Concrete Removal: DIY or Not?

Photo: Jason McHuff,

When concrete starts to show signs of wear and tear and age, your first impulse may be to patch it up. But concrete contractors from Jefferson, Alabama to California know that a short-term fix could end up costing you more money in the long run. If your concrete has deep cracks, shows signs of frost heave, heavy pitting on the surface or has sunk deeply into the sub grade, it is time to remove the old concrete and replace it with new. Of course, this is only one step in a much more involved process that involves obtaining any permits that may be required, removing the concrete and sub grade, replacing and compacting the sub grade, and pouring the new concrete.

Is concrete removal a DIY job or not? Let’s take a look at some of the ways it’s done.

A Closer Look at Concrete Removal

Concrete removal can involve anything from removing small structures such as a small platform to demolishing entire buildings. Since the latter is beyond the scope of this article, here we’ll focus on concrete removal methods.

Pneumatic and hydraulic breakers. These tools, which can be hand-held or mounted on a boom, are used to demolish bridge decks, foundation and pavement. They pack a lot of punch: machine-mounted breakers can apply one hundred to twenty thousand foot-pounds at 300 to 800 blows per minute.

High-pressure water jets. This method removes concrete without damaging the surrounding structure. Water guns can be hand-held, mounted on gimbals or on robotic rigs, and provide pressure of 40 gallons per minute or more. The water jet eliminates dust and cleans the remaining surface, helping to prepare it for any new installations that may be planned.

Pressure bursting. This method is used in cases that require demolition that is relatively quiet, controlled and free of dust. The concrete is split by either a splitting machine or through the insertion of an expanding chemical into holes in the concrete. As the chemical expands, the concrete cracks into smaller pieces, which may be removed by hand or by crane.

Thermic lance. This method, which uses heat to break the concrete into smaller pieces, may cause the concrete near the cutting site to deteriorate. Although it eliminates vibration and dust problems, it may create fire and smoke hazards.

Don’t Try This at Home

From the nature of much of the equipment that is used for concrete removal, we can see that this is no job for ordinary do-it-yourselfers. If you happen to be a contractor on holiday and know what you’re doing, great – but unless you have the knowledge and experience required to use the equipment and deal with the job, leave this one alone. Give it to a professional, who will do it properly the first time around without the need for emergency fixes, such as calling in an electrician or a plumber, which you’ll have to do if you start digging in the wrong place.

A professional concrete contractor can also help you obtain any permits that may be required for your project before you start and dispose of the old concrete in a legal manner when the job is done.

Rahel Jaskow is a home improvement journalist, covering topics from pest control to frugal DIY.

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