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35 DIY Demolition Tips

Tearing out a wall or taking a jackhammer to concrete can be great for stress relief, and doing this labor-intensive work yourself can save you a lot of money, too. But before you start breaking things, check out the following tips that will help you stay safe and on track during your DIY demolition projects.

Cover up Air Ducts

.Construction dust sucked into return air ducts can plug your furnace filter. Even worse, small particles can pass through the filter and coat every room in the house with a blanket of fine dust when the blower turns on. Air supply ducts can be a problem too—dust that settles inside will come blasting out when your heating/cooling system starts up. You can close the damper on a supply register, but it won't seal out dust as effectively as plastic and tape. Note: Turn off the heating/cooling system while the ducts are covered. Operating the system with restricted airflow can damage it.

Snip reinforcement wire in concrete

Snip through wire mesh to separate chunks of concrete. Bolt cutters are the best tool for this job; don’t even try using a wire cutter.

Rent a Walk-Behind Floor Scraper

Some old vinyl sheet or tile floors are super easy to pull up. Others are so thoroughly glued down that you're lucky to remove quarter-size chunks with every whack of your handheld floor scraper. If a shovel and hand scraper are just not getting the job done, rent a walk-behind scraper. For about $50 to $60 a day, you can save yourself a bunch of time and prevent a whole lot of wear and tear on your back and wrists. Many floor scrapers have an attachment for busting up ceramic tiles as well.


Cutting studs

Cut through wall studs fast. First, make a pass with a circular saw at its deepest blade setting and then finish the cut with the recip saw. The circular saw quickly does the bulk of the cutting. Its saw cut acts as a guide and starts the recip blade running level. Ease up pressure as you get close to the plywood; your blade tip could kick back. Note: Watch out for electrical cable and plumbing pipes.

Cut It Up With a Circular Saw

Sledgehammers, pry bars and reciprocating saws aren't the only demo heroes on the job site—your circular saw can be used for a heck of a lot more than cutting studs and sheets of plywood. Fitted with the right blade, your circular saw can cut up roofing, tin, concrete, rebar, steel doors and fiber cement. With a demo blade, you can cut up nail-embedded debris all day long.


Pull Drywall Screws

When you pull drywall from a wall, the screws usually stay in the studs. Unscrewing them with a drill is not the most efficient way to remove them because the screw heads are usually deteriorated or full of drywall mud. Use a pry bar or your hammer claw to pull them out just like you would with nails. Drywall screws are brittle, so if some joker used 3-in. screws to install the drywall, snap them off with your hammer.


Cut Off the Nails On the Plates

After you've bashed the studs out of place, use a reciprocating saw to slice off the nails that held them down. Even if you're not planning to reuse the plates, it's a good way to avoid stepping on a nail. Make sure you use a bimetal saw blade; it'll slice right through the nails.


Cover a concrete slab

When breaking up a concrete slab, stop flying chunks of shrapnel with a sheet of plastic. Jagged chunks of concrete can damage siding and break windows, and it’s a real chore to clean up.

Trash container with gate

Rent a trash container with a gate so you can dump wheelbarrows full of concrete or other debris inside. Tossing chunks over the side is hard work.

Removing a door jamb

Remove a door jamb from its opening with a reciprocating saw by cutting the jamb’s finish nails. This also works with window jambs. Grip the boot firmly when you can’t rest the pivoting shoe against the jamb.

Slice Up Drywall With a Multitool

There seems to be no end of odd jobs that can be done with an oscillating tool, and here's another one: If you have to remove a section of damaged drywall, cut it out with a multitool equipped with a half-moon blade. The tool will cut almost as fast as you can pull it. And because the oscillations on the blade are so short and the teeth are so fine, the tool creates half the dust of a reciprocating or keyhole saw. Plus, the recess you cut will be much straighter and cleaner, making the patching work much easier.


Demo vinyl flooring

Measure out 10 in. from the wall and score the vinyl flooring with a utility knife. Then repeat scoring every 10 in. all the way across the room. Steer a power scraper down the scored swath and let it do all the work. Let the stripped vinyl roll up in front of the scraper blade.

Sledgehammer

A sledge can be surprisingly effective in breaking up a concrete slap to about 4-in. thick, more manageable pieces. Give it a try first, before moving on to heavier rental equipment.

Remove carpet yourself

Depending on where you live, an installer will charge $3 to $5 per square yard for tear-out. By removing the carpet from a 12 x 15-ft. room, you'll save $60 to $100 for an hour's work. Talk to your installer to find out exactly what you'll save by doing it yourself.

Rent a jackhammer

A rented jackhammer powered by a big compressor is the best option for large or thick slabs of concrete.

Knock Out Studs Sideways

A sledgehammer works great for busting up studs, but don't take a whack at the middle of the studs—they'll just wobble back and forth and probably bounce the head of the sledge right back in your direction. Hit the studs as close to the bottom plate as you can, but not so hard that you pull out the nails on the top plate—that's a good way to catch a falling stud in the noggin. Hit the bottom of each stud just far enough to dislodge it from the nails that were holding it. Then grab hold of it and pull it off the top plate.


Tear off a roof shingles yourself

Before you take on this big chore, get a bid from a contractor to make sure the savings are worth the strain. The cost of professional roof tear-off varies widely, depending on where you live, the style of the roof and how many layers of shingles it has. In most situations, you can expect to save at least $1,000 by doing it yourself. In some situations, you’ll save $3,000 or more.

Pull Nails With a Nipper

If you're replacing windows, doors or flooring and you want to salvage the trim, end-nipper pliers are a handy tool to pull out brads and finish nails. The rounded end provides plenty of leverage, and if the nail breaks, you can always cut it down flush. Don't squeeze too hard when gripping the nail or you may nip it off prematurely.


Drive Dust Outside With a Fan

A fan blowing out the window helps to keep dust levels down, and it creates a slight vacuum in the work area. That way, any gaps in your dust barrier will let air flow into the work zone, but dust-laden air can't sneak into surrounding rooms. This works so well, in fact, that you may not even need a dust barrier for light-dust projects. Just be sure to close large gaps around the fan with cardboard or plastic so wind gusts don't blow the dust right back inside. For good airflow, you may have to crack open a door or window on the opposite side of the room.



Cut the Jamb and Pull

You can knock a jamb sideways out of its opening, but the nails or screws holding it in place put up strong resistance to the shear force you apply.

An easier way is to cut one of the sides in half with a reciprocating saw and then pull the rest straight away from the framing. You can easily pull away any nails or screws holding the doorjambs in place simply by using the leverage of the jamb itself. Make your cut at an angle so the two cut sections don't wedge against each other, preventing you from pulling them apart. This same technique works for pulling out windows.


Cut Fiberglass Surround Into Pieces

Some bathrooms are built around a shower or tub surround. This means that even if you manage to remove all the fasteners holding it in place, the odds are you're not getting that surround out the door in one piece. You're going to have to dice it up. Make the long cuts with a circular saw, and finish the curved areas with a recip saw. Wear eye protection because fiberglass throws a bunch of chips when it's cut. And a dust mask is a must—fiberglass dust is not something you want to breathe in. Most important, thoroughly investigate the areas where you'll be making your cuts, to avoid severing any electrical wires or plumbing pipes.


Save Time

Cast iron tubs are ridiculously heavy. So unless it's a priceless collector's item, you don't want to have any part of moving one. Your best bet is to bust it up in place. It can be tough to get the cracking started, so begin hitting the tub at the edge. Once it does start breaking, pound your way along the smashed edges.

Throw a tarp or thick sheet of plastic over the top to cut down on flying shards of iron. And wear your safety gear, especially hearing protection—busting up a cast iron tub is like having a front row seat at a church bell convention. This tip works on just about anything brittle: old toilets, radiators, concrete laundry tubs, etc.


Save money on dumpsters

Make sure you don’t overpay for your demo waste removal. Click here to see what Senior Editor Travis Larson did to save some serious cash when ordering a dumpster.

Use the right blade

When using a reciprocating saw, choose a metal-cutting blade to slice through pipes. Brace yourself when cutting above your head. Dust and debris can shake loose while cutting in older ceilings; always wear safety glasses and a dust mask as needed.
  • For cutting through metal pipes and nails, use a fine-tooth blade resembling a hacksaw.
  • When cutting through wood, use a coarse blade.
  • Use the coarsest-tooth blade to cut through plaster.
  • Some blades are toothless. They’re coated with tungsten carbide abrasive grit; use them for cutting stone, ceramic tile and cast iron.

Suck Out Insulation

Tearing down a drywall ceiling is not a super-pleasant experience, but tearing down a ceiling that has 14 in. of blown-in insulation on top of it is a complete nightmare. Avoid that gigantic mess by sucking out all the insulation in the attic before pulling down any drywall.

The huge vacuum required for the job costs about $220 a day to rent, but if your local rental center doesn't carry them, call an insulation contractor in your area. Many blow-in insulation installers also have the equipment to suck out the insulation. But this service isn't cheap: Expect to pay about $1 to $1.50 per sq. ft. You might be able to get a deal if you use the same company to blow in the new insulation. Make sure your insulation is fiberglass or cellulose. If you even suspect there's vermiculite insulation in the attic, get an expert opinion before touching the stuff—it could contain asbestos.


Cut Around the Window With a Recip Saw

Spray foam insulation does an excellent job of insulating around a window—and a surprisingly good job of keeping the window or door in place. Even if you remove all the fasteners holding in a window, you won't be able to pull the window out until you deal with the spray foam.

So don't bother pulling the nails or screws out of an old window. Just run a recip saw between the window and the framing and cut the fasteners and the foam at the same time. You may want a buddy on the other side of the window to keep it from falling out when you're done cutting around it. With a long enough blade, you can even slice through the nailing flange at the same time. That's important if you're trying to save the siding around the opening.


Reciprocating saw—the best demo tool ever!

Reciprocating saws, introduced in 1951, quickly became favored tools of contractors. The reciprocating saw is a “gateway tool.” It’s the tool you’ll own when you graduate to a serious DIYer tackling a repair or major remodeling.

Discovering and removing mold

If you have to remove mold concentrations covering more than a few square feet, where the musty odor is strong or where you find extensive water damage, we recommend that you take special precautions.
  • Wear old clothes and shoes that you can launder or throw away after the cleanup work.
  • Wear special N-95 or P-100 respirators, in addition to goggles and gloves.
  • Set an old box fan or a cheap new one in a window to ventilate the room while working. Throw it out when you’re done cleaning, because the spores are almost impossible to clean off. Tape plywood or cardboard around the window openings so the spores can’t blow back in.
  • Wrap and tape moldy carpeting in 6-mil plastic, and double-bag mold-infested debris in garbage bags for disposal.
  • To control airborne spores, moisten moldy areas with a garden sprayer while you work.
  • Turn off your furnace and air conditioner and cover ducts and doors to contain spores.
  • Keep your wet/dry vacuum outside when you vacuum.

Jackhammer technique

When breaking up concrete, take small bites with a jackhammer. If you begin to drill a hole without creating a crack, STOP! Otherwise, you’ll get the bit stuck in the concrete.

Remove trim with minimal damage

Jam a pry bar between the two knives and twist sideways. Grab the nail shaft near the wood with a pair of nippers. Roll the tool head against the wood to pull the nail out the back side of the trim.

Power wheelbarrow

A rented power wheelbarrow makes outdoor rubble removal a breeze—especially if you can find someone else to do the loading.

Remove tile from a concrete floor

Use a 3/4- or 1-in. masonry chisel and a 2-lb. hand maul. Start at a broken tile or between tiles where the grout has loosened. Work the chisel under the tiles, forcing them loose. Strike the face of stubborn tiles to break them up for easier removal. Wear safety glasses, gloves, pants and a long-sleeve shirt, since hammering the tile sends sharp shards flying. Also wear a dust mask.

Determining a load-bearing wall

Only some of your walls are needed to hold up your house. These are called bearing walls. The rest of the walls, the partition walls, are simply there to divide rooms. You can remove either type of wall, but if the wall is load bearing, you have to take special precautions to support the structure during removal, and to add a beam or other form of support in its place. Ceiling or floor joists that are spliced over the wall, or end at the wall, mean the wall is bearing. Look for these from the attic. Walls that are stacked may be load bearing. Find these by measuring or by studying a floor plan of your house. In some cases, you may not be able to tell for sure whether a wall is bearing. If you’re not sure, hire a contractor or structural engineer to help you figure it out.

Rip hammer

Rip hammers have a straight claw instead of a curved claw. The claw serves as a mini-axe to split wood blocks or chop off protruding board edges. You can also use ripping hammers for tearing down drywall, especially long-handled framing models.

Take out a toilet

Don’t be intimidated by the task of removing a toilet. Watch this video tutorial for everything you need to know to remove a toilet yourself.