It’s Hammer Time! Demolition-Style

It’s Hammer Time!  Demolition-Style

The front hall makeover continues with what turned out to be my most naive expectation and subsequently, my most challenging of DIY endeavors (to date).

I wanted wood flooring.

And I wanted warm floors to offset my cool-toned walls.   I had this vision in my head of walking in the front door and seeing wood (or in this case, laminate-pretending-to-be-wood) flooring stretching from the hallway to the family room windows in one, long, seamless inviting ribbon of honey flavored warmth.

Floor Plan

Since my living area looks like this, I decided that it would make the most sense to do the front hall, bedroom hallway, family room, master bedroom since they were all connected and I wanted a seamless transition from room to room.  I calculated the square footage and then added 10% (recommended) to cover mis-cuts and other inefficiencies and came up with 1200 square foot of needed flooring supplies.  I found this great deal on the flooring at a local distributor (Floor & Decor) and fell for a smooth laminate flooring in a warm teak.

teak with calculatesI rented a truck and hauled home the 50 packages of flooring and the 12 rolls of underlayment.  Only at that point did I hesitate as I was staring at this pyramid of wood  and plastic and wondered briefly if I was taking on too much.   Nah!!!  Let’s get this party started!!!


Me and My Dad (Cohort in DIY)

This party-start was going to require the removal of 90 square feet of 18×18 tiles from my front hall.


With the help of my awesome Dad, we set up a curtain of plastic around the perimeter of the hallway, anticipating lots of dust, then turned off  the heating/cooling system to keep the dust from being circulated throughout the house through the air duct system.


The first clue that this was going to be a bigger challenge than we had anticipated was how long it took to break up the first tile with a small 3lb sledge hammer. Hmmmm….. nada.  Then we attacked the tile with a 10lb sledgehammer and managed to only break apart the first tile.  Clearly, this was going to take some serious power.  So, we went to Home Depot to rent a Demolition Hammer … an unexpected expense.

Demo Drill

We rented it for a 24 hour period and came home and began attacking the tile with a vengeance.  To say that it went much faster is an overstatement and in about an hour we had all the tile busted up.  To say that it kicked up a TON of dust, was also an understatement.  I wish I could say that it all stayed in the curtained area, but it didn’t.


Dust and more dust

We moved the trash polycart around to the front door and started loading it with busted tile and we began to notice that not all the thin-set came off with the tile. The floor was thickly pocked with it and it wasn’t coming up easily.  We tried to utilize the scraper attachment with the Demo Hammer and it just wasn’t getting the job done.

My son getting in on all the demo fun

My son getting in on all the demo fun

We went back to Home Depot to ask some questions and get some answers on how to fix this.  I was told that 18×18 tiles require a much thicker coat of thinset, so this is why the stuff was so strangely and unexpectedly thick (belying it’s name here, hence my confusion).  These were our options:

  • Continue to work with the Demo Hammer and scraper, but add water to soften the thin-set a little bit and possily keep the dust to a minimum.  No guarantees that it will all come up and requires ongoing rental of the Hammer Drill.
  • Rent a diamond bladed scraper to grind it off.  This would cost over $100 a day or more depending on how many scraping discs I would need for the job.
  • Apply a leveling compound.  It’s $25 a bag and could take several bags.  This could raise the floor level and make my dreams of a transition-less flow from room to room less of a reality.
  • Hire a professional.  Cost unknown cause I’m a DIY till I Die kinda girl.

I researched online for a few days to see if there was some magical and effortless way to remove the thinset without all the heavy machinery and cost.  Finally, I had to resign myself that it wasn’t going to be easy and after deliberating with my Dad, we opted to try again with the Demo Hammer, as it was the cheapest solution to try first.


Working in sections and with lots of water, we kept working on removing the stubborn thin-set.  We worked in shifts.  I did a 3 tile area, my Dad worked until I realized he did more than 3 tiles and kicked him off, then I did my 3 tiles and then my Dad worked until I kicked him off …. you get the idea.  The man was tireless.


Here’s me trying to work my day job while my dad is demo-ing thinset

After 12 solid hours of hammer drilling, we had done the best that we could.  It was far from perfect, and there were uneven places that we needed to fill in.  We marked and filled those with concrete filler and let it dry overnight.


I still wasn’t happy that my concrete base was not perfectly smooth, I broke down and bought a couple of bags of leveling compound and leveled out the floor.   In this case, since most of the thinset was removed, there was less of a chance of raising the floor to such a level that it would create a drop into the hallway and family room.

After thinset

After leveling compound and my son dancing on the smooth floor

After letting that dry overnight, we were able to begin installation of the new floor.  What a relief, since I had 50 boxes of flooring that I was in no mood to return to the store, since I had to rent a truck and commandeer child-labor to unload it all in the first place.

In the breathing space between demo, floor prep and actual installation, I compiled a list of  take-away lessons from this effort:

1. Hire a professional to remove a tile floor no matter how small the area.  I DIY-till-I-Die but I’m not stupid enough to die twice on the same effort.
2. It may only take 2 hours to remove the tile with that great demolition hammer from the HD tool rental place …… Rent it for 24 hours because the rest of the time will be spent trying to remove the thinset left behind…..
3. Thinset belongs to the cement, concrete and mortar family. A close member… like an immediate sibling….

4. Use lots of water during demo to keep the dust to a minimum.
5. A 6 x 18 foot room of broken tile will exceed the 300 lb capacity for the polycart
6. You won’t know you have exceeded the capacity until you try to roll it back across the lawn and it sinks. (Picture me and my Dad rolling it 2 feet at a time feeding strips of cardboard underneath to keep it from sinking into the lawn)
7. The garbage truck mechanical arm is unable to lift a polycart that exceeds its 300 lb capacity
8. You will have to add the garbage people to your Christmas purchasing list.

I’m going to let that sink in before I share with you the flooring part of this project and feel free to share any words of wisdom from your own projects.


Stay Calm and Thrive On!

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