Friday, 2 November 2012

Demolition Man

Today we have our first guest post, although it seems weird to consider my husband a guest since he's saddled with the as much house-renovating responsibilities as I am. If you follow him on Twitter, you'll know that he introduced my blog to his world by saying "My wife's now a reno blogger. She takes pics while I work. #needabetteragent" But he's more than muscle; he did the grunt work on the banner above, and is something of a writer in his own right. So enjoy this inaugural guest post, which may become a semi-regular feature if things go well. (That's right. I put my own husband on blog probation.) Without further ado...

Demolition Man

Hello, Grandpa Joe's House readers, and thank you for what I'm sure was a glowing intro, Cassy.

Okay, I won't lie, I wrote that too. It’s sweet, sweet revenge for every time she texts from my phone without identifying herself. (In totally-unrelated news, sorry for creeping you out, Mom.) Today I get to tell you about demolition.

As you'll have noticed from Our To-Do List, gutting the basement was originally scheduled to happen somewhere down the line, but not now. The plan was, we'd sleep in the basement for a while until we could get the master bedroom done, then move once. 

That didn't quite pan out.

In the span of a few days gutting the basement went from being a sometime-in-the-future thing to a needs-to-happen-this-weekend thing. (To make a long story short, we'd planned to swap out our boiler-powered hot-water heating system for a forced-air furnace and ductwork in the spring; however, some planned winter renos would be eased by not having to work around the hot-water system's baseboard heaters, and so we bit the bullet and moved the timetable up.) And thus began my love affair with demolition.

My prior experience with the work--nay, the art--of demolition was limited to taking off a few baseboards at our old condo. I just hadn't had much exposure to the elegant dance of devastation. So I reached out to some friends of mine who have a reputation for being destructive, and I'll reprint one subsequent conversation here:

So those are my friends. An insatiable appetite for destruction. (Crap, now I owe Axl Rose royalties.)

The day came, and more guys showed up than I expected. And they were well armed. We'd already gotten a couple of tools from my in-laws (including a dull-axe-looking thing called a maul, coolest tool name ever), but the assortment of prybars, knives, and instruments of devastation on display slightly terrified me. I was glad we'd invested in some rudimentary safety equipment: glasses, masks, and work gloves.

How did it go? Removing the ceiling was the plan for the entire evening. I had feared--based on our walls upstairs--that the basement ceiling would be plastered like a frat boy on Spring Break. And plaster ceilings from the '60s sometimes contained asbestos. I was prepared for their removal to be so slow and painful Terrence Malick would make a movie about it! Hey-oh! (What’s that? I'm being told to make my references more broad. Well, we'll see about that.)

The ceilings were in fact drywall. When my buddy’s learned this, it was like Mel Gibson teeing up an alien and telling Joaquin Phoenix to "swing away". (From Signs. How's that? Broader? Okay.) The guys attacked the ceilings with a ferocity I had only seen before in the hyenas that attack Scar at the end of The Lion King. (Everyone’s seen that one.) In 20 minutes--maybe 25--the ceiling was all on the carpet, the trusses and beams were all exposed, and the air was so choked with dust we had trouble taking a decent photo.

The success of scrapping the ceiling emboldened our crew, and realizing there was no real reason to leave the rest of the basement intact (save for the laundry room and small bathroom), we went to town on the walls and flooring. (I'd show some of the "Before" pictures here, but those definitely deserve their own post. Oh-ho-ho boy, do they ever.) We got two-thirds of the way through that before the guys had to run off to other engagements, but in a few evenings thereafter, I was able to polish off the job.

But I have to admit, I’m hooked on demolition. Since my inaugural experience, I have on several occasions donned my official “demolition sweatpants” and taken the hammer and prybar to a closet, a storage room, and even beheld the power of the sawzall (watch out world). And since I’m now an expert (branded sweatpants coming soon, ladies), here are some tips for future demolition exploits:
  • A hammer, a big prybar and a sharp utility knife are really all you need for 95% of the job. I had to be reminded several times that, unless I was planning on keeping the scraps for some future project, this was about wanton destruction, not dainty disassembly. 
  • When tearing out drywall, wear a mask. Even if it caused your safety glasses to fog up. Especially if you're an asthmatic. Trust me. (Unless you love that feeling where your trachea narrows to the size of a twisted drinking straw.)
  • Clean up the same day. Let the adrenaline of “Hulk Smash!” carry you through the dullness of collecting it and carrying it away afterward.
  •  I had expected to painstakingly remove the outlet covers and switch cover plates. Unless you're planning to reuse the same ones--and honestly, does anyone really love those almond-coloured ones that used to be everywhere?--just pull off the wall with them still on. They'll crack and come flying off in a way that is oddly satisfying, and you'll save your wrists a good chunk of time getting to know a screwdriver. I know this seems wasteful, but if you’re going to replace them anyway, I say “enjoy the pop!”
  • Having a couple garbage cans around is really helpful, even if you expect to take most of the large material to the dump. Things tend to break in pieces smaller than you'd hope, and having a bin around to carry them out in is awful handy. Need a garbage can? Check around your neighbourhood. Once a week they’re everywhere! (Kidding. But honestly, how would you go about throwing away a garbage can?) 
  • If you don't know if there are dangerous materials in your older home, don't take chances. Ask someone who knows. Asbestos is some nasty business.
So now we had a mostly empty, hollowed-out basement area with piles of debris ready to haul to the dump. For Winnipeggers interested, Brady Landfill was significantly cheaper ($11 for a truck bed and utility trailer) than the East St. Paul dump ($35, and it's for residents only, which they fortunately didn't confirm with me). But as mentioned previously, the demolition is the fun part; the task of cleaning up afterward is boring work that involved so many trips up and down the stairs you'd think I had a starring role in Jacob's dream at Bethel. (My Grade 4 Sunday School teacher would be so proud.)

After that, it was a matter of getting dozens of metres of pipes, eight baseboard rads, a 500+lb boiler and 40-gallon hot water tank out and the forced-air system in. But that'll have to be a story for another time--I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath. But take heart, because no telling of that story is complete without the phrases “arterial spray,” “black ooze,” and “internet love,” so it’ll be worth the wait!


  1. Hey Phil, love the post. Try checking out the BFI landfill for future disposal needs. Same rates as Brady. Just less of a drive. Hwy 7 just 1 min north of the perimeter. Keep up the good work. -nick

    1. Really? I should check that out. It's amazing how fast the debris piles up. Thanks for the tip!