Safe Demolition Practices for Home Renovation

Home demolition
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Demolition is an essential part of a number of renovation projects. However, the process can be dangerous, frustrating, and expensive. If it's not done right, it can nip your whole renovation project in the bud.

Upon going into demo, develop the mindset that this is a project, not merely the prelude to the "real" project of renovating. There are people who do nothing but demolition. Think of yourself as putting on the "demo" hat for awhile. Then, when that's all done, you can proceed to renovation.

Prepping for Demo

First things first, make sure electricity and water have been turned off to the demo area for safety. If you need light, run an extension cord and illuminate the room with a utility light. Once that's taken care of, move to getting both yourself and the area ready for demo.

  • Get the right tools: Just as you carefully select a drill or a saw for a construction project, you need to select tools for your destruction project. Have at least a sledge hammer, a crowbar (the big kind), a prybar (the flat, hand-held tool), and a claw hammer that you don't particularly care about (it will get dinged up and may even break).
  • Wear the right outfit: This isn't about fashion, but rather about safety. Wear thick-soled boots to avoid stepping on nails and screws. You can buy disposable paper coveralls to put over your clothes if you're doing something extremely dirty like tearing out a ceiling.
  • Seal off the demo area: If there is an opening somewhere, drywall and plaster dust will find it. Merely closing a door on demo usually isn't good enough. Seal with sheet plastic and tape with blue tape or use a readymade system like the Zipwall Dust Barrier.

During Demo

Home demolition isn't a one-person job, not only because it's a lot of work. It's also important to have someone around for safety precautions, particularly if you need to remove kitchen cabinets. Another practice to keep in mind include:

  • Use a respirator or dust mask: A HEPA respirator is best if you're kicking up dust in an old house, because asbestos, lead-based paint, or other hazards could be in that debris. If you can't stand wearing a respirator or feel certain you're not dealing with hazardous materials, at least use a dust mask.
  • Learn What's Lies Beneath (or Behind): Before swinging that sledge or crowbar, try to determine what is behind that wall. Live electrical wire? Water pipe? Gas? Asbestos? Exploratory holes, stud finders, and flashlights work wonders at helping you find out what's in there — but you should always assume that there's a live electrical wire.
  • Clean as you go: If you're doing a demo project of any real scale, it's worth every penny to rent a rolloff dumpster bin. This can save you from multiple trips to the landfill.

After You're Done

Even if you have been cleaning up as you go, demolition is messy job. Finish up the project before you start the renovation process by hiring a hauling service. These are less cost-effective than the rolloff, but good for demo projects smaller than a rolloff. For instance, if you're tearing out a small- to medium-size bathroom, you may want to just dump everything on the back patio and have the hauling company deal with it.