Safe Demolition Practices for Home Renovation

Home demolition
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Demolition--or simply "demo"--is an essential part of nearly every home renovation project. Before you install that new floor, you've got to rip out the old carpet. Before you install that nice granite tiled shower stall, you need to tear out the old 1972 era avocado-colored fiberglass unit.

But demolition can be dangerous, frustrating, and expensive. And if not done right, it can nip your whole renovation project in the bud. Here are essential tips on room-scale demo to make sure you actually get to the renovation part of it.

1.  Look at Demolition as a Project Unto Itself

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.

2.  Carve Out Separate Time for Demolition

Say to yourself, "Today (or this whole weekend) will be devoted to nothing but demo." Don't attempt to do anything constructive after demo. You won't feel like it after spending 6 hours of tearing things down. Also, by not having renovation scheduled, you won't feel the pressure to move more quickly than is safe.

3.  Seal Off Areas That Will Not be Demolished

If there is an opening somewhere, drywall and plaster dust will find it. So, 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.

4.  Know What's Behind the Wall (or Ceiling, etc.)

Before swinging that sledge or crowbar, try to determine what is behind that wall. Live electrical wire? Water pipe? Gas? Asbestos? Exploratory holes and flashlights work wonders at helping you find out what's in there. Assume there is electrical wire.

5.  Turn Off Power

This should go without saying. If you need light, run an extension cord into your room and light the room with an utility light.

6.  Pick Up as You Go

When I demo, I waver between religiously picking up as I go and charging ahead and picking up at the end. Both have their advantages. If you're working on a caffeine high, you may want to go with the latter. But on the whole, it's better to pick up as you go.

7.  Get a Rolloff

If you're doing a demo project of any real scale, it's worth every penny to rent a rolloff. Rolloff dumpsters save you from multiple trips to the landfill, and they're really quite cost-effective.

8.  If Not a Rolloff, Hire 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. Dump the stuff wherever it's most convenient for you--the hauling company won't give you any discounts if it's on the curb.

9.  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, a crowbar (the big kind), a prybar (the flat, hand-held tool), and a claw hammer that you don't particularly care about anymore (it will get dinged up and may even break).

10.  Use a Respirator--or At Least a Dust Mask

A HEPA respirator is best if you're kicking up dust in an old house...asbestos, lead-based paint, or other hazards could be in that dust. If you can't stand wearing a respirator or feel certain you're not dealing with hazardous materials, at least use a dust mask.

11.  Boots and Paper Coveralls

Once while demo'ing, I was wearing thin-soled sneakers. There was a piece of lath with a nail sticking straight up. I stepped on this and the nail sank deep into my foot. I didn't make that mistake again. Boots are best. And you can buy disposable paper coveralls to put over your clothes if you're doing something extremely dirty like tearing out a ceiling.