For a homeowner starting a remodel, the feeling of finally swinging that sledgehammer can be cathartic. Even if you’re not the one doing the dirty work, just knowing that those unnecessary walls and ugly carpet are getting ripped out is exhilarating.
However, the demolition process can yield a lot of surprises. Usually you’ll find nothing. Best-case scenario? You find cold, hard cash! But what happens if you’re not so lucky? Hang on to your hard hat as we reveal some of the unpleasant surprises that can arise during a home demolition.
1. Structural problems
With the popularity of open floor plans and large master bedrooms, homeowners are eager to knock down walls. However, our experts warn that doing so can throw an oversize monkey wrench in your remodeling plans. For example, you could end up trying to tear down a structural wall, aka a wall that supports the house. Bummer!
“It’s important to first figure out the load that your walls can support before you start planning the new layout of your home,” says Mick Lynch, senior vice president of installations at Power Home Remodeling.
If you’re halfway through the demo when you discover one of the walls you’re knocking down supports a structural beam, Lynch says it could increase the cost of your renovation by $5,000 to $10,000 to reframe the house accordingly.
2. Flooring issues
When you start removing the floor, it may be necessary to keep going and going and going.
“Frequently, older homes will have several layers of flooring that will not be evident until demolition has started,” says Andy Lindus, chief operating officer at Lindus Construction, in Baldwin, WI.
Another issue: dry rot.
“Contrary to its name, dry rot is the result of moisture penetrating wood and causing it to break down, and in some cases, the structural integrity of your home can be compromised,” Lindus says.
This could affect your subfloors and even wall sheathing, ceilings, and roof decks.
3. Termites and other critters
During your demolition, you may also find out that you and your family aren’t the home’s only inhabitants. Lynch says his company frequently finds termite damage during the demolition.
“We’ll rip out the windows of a home or pull off the siding, and we’ll uncover traces of termites or rodents behind the walls,” he explains.
And just in case you aren’t sufficiently repulsed, Michael Menn, principal architect at Michael Menn Ltd., in Northbrook, IL, adds that sometimes the rodents are dead—and sometimes they’re alive. The damage caused by these uninvited tenants could cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Asbestos is another horror waiting to be exposed once you start exploring the inner workings of your home.
“Asbestos is commonly found in siding, flooring, or other areas of a home during demolition,” says Nathan Outlaw, president of Onvico, a design, engineering, and construction company in Thomasville, GA. “Proper mitigation can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a project, and failure to do so can lead to health and safety concerns.”
Trust us: This is not the place to cut corners during a remodel.
“When asbestos and mold are identified, it is important for a contractor to bring in an abatement company to remove and encapsulate the toxins in order to prevent contamination and spreading,” Lindus says.
5. Electrical setbacks
Let’s cut to the chase: You should expect to encounter some type of electrical problems during a demo. Some are worse than others, of course.
“One of the most common surprises for homeowners is finding live wires hidden behind the walls, or wires that violate local electrical codes,” Lynch says. And this poses a risk of electrocution, in addition to the possibility of starting a house fire.
“The risk is increased because you’re surrounded by exposed wood and flammable debris,” Lynch explains.
And the cost of a full-home rewire? Greg Stewart, chief operating officer at Bungalo, a real estate platform for buying renovated homes, says replacing electrical panels, wiring types, and grounding wires can cost nearly $20,000.
6. Plumbing problems
Whenever you’re demolishing an interior wall, be advised that there could be plumbing running through it.
“We typically associate plumbing with the bathroom or the kitchen, but in reality, any interior wall in your home can have a water pipe behind it,” says Lynch.
So, if you kick through a wall and break a pipe, you could end up flooding the house.
“It’s especially dangerous if you’re demoing on your second floor,” Lynch says. “If you burst a pipe, you can flood the house from the top down—sometimes resulting in severe damage that can cost up to $10,000, depending on how long it takes the water to be shut off.”
Before you tear down a wall, you also need to figure out the location of the ductwork, or the tubes used to transport air around your house.
Bill Shafer, owner of Shafer Construction, in Bethlehem, PA, explains that during one kitchen remodel, the customer wanted to tear down the wall between the kitchen and family room. However, the presence of ductwork in the wall made this a particularly difficult project.
“There was so much ductwork in the wall that we had to install a second heating and air-conditioning unit in the attic to compensate for the loss of ductwork going to the second floor,” he says.
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