Decorating & Design

November 3, 2009

Smart Demolition Tips

After our real-estate agent, Chander Chaddah, closed the deal on our first fixer-upper, he became our unofficial renovation guru. He not only helps people buy and sell homes, he’s a serial renovator who has worked on many of his own home renos (check out the beautiful cottage he’s building). Over coffee one Saturday morning, he shared his list of recommended tools and practices to help us do some of our own demolition work. It was truly a lifesaver and we did indeed use almost everything on it!

Hand tools:

  • Good set of leather work gloves: These saved our hands from splinters and calluses.
  • Proper safety boots (protected toe/shank): With nails all over the floor, I never walked into our work area without these.
  • Safety glasses: I couldn’t believe the force at which things came flying when we used a pry bar.
  • Mask (preferably the kind with a rubber facemask with side canisters): We bought the type rated for asbestos as our house is about 100 years old. Indeed we did find some, so were glad we had these on. But mostly these were invaluable to keep out the incredible volume of dust kicked up by demo work.
  • Wrecking/pry bar: These were great for taking down everything from trim to plaster to ceiling tiles.
  • Hammer (Estwing): We did go with this brand of hammer and every man who visits our place is immediately smitten. It’s well balanced and works beautifully.
  • Heavy-duty broom: I thought we could get away with just a little corn broom, but the dirt and debris created from a demo requires something heavy-duty. I can use it in the future for our front walkway.
  • Flat-end garden shovel: This was invaluable for scraping the plaster off the walls and ceiling.
  • Large vice grips: Great for gripping all sorts of things, and for pulling nails through trim that is to be saved.
  • Good quality adjustable wrench: Very useful for removing pipes, etc.
  • Variety of screwdrivers or multiple-head screwdriver: I think we used every screwdriver head we had in taking down cabinets.
  • Staple gun and staples: We used this a lot to put up the heavy-duty poly to minimize dust in other areas of the house.
  • Heavy-duty tape measure (inches on both sides): This will be useful for years to come.
  • Chalk line: This helped us to create straight lines for where we wanted to stop shearing off the plaster.
  • Spritzing water bottle: In case you find asbestos as we did, this is good to have on hand. Spritzing it with water helps prevent it from becoming airborne.

Power tools:

  • Cordless drill with bits and driver heads: We used this a lot for taking down cabinetry. I imagine we will use it a lot in putting the house back together.
  • Reciprocating saw: This was our tool of choice. We used it for everything that needed cutting, especially wood and metal lathe.
  • Circular saw: We didn’t actually use this, but may as the work progresses.
  • Corded drill: This is good to have as a backup when the cordless batteries die.


  • Super poly (6 mil. plastic sheeting): Great advice to get this thicker poly. We used it to make makeshift “doors” and to cover all the vents in the house to keep out dust.
  • Tuck tape: This was great to seal up the vents with the poly.
  • Masking tape: A great staple when labeling wood trim etc.
  • Spray foam (in can — as necessary): We didn’t use this yet, but imagine we will around our back door where there are large gaps letting cool air inside.
  • Latex caulking: Also great for filling in gaps as needed.
  • Empty plastic sand bags: Genius! These helped us to keep our job site clean. Every day, we would fill them up with the plaster debris. They can be reused as well.
  • Heavy-duty construction paper: Great for covering wood floors so they don’t get ruined during the demo.

Chander’s demolition guidelines:

  • If the hardwood floors are intended to remain, they should be papered and taped to the edge of the floor (baseboard) if walls staying put.
  • If plaster being removed, take off trim/baseboard and paper to plaster wall.
  • If the floors are carpeted or are going to be replaced, no need to worry.
  • Decision needs to be made as to how much of the walls and ceiling are going to be replaced.
  • If all of the ceiling in a room is going to be replaced, no need to worry about how high on the wall you are stripping plaster.
  • Decision needs to be made as to whether or not any of the trim/baseboards are worth saving. Don’t bother trying to save quarter-round.
  • If trim not being saved, now is the time to remove it. No need to be too careful — use pry bar, hammer and gloves.
  • If trim to be saved, one needs to take more care to remove it and to pull nails through the trim as opposed to hammering them back out— use pry bar, hammer, gloves and vice grips.
  • If trim being saved after nails pulled through, mark and tape together the trim from various openings to keep it all together for reinstall.
  • Decision needs to be made if any cabinets on the wall are to be saved.
  • Time for your mask.
  • When taking plaster off the ceiling, be prepared to get very, very dirty.
  • Plaster should come off the wall and ceiling first (independent of the lathe underneath). Try to keep the lathe up until all the plaster is down. This makes it easier to clean up the plaster into the sand bags (a full bag weighs more than 40 pounds).
  • Once plaster is removed (don’t worry if some bits are still stuck to the lathe) and bagged, it is time to take down the  lathe. A flat garden shovel works well to scrape plaster off of the wall, as does a pry bar.
  • When taking down the lathe, be careful if knob and tube wiring is present as it can be very brittle and easily broken by too much force on the wiring. You also need to see if ducts are covered with asbestos (whitish papery material).
  • If you encounter ducts covered in asbestos, remove lathe over ductwork slowly and carefully. (It is a good idea to spray the surface of the duct with water prior to lathe removal to help keep the fibres from becoming air-borne.) Once the lathe is removed, paper and plastic over the studs surrounding the offending ducts. If you are planning to remove the asbestos-covered ducts, or asbestos wrap, it should be done by a licensed environmental abatement company.
Author: Catherine MacIntosh

Donna Griffith