Demo is not for the faint-hearted. Anthony and I started the renovation of our living room this week, which has been quite an adventure. We demolished all the walls and insulated the exterior ones. Let me tell you, there is nothing so cathartic as taking a sledge hammer to a wall. It reminds me of this game we played when I worked at a UCC camp called Silver Lake called “Smashy Smashy.”
Where It All Began…
I worked in the kitchen and on a very stressful day during my second year, my sister (who incidentally became my boss later on) took me down to the trash rack. ETF (Ecological Task Force) handed me a sledge hammer and pointed to an old piece of furniture. “Have at it” was essentially the direction, but may not have been the exact words (this was over 10 years ago). Tears of frustration poured out as I swung at that piece of furniture like it was my mortal enemy. When I sufficiently disintegrated it to dumpster standards, my sister took her turn at what I think was an old stove. This was my introduction to “Smashy, Smashy.”
I never knew the power of a sledge hammer until that day. While renovation demo is a bit different (far less reckless), it still maintains the cathartic benefits. I love tearing something down to build it back up into something even more beautiful. It’s one of the best parts of DIY and up-cycling. Not only do you get to create something with your own hands, but you breathe new life into something that’s already lived. There’s something magical in that.
Our Living Room Demo
It took us just about a week to complete the demo of our living room. Why so long, you ask? Well, Anthony works full-time during the week, and I have to make time for my freelance work and research, so our time to renovate is already limited. Add to that the structure of our walls being made of lath and plaster. Oh boy, did we have a project on our hands. Now, currently our house doesn’t have plumbing on the second floor and we recently re-did the heat and a/c units, so we really only worried about hitting electrical. We had a pretty good idea of where those lines were, but you never know what you’ll find when you open up walls.
I started with the wall where I want to create some sunken cubbies in a little alcove where my home office will be. I timidly pulled at an exposed corner, unsure of what I’d find. Did I mention there was wood paneling OVER the plaster? The paneling came off easily in one big piece, so I started chipping away at the plaster. Two hours later, I’d busted my butt and only gotten about a third of the way up the wall. Admittedly, I treaded too carefully and pried it all up piece by piece. I peeled up enough of the wall to see that no electric wires impeded my progress. Eventually, I picked up the sledge hammer and just went at it. Then, I peeled the rest of the lath down with my hands and a pry bar.
Why Demo Feels So Good
I started to feel the catharsis when I started working on the second strip of wall. I slammed and pulled and pried a little each day (Anthony, too). Whatever worries plagued me prior to starting seemed smaller than the pile of rubble I created. The endorphins from the work didn’t suck, either. When we finally finished everything, I felt like we truly accomplished something. Our living room transformed into a blank canvas. I relished in the possibility of what it would become. I gleefully started planning what our home would look like in my head. This house finally started to feel like my home as well as Anthony’s. Not bad, for only living here a month, right?
So, the living room demo is done. We’ve ripped the entire room apart. Now we just have to put it all back together.
DIY Demo Must Knows
Let me be clear, demolishing anything shouldn’t be done lightly. Anthony and I both have experience working with construction materials. His dad is a carpenter and helps us out a great deal with our projects. We tackled this project on our own because we knew we wouldn’t be taking down anything structural. We knew the precautions we had to take in order to do it safely. Keep these things in mind before you tackle your own project.
Wear Protective Gear
While we completed demo, we wore eye protection, masks, work gloves and solid shoes. We put up barriers between the living room and the rest of the house to contain the dust and debris. We wore comfortable clothes (because boy did we sweat). While we worked, nails went everywhere, and many boards had nails sticking out of them. We wore good shoes and protective gloves to prevent nails from going through our skin. It also helped that we both received our tetanus shots recently.
Just like every job has its appropriate attire, it’s important to keep safety in mind when working on any kind of construction job. Whether you’re a professional or an avid DIYer, don’t put yourself at risk by shirking on your safety gear.
Be Careful of Electrical, Plumbing & HVAC
Luckily, Anthony knew (for the most part) how the house was wired. The wires for the outlets all went down to the floor and the switches went straight up to the ceiling.We still turned off the breaker for all the electric in the room as a precaution. Even doing so, we found a live wire in the ceiling with an illegal junction (aye carumba). We didn’t have to worry about HVAC at all because the old system ran through an old chimney and we installed ductless air splits recently. Plumbing, too, ended up being a no brainer since there is no plumbing on the second floor of our house, period.
Most people are not as lucky as we were. It’s better to be careful at first and act cautiously until you have a good idea of what’s behind the wall you’re swinging at. In old houses there are additional concerns, such as asbestos and lead paint, that you should be aware of before you begin. It’s best to research as much as you can about the materials that were used when your house was built and when any upgrades occurred (if possible). If you come across something in your walls you’re unsure of, call in a professional. DON’T RISK IT.
Don’t Do It Alone
Admittedly, I made this mistake once while we worked on demo last week. Anthony went to work and I spent some time pulling down plaster in his absence. I sat on a ladder (we have 10-ft ceilings) to pull down some of the upper sections. One stubborn nail and I nearly went tumbling to the ground, straight into a pile of rubble, lath, and nails sticking in every direction. Once steadied, I climbed down and got a glass of water to calm the adrenaline. That would be it until Anthony returned.
Ultimately, you never know what will happen during a demo or construction project. It’s always a good idea to have a buddy present in case something goes wrong and you need to be rushed to the emergency room. Obviously, we prefer these things don’t happen, but it’s best to be prepared in case it does. Luckily, our only casualties consisted of some bruises and scratches that were easily attended to.
Take Your Time
Don’t rush a demo project. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the fun of smashing things up. But, you don’t want to hurt yourself or your house in the process. There can be costly consequences for damaging something beneath the walls. Always keep your own safety in mind and NEVER tackle a structural project without professional help.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about our demo experiences. I will be sharing updates as the project continues over the course of the next few months. I’m not sure when there will be a final reveal, since we are only working on it part-time, but I will keep you posted!
What are your demo experiences? Comment with stories and questions below! I would love to hear from you. Also, be sure to follow me on social media and say hello!
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