Regardless of the age of your home, you can count on surprises behind your drywall.
These days, building codes require wires and pipes to be well protected from screws and nails driven into the wall, but rules are only as good as those that follow them. And in older houses, there were fewer rules.
We’re remodeling a bathroom in a house built in the 80’s and found an example of what I’m talking about:
Say you wanted to install a shelf in the bathroom, for example. You should always find at least one stud, but you may not be able to use two. You will usually need a drywall anchor for one side or the other. You grab the cordless drill and if you’re not careful, you may suddenly have a very expensive repair. There are no easy answers. I’ve been doing this kind of work for most of my adult life and I still occasionally make the wrong move.
There are a some simple ways to avoid trouble:
For a start, I use a magnet to find studs. The magnet will stick to a screw holding the drywall to the stud. Expensive stud finders can be wrong. You can’t fool a magnet.
When there’s no stud, I use a certain kind of drywall anchor, because you can screw them straight into the wall with no pilot hole. No pilot hole means no risk of drilling into a pipe.
Whenever I’m removing large sections of drywall, I’m usually using a power tool. Obviously, I run the risk of cutting through a pipe or electric wire. I took a series of pictures to show how I go about making sure I don’t make an expensive mistake.
The first thing I’ll do is cut out a small hole to explore the interior with a flashlight and/or mirror. In this case, I just stuck my hand in there to feel for the wires. After finding the wires and determining which way they go, I can make some relief cuts around the light fixture. Once the light has been freed, I can safely remove the rest of the drywall. After punching another hole (or two) for handholds, I’ll pull down the rest down in big pieces. Then it’s just a matter of cleaning up any crumbles and removing nails/screws.
I’m not suggesting you cut an exploratory hole in the wall every time you hang a picture, but it is certainly worth the effort if you’re doing any kind of remodeling.