By Gene and Katie Hamilton
An old house renovation usually involves removing plaster walls, and demolition can be a good, albeit messy, job for a handy homeowner. If you're involved in a rehab job that requires knocking down a wall, consider doing some of the grunt work and save money by doing it yourself.
A contractor will charge $446 to demolish a non-bearing 10-foot-wide by 8-feet-high (80 square feet) plaster wall, but you can do the work for $250, the cost of a dumpster, saving 44 percent for your effort. The fee for the roll-off container includes delivery to your work site and removal. Before ordering one check with your local building department to see if a permit is required. And it's a good idea to tell the neighbors and assure them it will be there on a temporary basis. If you have a vehicle that can haul the debris, you might be able to bring it yourself to a local landfill - but find out what the dumping fee is before you decide about doing it yourself.
Before you start tearing out a wall, confirm with a building professional that it's non-bearing and determine the approximate location of plumbing and electrical lines so you avoid damaging them. Remove woodwork and trim from any doors and windows, being careful if you plan to reuse them. Protect yourself by wearing a hard hat, heavy gloves, boots and a respirator mask. Protect the floor with a heavy tarp and tape plastic dropcloths at doorways to seal the room and keep the spread of plaster dust and dirt to a minimum. Make sure you protect surrounding woodwork and trim like a hall banister. Use thick newspaper or cardboard and wrap tape around the banister so it is shielded from any blows of plaster debris.
We've used a sledgehammer to break up the plaster and a prybar and bow rake to pull it off the lath. If you're working on a second floor room, consider jury-rigging a window chute using sheets of plywood to slide the debris outside to the dumpster.
The bottom line: compare the price of a contractor’s bid to demolish plaster walls with what it costs to do it yourself and make your decision. You adjust the cost to where you live by adding your ZIP Code.