Pressurized walls offer a temporary way to divide a room

Open floor plans are all the rage today, and homeowners are often keen to tear down walls to create a more free-flowing design. But some people favor a different approach, wanting to wall off part of a larger room to create a specialized space.

In some scenarios, you won't want this partition to be permanent. For example, you might want to split a bedroom to give siblings their own private space but return to an undivided room at a later date.

Temporary walls create more privacy than simple room partitions such as screens or curtains, and can be taken down whenever a homeowner pleases. Pressurized walls are one way to create a new room, and can usually be removed without leaving any trace.

As the name suggests, pressurized walls work by exerting pressure on the ceiling, floor, and walls in order to stay in place. Lisa Marie Basile, writing for the National Association of Realtors, says the walls usually have a spring-loaded mechanism on the interior. The pressure allows the wall to stay in place without the use of nails, screws, or other fasteners.

In some cases, some additional effort is needed to secure a pressurized wall. Room Dividers NY, a New York City company, says screws may be necessary to stabilize the wall if the room's materials do not allow the wall to exert a reliable amount of pressure. However, the holes left by these fasteners can be easily patched after the walls are removed.

Pressurized walls can be customized with a variety of features. These include doors, windows, bookcases, baseboards, and molding. The surface can also be painted to match the room's color scheme or add an accent wall.

The walls typically have soundproofing material on the interior. This gives them sound-dampening qualities that are about equal to a standard wall.

This type of partition became very popular in New York City and other populous cities. Pressurized walls offer tenants the option of dividing a costly apartment into a greater number of rooms. This strategy not only helps them afford the monthly rent by bringing in more roommates, but also offers more privacy for the occupants.

Of course, there are also some drawbacks to pressurized walls. The company Manhattan Pressurized Walls says it is possible to hang items on the walls, including pictures and flat-screen TVs. However, you generally have a limit of about 30 pounds of material per side.

The greater concern is safety and legality. Pressurized walls have been criticized as being particularly dangerous to emergency responders, since they can create a disorienting layout of unexpected barriers.

When responding to a fire in a Bronx apartment building in 2005, six firefighters got lost in a maze of temporary walls that had been illegally erected in one unit. The walls blocked access to a fire escape, and the firefighters were forced to jump from the building's fourth story to escape the spreading flames. Two died in the fall, one died later of his injuries, and the remaining three suffered serious injuries.

Pressurized walls can create dangers for occupants as well. By dividing a bedroom, you might cut off a point of egress. This makes it less likely that a person will be able to escape during a fire or other emergency.

Before putting up a pressurized wall, you should make sure it will be safe and legal. Basile recommends checking with your local building department and applying for a permit. Tenants should consult with their landlord before putting up any temporary walls, as some landlords will not allow this work.

If pressurized walls are not permitted, you can consider other methods of temporary partitions such as screens or bookcases. These dividers won't offer as much privacy, but can still be useful for setting aside part of a room for a specific purpose.

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