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Is DIY Demolition Smart When Remodeling?

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Updated September 18, 2015
A renovated kitchen with large island
Photo: Bmak / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • DIY demolition can save money if you have the necessary skill set

  • Safety considerations should be a top priority

  • You may have to purchase demo tools, which will impact your budget

  • Address electrical stub-offs, plumbing and sewer cut-offs, and structural support issues before demo

  • A simple task like removing a wall can expose deeper issues you’ll have to address on the fly

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While the appeal of taking a sledgehammer to an outdated feature in your house is tempting, it's not always the most practical way to start the project. As you inch toward that towering stack of tools in your garage, here are a few things to know about DIY demolition before you take one step further.

Things to Know Before You Demo

Man removing an old door at home
Photo: stokkete / Adobe Stock

Depending on the extent of your remodel project, demolition could take weeks—or even longer. Some DIY demo projects you might be considering include:

  • Tearing out a wall

  • Removing flooring

  • Breaking up a concrete patio 

  • Ripping out a shower or tub

  • Removing and replacing windows or doors

  • Tearing out your landscaping to start over

  • Gutting old cabinets in the kitchen or garage

Before you start demolition of any kind, it’s best to consider how it will impact your life first.

You’ll Be Living in a Construction Zone

For the duration of your demo job, you’ll likely be living in a mess: tools piled over here, sawdust collecting over there, dumpster in the driveway—you get the picture. All these questions are essential to address on the front-end:

  • Do you have somewhere to stay during the remodel? 

  • If you’re demo-ing a kitchen, do you have an alternate location to prepare or eat meals? 

  • Will you plastic off a section of your home that is separate from dust and construction activity? 

  • Will you need to relocate your family to a hotel or rental for the duration of the project?

  • Is temporary housing in the budget?

Make a Game Plan

Once you’ve taken into account the special considerations and planning involved in your DIY demo, it’s time to map out a remodeling game plan and how you’re going to tackle it. Staging a dumpster drop-off and pick-up is critical to your project. Unless you plan to haul eight truckloads of nail-filled waste to the local landfill, you’ll need a dumpster. 

After you’ve demolished your specified target area, the workplace will need a rational flow of goods and materials to put it all back together again, so clearing out a space in your garage or driveway for everything you’ll need is a smart move. 

Taking an axe or hammer to drywall, countertops, and wall studs is the easy part, but putting it back together without causing a major disruption in your lifestyle should be an equally important part of your plan. The finishing touches—often able to be completed after you’ve moved back into the space—also need to be on your punch list.

Create a Budget

If you’re building a budget for demolition, you’ll want to factor in renting a dumpster or trips to the landfill. Other things may include heavy-duty tools like a jackhammer or tile remover and any other small project items like plastic, tape, and zippers. 

Make a Checklist of Demo Tools

When budgeting for your demolition project, start by taking stock of what tools you already own. Depending on how complicated your project is, you might require some, if not all, of the following tools:

  • Jackhammer

  • Chisel

  • Sledgehammer

  • Wheelbarrow

  • Shovel 

  • Bucket

  • Ladder

  • Wrench 

  • Crowbar

  • Pliers

  • Nail puller

  • Stud finder

  • Utility knife

  • Drywall knife

  • Floor scraper

  • Reciprocating saw

  • Electric drill and bits

  • Flathead screwdriver

  • Shop vacuum and filter

You’ll also need items like contractor-grade trash bags to dispose of all the waste. If you don’t already own the above tools, the expense of purchasing them will impact your overall project budget. And if the reason for the DIY demo was to save money in the first place, it might be worth it to get a few comparative quotes from demolition professionals just in case. 

Follow Safety Precautions

In addition to tools, make sure you have the following protective gear to keep you and your family safe:

  • Goggles 

  • Work gloves

  • Steel-toed boots

  • Earplugs 

  • N95 masks or respirator

  • Lead-testing kit

  • Tyvek suit (if necessary)

Remember Demolition is a Methodical Process

DIY demo is more than taking a sledgehammer to a wall, cleaning up the pieces, and calling it a day—you need to make sure you have everything squared away before you start. Methodically dismantling the room in the reverse of its installation will save a lot of time and mess. A demo should begin by removing and safeguarding the electrical and plumbing and finding the structural support points.

Get Your Building Inspected

If you are unsure about whether the wall you want to remove is load-bearing or supports the room or roof, call in a structural engineer or general contractor to evaluate the situation first. In any case, if you’re doing major demolition to your building, you’ll want to consult with an expert before throwing everything away. 

It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ve checked for asbestos materials like old flooring, insulation, or heater pipes. Let an asbestos remediation professional handle the material handling and testing, as it requires extra care and can be dangerous to your health and home’s air quality. Lead paint is also a concern for homes built before 1978—major home renovation retailers sell swab kits that can instantly tell you whether you need to be extra cautious about creating airborne dust. 

Obtain Any Necessary Permits

Permit requirements vary by city, county, and municipality. For example, some neighborhoods have restrictions on dumpsters, so it’s best to ask the relevant authorities all your questions before moving forward with major demolition. 

Disconnect Services Like Electrical or Water

Finding and shutting off the circuit breaker to any electrical lines that run through your walls (and they run through most walls) is a necessary safety step for your demolition project. Verifying that water lines are shut-off at the source is also important, as it’s easy to accidentally nick a water line or pull a system out of whack when you’re doing the demolition. Identify and clear a path to the main shut-off for the entire house, just in case. 

Know That Mistakes Can Further Complicate the Project

Unless you were the one that built and maintained the house throughout its lifetime, there are things that you don’t know about what is behind the wall or beneath the floor. Electrical wiring and piping that services multiple levels of your home is not uncommon, particularly in older homes with periodic renovations. Taking the extra step to ensure your safety and avoid potential catastrophes—like an electrical fire or main water break—will keep surprises to a minimum and your demo running smoothly. 

Hiring a professional will aid in these situations—not to mention, a licensed contractor will also be insured, which is helpful if there’s damage to your home during a remodel. Find local contractors near you here.

How Much Money Can I Save Doing My Own Demo?

If you decide DIY demolition is the right move for you, you’ll ultimately be saving on the labor costs of a contractor or team of professionals. Labor varies based on where you live but averages around $2 to $7 per square foot for an interior demolition project.

On the flip side, a contractor likely will own all the tools required for demolition, so if you don’t have the necessary equipment for your project, you’ll want to weigh that added cost when you make your decision to DIY or hire a professional handyperson. A contractor is also familiar with permits and code requirements for any project, which could save you the time of doing it yourself.

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