Tips and Tricks for Interior Demolition (on an 85-Year-Old House)

The permit has been issued by the city and freshly taped to the front door. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. Demo day.

I can say with all honesty that demolishing the interior of a house is just as fun as shown on HGTV.......For the first few swings of the hammer.

After several hours, it does get very old, and you will be very tired.

That said, demo day is a great way to save some money in the project budget by doing it yourself. Truly the epitome of the term “sweat equity.”

Due to the size of our project, I decided to bring in some capable assistance in the form of hourly workers to work along side me. I found them through a handyman that I have worked with and trust. I suppose you could go the Home Depot parking lot route and hire some day laborers, but I have no experience with doing that and therefore can’t recommend it.

Oh, and a few days before demo day, be sure to arrange for a roll-off dumpster (or two in our case) to be dropped off. Be sure to get more dumpster than you think you need. They fill up surprisingly quickly.

On D-day, before you pick up the hammer, be sure to shut off all electrical circuits to the rooms you will be working on. In our case, we pulled fuses (because we’re dealing with 90-year-old knob and tube wiring), but for most other situations you’ll be flipping breakers. It’s a good idea to tape over the breakers that you shut off to prevent someone from accidentally turning them back on.

In our case, we knew we were going to be replacing floors, so we didn’t have to worry about protecting them. That said, even if you plan to refinish your floors, you need to protect them from gouges caused by nails and screws which can be very hard if not impossible to sand out.

I’ve heard of people using the very thin underlayment plywood sheets (sometlimes called ”luan“), but this may not be the best option with today’s lumber prices. Thick contractor paper works, but you have to be careful of rips. I’ve never used it on a project, so I can‘t speak from experience . If I knew I was keeping the floors, I’d personally lay down two layers of contractor paper to be safe.


Now to the part where we start breaking stuff.


It's certainly tempting to start indescriminately swinging the hammer, but some restraint can go a long way toward making clean up easier.


For sheetrock walls, the goal is to remove pieces in as big of chunks as possible. Bonus points if you can get a sheet to come off with at least one factory-smooth side.


To do this, you will need to knock some holes in the wall to find the stud. Once a stud has been located, widen a hole parallel to the stud the size of your hands. Then start pulling the drywall sheets off of the walls.


I find it works best to pull with small tugging motions while maintaining even pressure in an attempt to pull the screws through the drywall. This allows the sheet to flex a little bit and utilizes the length of the sheet for leverage to pry it loose from the screws.


The name of the game is control here. Don't just start yanking on it, or you will end up with a lot of small chunks of drywall to clean up and tired hands and arms.


For plaster, there's not much hope in getting it off the wall in large pieces. The best you can hope for is to set yourself up for a more efficient clean up process. Basically that means ending up with plaster pieces that are easy to shovel into a wheelbarrow and lath pieces that are big enough to fish out of the rubble pile and carry a bundle at a time.


To start, you will need to open up a hole on the edge of the wall. The easiest way to do this is to remove the trim from a door as a starting point. Once the bare lath is exposed, gently pry each board loose from the first stud, trying not to break the boards - they are pretty brittle. Plaster should start cracking and falling at this point. Work your way up or down that entire stud, then move down the lath to the next stud. Continuing this process will take down 80-90%; what's left is the corners and potentially baseboards.


Be sure to clean as you go. Pick up lath boards and take them to the dumpster. Then use a scoop type shovel to load the plaster into a wheelbarrow to cart out to the dumpster. Be sure to be strategic with how you load your dumpster. You want to maximize your ability to carry debris via wheelbarrow, so load the dumpster away from the door and work back to the door.


Now, back to the wall we are tearing out. In some cases the baseboards were installed before the plaster and may be preserved. In our case, the baseboards were installed on top of the plaster and needed to come out. If you find your project is the latter, go ahead and pull the baseboards before demo'ing the wall.


For the corners, the plaster workers used wire mesh reinforcements. There's really not a great trick to remove this other than try to get leverage and gently tug to pull it off in as big of pieces as possible.


Once you have exposed the back side of the lath, the other side of the wall is much easier. Simply start at one end, and, using a flat shovel hit 3-4 lath boards simultaneously next to the stud to loosen them.

Hit the exposed lath next to the stud to loosen it and knock the plaster loose

Work your way from the top of the stud to the bottom, and once all ends of the lath are free, repeat the process at the next stud until the wall is down.


It makes a huge mess but goes very quickly. I also found that the rubble pile ended up being largely "pre-sorted," with the lath mostly laying conveniently on top of the pile of plaster. Clean up your pile and work the corners, and you have a demo'ed wall.

Progress pic; note the lath laying conveniently on top of the pile of plaster

If you are taking the entire wall out (NOTE: be sure you are 100% sure it's not load bearing), the process is roughly the same for modern and old wood framed stud walls. Hit the vertical studs near the bottom with a sledge hammer to free that end, and pry them away from the top plate. Using a long pry bar, pry any vertical studs away from the wall and remove. Then, using your pry bar, pull down the top plate and pull up the bottom plate.


Wall demo complete!


As I type this, we still have not gotten to the bathroom or the floors, so we will be doing a demo day part two in the near future.


In the meantime, if you need any help finding or selling a home or investment property, reach out to Sally or check our SoldWithSalBR on Facebook. As always, if you have any questions relating to real estate, remodeling, Baton Rouge or life in general, drop us a line at info@thecamelliaproject.com.

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