Due to some water damage sustained last February caused by an ice dam induced roof leak, I have to remove and replace the 100 year old plaster in my dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. That, combined with having to replace a section of my roof, adds up to an expensive project that my insurance company won't cover.

I am trying to reduce the cost of this forced remodel (we had wanted to remodel the bathroom, but not for another 5 years for financial reasons) by doing the demolition myself.

I have a prybar, sledgehammer, and the usual hand and power tools (drill, circular saw, jig saw, dremel, to name a few that might be needed). I have contractor bags, canvas drop cloths and plastic sheeting, and tape to attach said plastic to the wall to keep the dust (somewhat) contained.

I think I need a reciprocating saw (really! Not just making excuses to buy new tools!) is there anything else I may need? I have a full time job, three little children, and attend night school, so I want this demo to go quickly. And, maybe more importantly, I don't want to ruin anything (by doing it wrong, using the wrong tool) in the process and cost myself the money I'm attempting to save fixing a mistake.

I'd also gladly accept any pointers anyone may have on the demo itself too.

Afterthought: I thought I'd add that I've arranged for a dumpster (local trash pickup forbids construction debris) and I have a wheelbarrow and trash barrels with wheels to use to get it all out there. So, I think I've got disposal covered.

  • While I'm all for doing it yourself, I'm not sure how much you're really going to save by doing the demo yourself before you've negotiated the rest of the work with a contractor. Coming into the middle of a DYI project might involve charging a premium for some contractors.
    – user23752
    Sep 29, 2014 at 20:55
  • I already have a contractor and have negotiated a price without the demo included. He's getting enough finish/roof work out of this so he doesn't mind shaving a bit off the bottom line. It's better than not getting the job at all ;-)
    – Jax
    Sep 29, 2014 at 22:41
  • That makes sense.
    – user23752
    Sep 30, 2014 at 1:37

3 Answers 3


Assuming you plan to live in the house while this is going on, you should seriously look at the plastic "curtain" products which can be used to isolate the construction zone. They can tremendously reduce how much dust gets into the rest of the house.

Speaking of dust, a serious dust mask (one that achieves a good seal against the face rather than the cheap "nuisance dust" paper things) is a good investment, and surprisingly affordable. You only get one pair of lungs; it's worth protecting them.

Given that you've got kids in the house, you may want to think about whether any of the layers you're removing might contain lead. If so, you may want to test first... and if you find lead, you probably want to hire someone who knows how to properly control it and clean up afterward rather than going DIY.

  • dust mask, yes. Thanks. This is what I need. The little things that one overlooks when faced with such a huge, miserable job. RE: the lead-the previous owners already did the abatement inside and out, which is a big reason why we bought this house. It's a valid concern tho that may be useful to others who may be in a similar boat someday.
    – Jax
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:23
  • Abatement may just mean encapsulation. By definition, you're breaking encapsulation...
    – keshlam
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:25
  • I realize that, but, not in this case. They removed all the wood work and had it stripped-more than I would have done-because they valued keeping everything original. The walls have always been wallpapered, but the layers were removed and the walls were primed then freshly papered. The prior owners were thorough, sometimes borderline obsessive.
    – Jax
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:36
  • In fact, they call to check on the house periodically, and were devastated and mortified that the roof failed (it was replaced weeks before we bought the house 3 years ago-hence the ins co not covering the damage they attribute to defective workmanship or "an act of nature" or some such horsesh*t.) after owning the house for 35 years, I guess it's hard to let go.
    – Jax
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:40

A $20, 20oz, full metal tang, rip hammer. Preferably from a company ending in wing. Make a hole in a wall, flip it over and insert it, pull. No cutting wires or pipes in the walls with a recirc saw. A legitimate respirator helps not only with real plaster dust, but also when the lath comes and tries to hit you in the face. Stick a 2x4 or a length of pipe into a hole in the ceiling, several feet away from you and pry down against the next floor. Don't use a sledge unless your removing the entire wall. I know, fun part, right? Swinging it gets old quick and you might destabilize the wall; get it done. Wielding two of these, you can destroy a room in five minutes.

enter image description here

Requirements: Hardhat, safety glasses, respirator, leather gloves, exterior ventilation fan, plastic tarps separating the living space (held up with extendable ceiling poles), 5 gallon buckets for plaster; contractor bags for lath/drywall, playing Tetris as you fill the dumpster, one hammer.


A recip saw is a great tool. I'd also pick up a shop vac if you don't have one.

Demoing plaster walls is a hard and messy job. I'd use the side of the sledge against the wall; that breaks the front of the plaster off of the lath, and you can then remove it and follow by removing the lath.

  • 1
    +1 for the shop vac. You don't want plaster dust in a normal vacuum cleaner as it's going to bust the engine. Also, for the 'Shop Vac' brand there are different filters available for different jobs (that will protect more the engine from small dust, for instance).
    – user25447
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:26
  • Just a simple question about the reciprocating saw: if using it to remove plaster/drywall, how do you know you're not cutting something that should not be cut? It seems to me that so much stuff can go wrong when using it to cut a wall.
    – user25447
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:39
  • @Eric Gunnerson re: shop vac-check. I've got one. It, well, sucks (pun intended) but it'll do. And, thanks for affirming my suspicion that I'm in way over my head in terms of the labor I've signed myself up for. Myself being a 125 lb in-average-shape woman.
    – Jax
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:53
  • @Jax And make it a good reciprocating saw. I don't know what it is about my Sawzall (the genuine Milwaukee brand), but it is much less prone to snag on something and start reciprocating the crap out of my arm. It's probably related to the reason that it doesn't tend to bend blades as often. Sep 29, 2014 at 0:36
  • @BenJackson "It's a Milwaukee." should be their slogan.
    – Mazura
    Oct 5, 2014 at 3:35

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