Don’t let an old slab of concrete stand between you and your dream patio or prevent you from adding a bathroom to your basement. Busting up a slab is hard work, but it’s a job just about any DIYer can accomplish. And doing it yourself saves big bucks: A contractor would charge at least $600 to break out and remove the concrete floor for a bathroom plumbing rough-in, but with a little layout guidance from a plumber, you can do the work for about $350 (the cost of renting a demolition hammer and a 10-yard trash bin).
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Demolition hammers are the tools of choice for busting up large areas of concrete. The biggest of these tools, called breaker hammers by manufacturers, are typically referred to as jackhammers. There are three common types of jackhammers you can rent: electric, gas and pneumatic. An electric jackhammer that plugs into a 120-volt power source is the type you’ll rent for most DIY projects. These tools exert 40 to 60 pounds of force and typically cost about $90 for a one-day rental (cost varies depending on rental-center rates; see SOURCES ONLINE to find a rental center). For smaller jobs or work that requires more precision, consider a smaller demolition hammer ($75 a day).
Contrary to its tough-guy image, a jackhammer is not tough to operate. The weight of the tool and its mechanical action do the work. Improvements in vibration dampening have made most models relatively easy to handle. Transporting and lifting the tool into position is often the biggest challenge. Most rental centers provide a specially designed two-wheel cart that makes it much easier to roll the tool and bits to the job site.
Demolition hammers do a great job of breaking up concrete. Unfortunately, you’ll probably have to contend with embedded rebar and reinforcement wire inside the slab. For dealing with these hidden challenges, a few tools worth having on hand are large wire or cable cutters and an angle grinder with a cutting wheel or a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade. A large pry bar is handy for shifting and loosening large pieces. And a wheelbarrow will save you trips when it’s time to haul debris.
A day with a demolition hammer is no picnic, but it sure beats using a sledgehammer. Remember to let the tool do the work. Break the slab into small pieces you can lift. It’s easier to make more trips hauling small pieces than it is to make fewer trips with bigger, heavier pieces.
Demolition is exhausting, but it’s also one of the most satisfying phases of any project. The results of your effort might not be pretty, but they’ll serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that you’re well on your way to completing an exciting construction project.