51 DIY Demolition Tips You Need to Know
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
Pull Drywall Screws
Remember to Wear Safety Glasses
Since safety glasses are inexpensive, there’s no reason every DIYer shouldn’t have a pair. There are a variety of styles, including bifocal safety glasses. Wraparound glasses offer maximum protection and both anti-glare and tinted glasses are available. Keep a few pair around so there’s always one within reach.
Snip Reinforcement Wire in Concrete
Robo of Rawmarsh/Shutterstock
Crowbars Work Wonders
Sometimes called a prybar or wrecking bar, a crowbar can be used to remove nails or as a lever to force apart objects, such as when you’re rebuilding a deck. Look for one with an ergonomic grip for easier handling.
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.
Floor Demo is Much Better with Knee Pads
If you’ve done any flooring work, you know the importance of knee pads. Knee pads are a must for your basic homeowner safety gear tool kit because they’re inexpensive and provide plenty of protection and comfort when doing everything from installing hardwood to working in the garden.
Note: Watch out for electrical cable and plumbing pipes.
Pliers Will Come in Handy
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.
Heavy-Duty Snips are a Must
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.
Keep a Fire Extinguisher Close By
Every DIYer should have a fire extinguisher in the garage or workshop. A multi-purpose extinguisher is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, as it is large enough to put out a small fire but still light enough to easily handle.
Cover a Concrete Slab
A Demo Fork is Invaluable
When it comes to demolition, it doesn’t get much better than a demo fork. This demo fork from Honey Badger has fangs at the end that you can slide underneath old flooring or roof shingles. Then use the long handle as a lever to pry the materials apart.
Photo: Courtesy of Honey Badger Demo Forks
Trash Container with Gate
Give Yourself Extra Back Support
A back support belt will offer protection and give your lower back muscles a break. Look for a version that is adjustable and machine washable.
Removing a Door 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.
Wear a Hard Hat When Working Over Your Head
Wear a hard hat or helmet to protect your head any time you’re working with heavy objects that could fall from above. A hard hat should be worn any time you’re doing any tree maintenance such as trimming or cutting.
Demo Vinyl Flooring
Remember to Wear Work Boots
Work boots come in a variety of styles for just about every DIY project. Work boots will give you a sturdy, no-slip platform, but they should also be comfortable. If you need extra toe protection but don’t want the weight of steel-toed boots, look for boots with composite toe protection because they’re lighter.
Remove Carpet Yourself
Rent a Jackhammer
Sunscreen is Important When Working Outdoors
If you’re a DIYer that does a lot of work outside, keep sunscreen in your toolbox or tool belt. A spray or stick sunscreen is quicker and easier to apply than lotion-based versions. Follow these 10 summer safety tips to stay safe and cool in the sun.
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 Roof Shingles Yourself
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
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
Hearing Protection is a Must
When it comes to hearing protection as part of your safety gear toolkit, earmuffs provide the most protection from loud power tools and outdoor equipment, while earplugs are less restrictive and can easily be stored in your pocket. Here are some tips to choose the best hearing protection for your needs.
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
Use the Right Blade
- 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
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. Learn how to prevent leaks with proper window installation.
Reciprocating Saw: The Best Demo Tool Ever!
Discovering and Removing Mold
- 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.
Don’t Forget Comfortable, Durable Gloves
Gloves are a must-have when it comes to safety gear, whether you’re working in the garden, on the gutters or in the garage. Disposable nitrile gloves are great for when you’re working with fluids and other caustic liquids. Leather, canvas and cloth gloves all offer plenty of protection, but should still be comfortable.
Remove Trim with Minimal Damage
Masks and Respirators are Extremely Important
Dust and toxic airborne particulates are often thrown into the air when doing DIY work, so at the minimum, keep a dust mask handy. Dust masks should have the N95 certification which will ensure the dust will stay out of your lungs. A respirator mask is a must-have safety precaution when you’re doing your own demolition work.
Remove Tile from a Concrete Floor
Determining a Load-Bearing Wall
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.
Take Out a Toilet
Keep a First Aid Kit Close
No matter how careful you are, there will likely come a time when you or someone you’re working with will need first aid during a project. Keep a kit stocked with bandages, adhesive tape, gauze and an antibiotic ointment. Make a second kit to keep in your car.