Plan ahead for a safe DIY demo

by Judy Stringer

“Demo day” has been popularized on home renovation programs as a seemingly easy – even fun – project homeowners can do on their own. When else do you get to wield a sledgehammer or kick down drywall and save money in the process?

While labor costs vary by region, contractor referral service Angi, based in Indianapolis, estimates that gutting a room to the studs costs roughly $2 to $7 per square foot, meaning you can save hundreds even thousands of dollars depending on the size of your project by demoing yourself.

But before you start tearing things apart, take some time to properly plan your demolition so it’s as safe and efficient as possible. 

“DIY demolitions can be dangerous, time-consuming and expensive when done incorrectly,” warned Angi Home Care Expert Mallory Micetich.

Micetich and Tucker Anderson, owner of Black Diamond Junk Removal, a junk removal and light demolition provider based in Bedford Heights, offered these demo day tips:

Gear up

Anderson said there are a number of tools homeowners should have on hand for their demo, including a sledgehammer, crowbar, pliers, nail puller, utility knife, drill and screwdrivers. He also recommended sourcing a reciprocating saw – a.k.a. Sawzall – as it can cut through many types of materials such as wood, metal, PVC and nails.

“If you plan to use a Sawzall or any type of power equipment, however, make sure you know how to use it safely,” he said. “YouTube is a good resource for videos on how to use almost any piece of equipment properly.”

Add to your list safety glasses – wraparound glasses offer maximum protection – work gloves, ear plugs, steel-toed shoes and face masks, Micetich said.

Having a dumpster available is another pro tip.

“You want to maintain a clean job site to keep you from tripping over debris or stepping on exposed nails,” Anderson advised. “If you try to rely that 64-gallon curbside trash bin, it’s going to fill up pretty quickly, and if you’re filling it with something like tile, the arms of the trash hauler won’t be able to lift it and it will get left on your curb.”

Eliminate hazards

Ahead of any demolition project, Micetich said, shut off the circuit breaker to any electrical lines that run through walls in the area and verify that all nearby water lines and gas lines are shut off at the source. This will prevent you from accidentally injuring yourself or causing damage to your home during your demolition.

Older homes might have hidden dangers like lead paint and asbestos, which need to be assessed by a professional.

“These substances become much more dangerous during demolition and renovation,” she said, “so it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Depending on your location and project, you also may need to secure permits before you start your demo. Call your city and homeowner’s association to make sure you don’t need any type of permit or written approval.

Think ahead

Even with these precautions in place, DIYer should be proactive about their demo actions.

“You kind of have to anticipate the chain reaction that’ll happen when you swing that sledgehammer or use that crowbar, so that, for example, nothing falls on you or someone else or ricochets toward you,” Anderson said.

A good rule of thumb is to dismantle the room in reverse of its installation, according to Micetich.

“If you’re not sure where to start, you should bring in an experienced pro,” she said. “Either way, you should always begin by removing and safeguarding the electrical and plumbing and finding the structural support points.” ∞