Renovation Diaries

Faith’s Kitchen Renovation: The Demolition

updated May 2, 2019
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Last week I explained the big renovation and kitchen project we took on last year, and I showed you lots of pretty pictures of kitchens that inspired me. But in renovation, before a kitchen gets better, it usually gets worse. Much, much worse.

Want to see what’s involved with pulling apart an old house to put in a new kitchen? If you’ve ever thought about tearing out a wall, brace yourself — let me show you what’s it like.

The old kitchen before demolition.

Our renovation was not what I would call DIY. We had a contractor and a whole crew building an addition to our home. Professionals poured foundation, built walls and straightened stairs, installed new electrical wiring and lighting, and ran pipes.

However, one way we chose to save money was to do the initial demolition ourselves. In our house, that meant a lot of work. In fact, if you had told me ahead of time just how much work it would be, I think I might have run away whimpering. But DIY projects are built on ignorance (haha) so off we went!

The old kitchen, now stripped of cabinets and a layer of flooring.

The goal of demolition, whether you’re just pulling out kitchen cabinets or tearing down walls, is to get to the point where the bones of the house are exposed, ready for new finishes, or to be fixed and adjusted (like the missing foundation and slanted joists under part of what is now our new kitchen). This involves a lot of manual labor and smashing and breaking, but also more finicky things like scraping up old floor glue and pulling nails out of walls.

One of my brothers, taking a little break after tearing these walls down to the studs!

So we waded in with crowbars (borrowed from our contractor), an enormous sledgehammer, lots of breathing masks, and bottled water.

Demolition Lessons

Here are some things we learned about demolition:

My husband pitching something out the back door into the by-now-giant debris pile, which was later shoveled into a huge dumpster.
  1. Do not underestimate it. Demolition requires a lot of physical labor, to put it mildly. In the kitchen area alone we needed to: Pull cabinets away from the walls, disconnect old appliances, take down a drop ceiling, pull up several layers of old flooring to reach the subfloor and, most notably, tear down all the plaster on the walls and ceiling and remove the lath strips nailed into the studs. Then, when all that was done, we had to get rid of the debris. All in all, the demolition on our home took nearly three months of weekends and evenings, even with the help of friends.
  2. Do not underestimate it.
    Just reread everything I said above. Don’t underestimate the toll on your back, hands, and knees! Have a plan for doing something nice for the neighbors who put up with clouds of dust rolling out your windows for weeks.

  3. Spare the landfill: People will buy or haul away almost anything.
    While most demolition does involve sending something to the landfill (there aren’t a lot of reuse options for broken plaster and lath) — you might be surprised at how much people are willing to take away for you, or even buy. We sold the home’s old kitchen cabinets for several hundred dollars. The sweet couple who bought our cabinets were really excited to get them, and we were glad to send them to a good home. The husband was a plumber, too, so he helped disconnect the sink and gas to the stove. Since then we’ve sold or given away scrap metal, extra insulation, and other discarded fittings from the home like mirrors and ceiling fans.

  4. Protect yourself.
    The physical labor involved with this project was extreme for us. We’re not used to using crowbars and sledgehammers every day, and while this was fun, it also presented lots of opportunities for serious harm. Wear work boots and gloves, and especially when working in old dusty houses, a respirator. My husband inadvertently bought this pink respirator, which made him look like Barbie imitating Darth Vader. Highly amusing, but still — practical.

  5. Get help. Our friends and family helped so much. I have five brothers, and they were superstars, helping us tear down plaster and ripping lath away, piece by piece.

  6. Know when to pay for professional help. But, in the end, after months of work, we knew that we were beat. We were holding up construction because there was a lot of debris left in the house, and so we paid a few hundred dollars for some help. A nice gentleman with a big truck came and hauled away all the lath and over 100 bags of plaster debris (most of which I had bagged up myself, thankyouverymuch). The reality is that there are people who do this for a living, and sometimes you really need to accept you’re at a point of diminishing returns and pay a little money for some help.

That’s a peek into our demolition process! I felt like I was permanently covered in dust for most of last summer, but it was so satisfying to really put sweat equity into our house. Have you ever done this? Any additional tips for demolishing an old kitchen?