Remodeling Old Homes

Remodeling Old Homes #2: How to Run a Demo

Posted by John on February 22nd, 2012

Last time we posted on renovating an old home, we discussed how to determine what to keep and what to hit with a sledge hammer and then throw out.  I thought I’d expand on the whole demolition topic and give some tips and suggestions for making a demo go smooth. Because I was a gigantic moron with my first house I ended up doing at least two big demos and probably a couple small ones. I thought I would impart the knowledge gained from my mistakes.

What to do BEFORE the demo begins:

1.  Reserve a dumpster for the date you have the demo planned. If you’re only demolishing one room’s worth of old plaster and trim, then you can probably get away with just some contractor clean up bags and can skip the dumpster. Any more than that and you REALLY need a dumpster. Trust me. A 20 cubic yard dumpster will run you between $300-$500 for a couple weeks plus any additional weight over a certain amount, like a ton for example.  So, so worth it.  I tried the whole bag everything and then just slowly add it to the weekly trash pickup.  I think I’d still be throwing out bags 5 years later.

2.  Pull a permit for the dumpster and the demo.  Most cities will require a dumpster permit if it’s going to be on a city street.  If it’s going to be in your driveway, then you usually don’t need a permit for the dumpster.  You probably still need one for the demo.  Do this a couple weeks ahead of time, because cities are bureaucracies and you know how that works.  This is in your interest.  A building inspector can recommend dumpster companies and contractors if you ask nicely enough.

3.  Mark all the stuff you’re removing with spray paint or tape.  If two plaster covered walls are adjacent to one another and you’re removing one and keeping the other, it would probably be helpful to add a piece of tape that says “Keep” on the good stuff too.  Once people start swinging hammers, extra walls have a habit of getting hit.

4.  Get the plaster, insulation, pipe insulation, floor tile adhesive, siding shingles.. anything that may have lead paint or asbestos.. get them tested at a lab.  This kind of testing is extremely important to your health.  You don’t want to find out later that the plaster wall ruins you’re standing on are filled with asbestos.  Most labs can give you results quickly and at a very low cost.  At the end of the day, the peace of mind is worth it.  My house didn’t have any, but I’m glad I got it tested. If you find out you do have lead paint or asbestos, then you need to consult an abatement professional before doing ANYTHING.

5.  Enlist your friends and family to help.  When I planned my last major demo, I knew it was going to be a doozy so I threw a demolition party complete with food and beer.  I recommended to my friends that they hold off on any real drinking until the demo was over.  I probably had about a dozen people or so swinging hammers and loading up the dumpster.  That’s another thing, buy them hammers and disposable masks.  Let them keep the hammers.  The money you pay for the hammers and the food will be worth the labor you get out of them.  Make sure everyone has work gloves and masks if they want them.  Most people enjoy ripping out crappy cabinets and tearing down plaster walls.

6.  Make sure the power is out to any walls or appliances that get removed.

7.  Use trash cans to haul out trash to the dumpster.  Try to have more than one trash can.  Try to get at least one per floor or better yet, one per room.  Don’t fill them all the way up as they’ll get WAY too heavy, max is about halfway filled.  Don’t put any kitchen cabinets or shelving into the dumpster until the end of the day or until they’ve been broken down.  An intact cabinet represents a lot of empty volume that is taken up in the dumpster.

8.  Make sure you tarp off areas of the house that you don’t want covered in layers of plaster dust.

During the demo:

1.  Make sure everyone gets assigned a room or an area to work on.  As the owner of the house, don’t feel too bad if it seems like you’re not working harder than anyone else.  Your job is to make sure everyone is working safely and is demo-ing the right stuff.  Float around room to room and help haul out junk to the dumpster.  No one likes that job anyway, so volunteer for that one.  Invariably, you’ll get a lot of questions about what gets kept and what gets tossed, so it’s hard to stay in one room for a long period of time anyway.

2.  Spare the rod, spoil the demo.  See that large patch of plaster missing from the ceiling in the photo above?  That patch had some water damage from the bathroom above it.  That’s where I left the ceiling at the end of the day.  Do you know what I did a week later after I returned my dumpster?  Yep.  I took the rest of the ceiling down.  I thought it would be easier to just drywall right over the rest of the plaster.  Nope.  Tearing it down sucked, but I got a much cleaner ceiling when all was said and done.  The moral of this story here is, if a part of a plaster wall or ceiling is crappy during a demo, take down the whole thing.

3.  Try to start the demo early, say around 9 or 10 AM and try to be finished within 3-4 hours.  You don’t want to take monopolize your friends much longer than that, besides you’ll need their help putting it all back together.

4.  When everything is out, use a shop vac to clean up.  Brooms are great for sweeping up large debris, but use a vac for the final cleaning.

Be safe and have fun.  It’ll be one of the few times you can smash something with a hammer and not have to apologize. 

Have you done any large scale demo’s?  Would you like to? 


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