Fire and Water Damage Recovery

Demolition Is The First Step to Recovery

Demolition is mostly handled by professionals. Occasionally, homeowners must get involved, such as when their insurance company offers payment amounts after a fire or water damage that are too low to complete the project. Doing the initial cleanup and removal of damaged material yourself can be a way of bringing project costs down. But, is this something I want to take on? What do I need to know?

  • Safety comes first. Before entering the site, or damaged area, be certain there is no danger of collapsing structures, whether weakened overhead ceiling joists or roof members, walls that are no longer securely attached, or a floor that can no longer support you. If you are not certain, consult a professional builder. The building inspector or Fire Marshall that surveyed the site after the fire or other calamities might be helpful. If your roof is severally damaged you’ll want to schedule a free roofing inspection. Climbing around on a damaged roof is an extremely dangerous situation for someone with little or no experience.
  • Utilities off. If you had a fire the fire department has likely already turned off the electricity and gas if necessary. For any situation though, make sure power isn’t flowing to damaged wiring or gas to compromised pipes. You must realize standing water anywhere in the house must be eliminated before you can turn on any electricity. You most likely need a water damage restoration company to remove the water and dry things out before you can use any electric tools.
  • Wear proper clothing. Sturdy boots, long pants, long sleeved shirt, and gloves are essential. If the damage was caused by fire you will want a mask. For minimal ash and soot exposure, simple white masks with the elastic band may be enough. Larger and longer-term exposure may indicate the use of a professional respirator such as used in airless paint spraying.
  • Learn to look. Whether fire or tornado damage, a tree fell on your house or a car hit it, damaged construction members contain hazards, some of which are not easily seen. There can be exposed or hidden nails, sharp exposures of broken wood, and shards of glass things turned from pieces of your home into dangers. The clutter of a disaster or the charred remains of a fire can mask potential threats.
  • Basic tools. You will need a hammer which can take the abuse, such as one with a fiberglass handle, cats paw nail removers in a smaller and larger size, a flat bar (usually about 17 long with rigid, non-flexing handle), a 36 crowbar/wrecking bar, and a 5 to 6 long bar for prying. It can be useful to have a sledgehammer. I like a 6lb sledgehammer with a long handle that you might want to cut off at around 30. This size can be used two or single handed and overhead. A cheap chisel (because you will abuse it) is nice. If roofing needs to be removed use a roofing shovel, which allows you to pry off roofing and slots at the end which allow you to remove nails.
  • Power tools. The most important demolition tool is the reciprocating saw. Here you want to get a good one. Because of the heavy demands of the work, look for a name brand tool, with 12 to 15 amps power. Features such as gearing that can take the jarring of jams are a bonus. Blades should be purchased for rough cutting in 5 to 8 teeth per inch, in a thick style, of bimetal design to cut wood with nails, in 9 lengths. You may also want some 12 and 6. You may want a circular saw to cut up material from demolition to manageable sizes.
  • Ordering. Learn what can be taken apart in what order. After a minimal kitchen fire for example, if the structure is sound, you can begin taking down cabinets and carting them out. Assuming basic knowledge of safe work practices and how to detach the cabinets, uppers, and lower cabinets can be taken out in any order. No special knowledge of building is needed. When a whole building section is structurally damaged though, those items added to the building last, as in the roof, are taken off first. First, determine if any section can support your weight before getting on it to dismantle it. Some will saw all through sections of roof sheathing with roofing attached. A greener method is to remove roofing and sheathing separately and dispose of separately.
  • Smoke damage. Most anything that smoke touches receives a lingering smoke smell. Some framing members with minimal damage can be cleaned and sprayed with a sealer. Many times those items must be removed. Many times drywall which has been re-primed and painted will later reveal a smoky smell.
  • Costs. For some projects, you will want to rent a large rubbish container that will be hauled away after a set time period. If you have access to a truck and will haul away your own demolition materials, check with your refuse collection/recycling center to find out what items are taken, how they need to be processed and what the costs are. Some sites may take nail free wood without charge.

By cleaning and clearing a project it is easier and less expensive for other trades to quickly do their job, and money can be saved. On the other hand, demolition can be hard work; hard on your body in abrasions and airborne contaminants in ears, nose, and lungs. There is the risk of injury.