that test :)

      lol, all the samples tested positive.

      >> +1 on addressing the air barrier in the exterior walls, if you aren't confident on the one on the outside of the framing!

      How would I become confident in an existing exterior air barrier? (Given that I bought the house a year ago, and don't intend to replace the vinyl siding it came with any time soon.)

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #6

        A blower door test.

  4. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #9

    I agree with the other posters about upgrading any electrical while you have the walls open. I prefer to run all 12 gauge for receptacle circuits. At the very least, I would check every electrical box and replace any that are "wiggly". You want the boxes to be solid so that the devices (switch, receptacle, etc.) are mounted firmly.

    Run one or two cat5E cables to anywhere you want one, or think you might. The cable isn't all that expensive, and it's far easier to install with the wall open than it is to put it in later. If you want to be pretty future proof, a pair of cat5E cables and an RG6 coaxial cable will handle just about anything in the forseeable future. I advise against the "integrated" cable with those several cables I mentioned under a single jacket, since it's much harder to install, and you pay a premium for the combined cable. Don't get the stuff with fiber optic cable in it, either -- they all include OM1 multimode fiber, which is pretty much obsolete. Any fiber services you may order into your home some day are going to be running on singlemode fiber, which is very different. Since my commercial work is working with critical facilities AND optical network design for telecommunications firms, I am very familiar to what gets installed by the telecom companies for these services.
    BTW, do NOT use the "CCA" (copper clad aluminum) network cable you see sold on Amazon and Ebay. It DOES NOT meet any specs, since the Ethernet wiring specifications specifically require solid copper conductors. If you want to be safe, use good brand cable. I usually use Comtran or Southwire (Southwire bought the company I used to use :-). For coaxial cable, you can't go wrong with Commscope products.

    You may want to consider running wiring for security system stuff. Even if you use wireless sensors on windows and doors, you might want to run cable for keypads in key locations (classic spots are by a garage door, by a front door, and in the master bedroom). Many keypads require a 4 conductor 22 gauge cable. If you want to be safe, a 10 conductor cable is very future proof.

    Wire in any thermostats you might need. If you will be putting in any speakers or entertainment stuff, prewire all the speaker locations. Stay away from CCA wire for this too.

    Regarding the sound proofing, stepping up to 5/8" drywall is a good step. You DO still want the Safe 'n' Sound insulation in the wall though, since it helps in addition to the drywall. Safe 'n' Sound is only 3" thick though, so it's not as bad about blocking up the wall for fishing wires compared to the thermal insulation that has full-thickness batts.

    Note that resilient channel can be tricky to work with if you haven't done it before. Double 5/8" drywall (two layers on each side of the wall) is easier to install, and will help a lot. For any critical walls that you really want to sound proof, put in a staggered studwall to decouple the two sides of the wall from each other. A staggered stud wall will perform better than resilient channel, and the drywall goes up the "normal way" on such a wall. The only downside is you need more studs, and lumber has unfortunately gotten pretty pricey again.


  5. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #10

    I'm going to offer slightly different advice and say don't be so quick to tear out the drywall. Gutting a house is half-way to tearing it down. You're going to have to replace all of the trim and interior surfaces, and that's a big expense. It might make more sense only to take out the walls you intend to open up. On the other hand, if you're contemplating gutting, new plumbing and electrical, new mechanicals and perhaps new windows, roof and siding, you might be better off just knocking the house down and starting fresh with the house you really want. There's a limit to how much work you can do to an old house and have it be cost-effective. If all you end up using from the old house is the framing, that might be worth 10% of the cost of a new house. Having to work with an old house rather than starting fresh can easily add 10% to the cost of everything else.

    The asbestos is only a concern if you're going to disturb it. Yes, if you're going to be opening a wall it makes to remove that whole wall rather than deal with the asbestos on both cutting into the wall and repairing it. But if a surface is staying intact there's no reason not to leave it.

    1. Astrieanna | | #17

      This is a really good point! The wiring and plumbing (as far as I can see from the basement, which has an unfinished ceiling) are fairly new. Leaving all the unaffected walls alone makes a ton of sense.

      Thanks for saving me some money with a good suggestion!

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #20

        I would say, before making any holes in walls:
        1. Have a plan.
        2. Get realistic pricing on your plan.

        I used to live in a neighborhood of older homes. I had lots of neighbors who enthusiastically did demolition and then stalled when it started to dawn on them what it was going to cost to finish their dream.

  6. andy_ | | #11

    All the advice of CAT6 this and 12ga wire that is nice if the budget is unlimited, but the reality is that you can do a lot with good WiFi and adding a couple extra outlets is usually fine on most 15amp 14ga circuits unless you take up a hobby like practicing recreational welding in every room of the house.
    The other thing to look out for before getting into all this is to consider the flooring. If it's just worn out carpet, sure go ahead and move the non bearing walls. But if it's decent hardwood then you're going to be into real money to patch and/or replace.
    Consider too that moving a wall will mean wrecking a good part of the ceiling and all that comes with that as well as whatever insulation in the attic above that now moved wall.
    Focus on the problems and shortcomings first. Set aside money for the surprises lurking behind those walls. Then consider what would be nice upgrades and think hard on what you can do without.
    "Since we're already doing this..." is one of the most expensive phrases in the English language.

    1. rliebrecht | | #13

      Second Andy's point: most of the devices you'll want to use going forward use Wifi, and with Wifi6 (newest standard) you're going to get very good speeds. That said, you need to place a wired-in router in the middle of your house. I just finished running Cat6E line (which will be good up to 10GB/S Internet of the future) to the middle of our house and hooked up a router. I ran a wire 4 metres from the router to an exterior wall for my office setup, but eveverything else is Wifi. With gigabit internet, I'm getting 480 mb/s at the edges of my 1250 sq ft home - more than enough speed. You can buy an excellent router or mesh system for the cost of all the ethernet line being proposed by some other posters.

      The first thing I'd do after stripping drywall? Caulking. Older houses leak so much air from the basement/floor headers and top plates. Seal up all those plumbing and electrical runs.

      1. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #16

        You can go with wifi, but if that's the goal I'd still run cabling to "heavy use" devices. That means run network cabling to TV locations, and a few locations in a home office too. Let wifi fill in all the rest. It is a good idea to run cables to good locations for wifi access points, with those locations tending to be near the middle of the home on the upper levels. I have one access point in the approximate center of my house on the second floor ceiling and it covers everything in the house pretty well (for an ~4,000 square foot home). Some home layouts might need two or three access points, but it's always best to avoid the use of wifi "extender" devices.

        Nothing wrong with 14 gauge wire if that's what's installed, but if you're doing a major renovation that requires recabling anyway, it's a good idea to go with 12 gauge. I wouldn't replace 14 gauge just because it wasn't 12 gauge though, that's not what I meant to imply with my earlier post. When I renovated my home office, I left the existing 14 gauge wiring in place, and just modified it a little to correct some problems and add a plug or two. I did not replace it with 12 gauge. As I've added new circuits in other areas though, I have used 12 gauge wire for those.

        BTW, cat6A is needed for 10G. My personal recommendation is to just run fiber at that point though. Cat6A is a pain to terminate and is very fussy in general. Fiber is easier to work with. Just use singlemode fiber and you're pretty future proof. The only downside for the typical DIYer is that fiber termination is very different from copper termination, and the tooling is expensive. I have all that stuff, so it's not a problem for me, but you probably don't want to deal with it for a small project. In these situations, I would recommend running the fiber and leaving it unterminated. Chances are if you need it some day in the future, the telecom company will be able to do the termination for you, or help you find a contractor who can.


  7. the74impala | | #12

    Not an expert, but...this is what I have been going through over the past 3 years, and I am not even close to being done. Mine was due more to leaks, then mold, then rodents, then.....I've gone this far, no stone, wall actually, will go unopened. I would not recommend it unless you have somewhere else to live for an extended period of time. I am dealing with a 23 foot cathedral ceiling and around 4500 square feet of finished space, so a smaller scale would be easier, but it is a lot to deal with. I have replaced the fiberglass with rockwool, after dealing with the squirrel holes in the sheathing. I am using Intello over that, then a 2x service cavity with drywall to go over that with new electrical, 12g everywhere pretty much and if I can get a hold of PexA, that will go in too. All the mouldings are gone as others have stated. I have done some door position changes, moved bathrooms around, changed the location of the kitchen, eliminated exterior wall plumbing, and the list goes on and on. Quite a daunting process.

  8. lbutler | | #14

    I did this recently on a 1960s tri-level split, about 1500 sq. ft., climate zone 5, US mountain west. Gutting it and doing it right was a great decision. I was able to do much of the work myself, and wasn't under heavy time pressures to complete it quickly. I increased the wall cavity with the Bonfiglioli method (see Fine Homebuilding, no. 250), rewired it with new boxes and 14ga wire (I'm with those who say forget the 12ga where it isn't required), ran cat5 and coaxial (which I wouldn't do again, since wifi meets our needs), and then had an insulation company spray a layer of closed cell foam on the walls to seal air leaks, as well as at the rim joists in the crawl space, and then add a substantial portion where the roof trusses meet the walls. They then added dense pack fiberglass insulation to the walls (which originally had no insulation). Along with the new double-pane vinyl windows and new doors, the result is a very comfortable house, cheap to heat and cool. Winter gas bills for the furnace and tankless water heater run between $45 and $60, for just two of us most of the time. I suspect I'll make up the cost of the insulation install in energy savings in five years or less. I subbed out the plumbing and drywall.

  9. lossless | | #15

    While WiFi is connecting things with ease, it doesn’t mean everything should be on WiFi. “Smart” home connected devices paired with streaming boxes are great but when you get to a point where more and more devices are connected via WiFi your quality of connection degrades. Use WiFi if that’s your only option but it’s certainly just a convenience factor and more importantly less secure and less reliable. Keep the airways clear for your mobile and WiFi only devices where it is possible, you’ll want the throughput headroom as more and more data is passed through them.

    Type of cable, 100% run cat6e shielded cable since the walls are open. It’s a bit rigid and more expensive but it’ll pay off if the long run. Rule of thumb, if you are planning to run one line, run two.

    Example of where this will be beneficial in the future:

    In 5-7 years when PoE low voltage lighting systems are widely available to the residential sector, you will be happy to have shielded cat6. No matter where it’s at in the room you’ll just need to run 10 more feet instead of through the entire house and you can manage it all back at the same location.

  10. plumb_bob | | #18

    If the walls are open consider ducting for HRV, supply to bedrooms and return from common areas. These can be installed either through the top plate to the attic or through the bottom plate to the crawl/basement.

  11. logicalIthink | | #19

    One can try to build a minvan by revamping a pinto body but there are limitations that will make the thing tough and after a point just buying a minivan would be more economical. Many lumber companies have kits for the shell of a home etc. Remember the show Murphy Brown.... yep. I made the mistake once of re-engineering an older home to my needs, it cost me a ton of time and money and the results were barely acceptable. Best to start with a clean slate and build what you want, where you want. Investing heavily into a house in a neighborhood of lower cost older homes will make it tougher to get your money back out. Given the mobile society, where jobs come and go and corporations move, the average length of ownership of a particular home is now around 10 years! Note: For a quieter interior, choose masonry walls for the outside, dual or triple pane windows. Been in one hose with dual pane windows masonry walls and storm windows and doors to boot. Spray foam external walls and attic. Yes very quiet and energy efficient. Sheer and insulating/soundproofing curtains are much better than blinds as well. Sound proofing interior walls save bathrooms, master bedroom, media room is a bit extreme and leads to acoustic and emotional isolation in my humble opinion. Would hate to have to call the kids on their cell phones to tell em dinner is ready. Bring on the Walton house!

  12. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #21


    If this is all occasioned by your asbestos results, and not primarily by a desire to do a deep energy refit, I'd look at what your other options are before tearing out all the drywall. Encapsulated asbestos isn't generally a problem. You may be fine just painting the walls and popcorn ceiling.

    1. Astrieanna | | #22

      The living room (where the popcorn ceiling is) has no ceiling lights now, and I really want it to. Preferably recessed LEDs. My impression is that it would be safer to remove the asbestos popcorn ceiling before cutting holes for new lights. That's the motivation for removing the popcorn ceiling.

      As a result of this thread, I've been rethinking my plans -- I'm probably only going to remove the drywall on partition walls that I wanted to move anyway. Which means a lot less scope for added insulation on the exterior walls, but also a lot less work and cost.

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