Demolition can be funjust take it a step at a time


January 23, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Ah, demolition. The joyous sound of cracking lath and crashing plaster. The delightful groans of old framing giving way. The crisp rip of old carpet coming off the floor. The cheerful sound of rattling trash bags.

"Demo" is one of the great pleasures of rehabbing. It's the time when visions start emerging into reality, when all the ugly "modernizations" of decades ago start disappearing, and the good old bones of the original house begin to emerge.

It's full of surprises -- some of them bad, like the places where the wood floor will have to be patched, some of them good, like the fact that the floors are mostly intact.

But it's also a fresh start, when rehabbers' energy levels are high and the back-breaking work of demolishing walls and ceilings, and loading, hauling and disposing of the debris seems like a lark.

Well, maybe not a lark. But you sure can see where you've been.

We've always had a formula for demolition -- clear out the first working space, store the trash till there's enough for a full load at hauler prices, finish that space and move on to the next.

But this time, the formula doesn't work. The two-story house is the smallest we've ever tackled. It's on a narrow street where parking is at a premium -- no parking a truck in front, much less a Dumpster, no backing up the pickup and tossing stuff out the windows. The back yard is tiny and not accessible from any street or alley; dumping debris there doesn't make any sense.

So, we've had to downscale the demo to fit the tiny space. We've updated our safety wardrobes and we're doing the work ourselves. Here's our new technique:

* Safety equipment for each of us includes: hard hat; safety glasses; dust mask; heavy work boots (preferably with a steel shank); and heavy work gloves (ours are leather). We keep the door to the hallway closed, the windows open and use an old window fan to direct some of the dust away.

* We're clearing out all of a particular kind of material at once. First we pulled down the cardboard ceiling tiles and stuffed them in garbage bags. Then we took down pressed-wood wall paneling -- some of it comes off in sheets -- and stacked it against the wall in the next room.

Then we pulled up the carpet, cut it in small strips and put it in garbage bags. Under the carpet was linoleum, which we ripped up and broke into small pieces; most of this also went into garbage bags. Then we took off the furring strips that held the paneling and stacked them with the panel debris.

Next we took down the plaster ceiling, a section at a time, gathering the wooden lath and stacking it with the paneling and shoveling the plaster pieces into cardboard boxes.

Finally, we took the plaster and lath off the partition wall in the cleared-out room, separating lath and plaster as we went along. (We left the partition-wall framing, because it's holding up the ceiling in the next room).

Debris small enough to go into garbage bags and light enough to be carried away went out with the regular trash. The larger, heavier material went into Randy's truck to be hauled to the municipal landfill. Two loads so far have kept both rooms clear enough to work in -- at least until we made the latest mess, dismantling a wall full of built-in closets and shelves.

However, the destruction of the closets yielded drawers and boxes that can be filled with plaster debris and taken to the dump.

Now we'll repeat the process on the next room. Taking it step by step and getting rid of debris as we go along has made the job BTC manageable for two people. And safety measures have paid off by keeping injuries to a couple of scratches. It helps that the room we haven't touched on this floor is the bathroom; we can wash the dirt off regularly.

But still, it's heavy going sometimes. That's why it was a special treat, when we pulled up the linoleum, to find a layer of newspapers from 1961. The Cold War was raging. Dag Hammarskjold had just died and the United Nations he had led was in chaos. Hurricane Esther was threatening the Eastern Shore. Shirtwaist dresses cost $15 at Hutzler's and a month's rent at the Dutch Village apartments was $79.50. Yankees Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were battling to be the first players to break Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in 154 games. On Sept. 21 at Memorial Stadium, Maris hit one homer, his 59th, against the Orioles' Milt Pappas, dooming himself to an asterisk in the record books. The Yankees won 4-2.

Next: Students of woodworking.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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