Concrete might not be the most glamorous material, but there’s no denying that it’s incredibly useful. It’s everywhere: our homes and offices, hospitals and airports, bridges and highways, even in green spaces that keep our cities cool. Concrete makes modern life possible. So much so that it’s the most widely used construction material in the world.
We use concrete for one simple reason: its durability. Roads built by the ancient Romans over two thousand years ago are in use today. But what do we do if we need to build something new? Wood naturally decays on its own and can easily be dismantled. Concrete, on the other hand, is notoriously laborious and challenging to break apart, more so if there’s steel rebar in it.
Professionals rely on heavy tools and machinery to facilitate the demolition process. Tools such as sledgehammers, power breakers, and Caterpillar C9 engine parts are construction site mainstays and make the job of breaking apart concrete possible. But no demolition tool is more important than the jackhammer.
You might find yourself needing to break concrete for home improvement projects. For instance, you might want to expand your garden by removing the concrete patio or expose the dirt underneath by breaking apart the pavement on top. To do that, you have two options: hire a professional to do the job for you or do it yourself. But where’s the fun in that? If you’re like me, you’d rather do things your way. And no one knows your home better than you.
Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
1. Check the area first
The first thing you need to do is to inspect the area targeted for demolition. You’ll also have to look at the thickness of the concrete slab. Sometimes, it can be as simple as viewing it from the side, like for patios and gazebos. But if the concrete is embedded into the ground, you will need to use more powerful tools.
Use a sledgehammer to hammer a few blows into the slab. If the slab won’t budge after repeated blows, then it’s too thick (4 inches or 10 cm) for a sledgehammer, and you will have to use something stronger instead.
2. Ask for help
While you might want to do everything yourself, I highly recommend hiring an extra hand or two or asking your friends to help out. This will speed things up, and the extra hands can help remove the debris from the site. One pair could demolish the concrete, while the other pair is focused on hauling the debris away.
3. Hire a disposal specialist
You can’t just throw the rubble into a garbage bin. Not only is it harmful to the environment, but it’s also possibly illegal. You will need to make arrangements with a waste disposal company or a concrete recycler to take the rubble away. For large projects, ask the company if they could provide a disposal container to make rubble collection easier. Don’t forget to give them details about the dimensions or thickness of the slab so that they can properly gauge the size of the container.
4. Secure the area with a plastic cover
Before using a sledgehammer or jackhammer on the concrete slab, make sure to cordon the area with a sheet of clear plastic. This prevents shrapnel or other projectiles from exploding during the demolition process, reducing the possibility of injury and damage to nearby structures.
The plastic will contain the rubble and dust produced while breaking up the concrete. While there will be less dust produced during the demolition process, you still need to wear a respirator. Make sure you’re wearing work boots to avoid accidental slips.
5. Use a pry bar
Don’t just start hammering away at the slab. The earth underneath the slab will only absorb the force from each blow. For more efficient breaking, one person will work the sledgehammer will the other one will pry the concrete from its position with a pry bar. Start at the corners and work your way inward into the slab.
6. Divide the slab into sections
Even after breaking the slab apart, the chunks will remain locked together, making it more difficult to work on the surrounding areas. Use a mattock to separate the slab chunks after breaking them. This will make the breaking process easier.
The bottom line
These are just some things you need to keep in mind when smashing concrete. Concrete’s durability can be both an asset and a liability, depending on whether you want to build or take something apart. Don’t forget to protect yourself and wear personal protective gear before doing any demolition work.