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February 14, 2012 11:33 PM   Subscribe

Could an average person, sufficiently motivated, break through a wall built to current U.S. building code standards without the use of tools?

This is absolutely a serious question.

Obviously there are all kinds of building standards in the U.S. and some kinds of walls (brick, for example) would be impassable. I'm thinking about an interior wall separating two bedrooms in a shoddily build McMansion, or the kind of wall used to divide an office building into suites. Basically anything your local zoning board would approve.

The person doesn't need to do anything more than get from one side of the wall to the other. Also, assume this person had all day but was unwilling to do permanent injury to themselves. They are also permitted no tools of any kind.

What would such an escape look like, what kind of walls would be permeable, how hard would it be and how long would it take?
posted by 2bucksplus to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you say no tools, does that mean that if I want to kick a hole in the wall, I have to do so barefoot?
posted by decathecting at 11:34 PM on February 14, 2012

Sheetrock is easy to punch (or kick) a hole in. Inside is wood or metal framing, again, fairly easy to use body weight to dismantle it enough to get through.

As short as 2 minutes for a ninja, average person maybe 20 minutes, someone infirm might have trouble with the framing and never get through.

These are best guesses, only. I also wondered about shoes.
posted by jbenben at 11:39 PM on February 14, 2012

If it's drywall with studs, probably. If it's a cinder block wall, probably not.

I've seen several people (myself included) who have punched a clean fist-sized hole in drywall with minimal injury. I'd like to think that if I threw my admittedly largish body at some drywall, I could conceivably punch a Sphinx sized hole in it.

I've yet to see an average guy punch a hole in a cinder block wall.
posted by Sphinx at 11:41 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, barefoot or bare handed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:41 PM on February 14, 2012

Yes. Most interior walls are going to be made of drywall, and a person can easily break through it and tear it down. A motivated person could likely even rip out a wood stud with their bare hands if they put the time in.
posted by Nightman at 11:43 PM on February 14, 2012

i could do it in 5 minutes with shoes on...kick a hole, rip the drywall out, kick out the other side...done.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:44 PM on February 14, 2012

The answer to your question is a simple 'yes.' A running jump at the wall or two, hitting it with your shoulder and you would be about half way through. And you shoulder would hurt.
Now, with a double layer of Sheetrock - say to cut down on noise from one room to the other and it gets much harder.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:48 PM on February 14, 2012

Once you barehanded punched the hole into the Sheetrock, the rest is tearing out the Sheetrock and leveraging body weight against the studs or framing if you couldn't squeeze through.

Studs are usually 16 inches to 24 inches apart, so, pretty easy to squeeze through!

They'll be wiring to avoid. Possibly some insulation.

I revise my average person guess down to 5 to 8 minutes.
posted by jbenben at 11:50 PM on February 14, 2012

There are numerous examples of karate demonstration teams demolishing houses.
posted by holterbarbour at 11:51 PM on February 14, 2012

Oh damn, apparently there's a whole TV show devoted to this!
posted by holterbarbour at 11:54 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

In junior high, about 15 years ago (oh...that's what getting older feels like) my friends and I used to play an MMORPG. This is before your WoWs, before your EQwidows, and certainly before all the studies on gaming addiction. We experienced pure addiction while our parents scratched their heads going, "they're just video games like we had wtf is going on?"

Anyway, one of my buddy's parents' solution was to put a deadbolt on the computer room. The problem, though, was that this was a very real addiction and my friend crafted a junkie solution. Because the computer room was adjacent to his room, separated only by a closet, he managed to bore a hole in the bottom of the wall at the back of his closet to gain access to the locked computer room. I remember laughing endlessly at school when he told me this in an effort to explain why he was tired. The jig was up, though, when sleep deprivation finally caught up to him and his parents could not find him the next morning to wake him up for school. He had fallen asleep on his keyboard instead of making his way back to his room before dawn.

So, humorously, I know the answer to your question through a fun story from jr high: absolutely.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 11:56 PM on February 14, 2012 [16 favorites]

Interior walls in most postwar construction the US consist of wooden or metal studs 16 inches apart covered with drywall. You can break the drywall by punching it several times in the same spot with you fist. (You'd want to thump the wall first and find a hollow spot. Punching the wall on a stud wouldn't work and would hurt your hand.) Then once you've punched though and can get a grip on it, tear off enough drywall off to get through. Repeat for the drywall on the other side of the wall.

The usual technique of removing drywall in construction is to punch holes in it with a hammer and then tear it off, but you can definitely use your fist. The tearing technique is simply to grab and pull.

The drywall will tear off easier if it's nailed on rather than screwed, but this isn't a big deal. A 16-inch stud bay is wide enough for most people to pass through easily by turning sideways; it won't be necessary to remove any studs.

I'd think someone who did this efficiently could probably make a large enough opening to get through in about five to six minutes. Someone who had no idea what they were doing would probably run at the wall repeatedly with their shoulder. They'd eventually crack the drywall and then they'd catch on, but it would take longer.
posted by nangar at 2:20 AM on February 15, 2012

Somebody who didn't know what they were doing wouldn't know how to locate the studs and might seriously hurt themselves if they threw themselves at a spot behind which a hidden stud lurked.
posted by mareli at 3:17 AM on February 15, 2012

I think I would use an elbow or a heel for the initial punch, and not my fist, especially since I have accidentally done that a couple times and got to remember it for two weeks after.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:01 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

As others have said, the answer is definitely yes, assuming you are skinny enough to fit through a 14.5 inch gap. (The studs are 16 inches on center and each one is 1.5" thick, so the gap is 14.5".) That's no big deal, and even someone who is not all that strong could do this.

Removing a 2x4 stud barehanded would be a lot more difficult. You'd have to first remove the drywall on both sides of the wall both left and right of the stud, and then either try kicking the bottom end or yanking at the middle. How easy it would be to remove would depend on the quality of the wood and the nailing; both are sometimes extremely poor.
posted by Forktine at 4:21 AM on February 15, 2012

Drywall? Absolutely, one can punch-through bare-handed. I've put my fist through one before. It's best to find a spot equidistant between studs, where there will be more flex/give.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on February 15, 2012

This is definitely doable, but barefoot and barehanded would be painful and possibly injurious to most people. Drywall is a layer of easily broken gypsum sandwiched between 2 layers of heavy paper. If you hit it, the first thing that happens is the gypsum fractures, allowing you to dent the wall surface without breaking through. Successive and/or harder hits will break the paper on the far side from the impact first, then finally begin to tear the paper on the near side. Once there's a hole, additional impacts will break away more of the drywall more quickly. You can also start grabbing the broken edges and tearing off chunks. Each break starts with fracturing of drywall, leaving the broken piece hanging there on the heavy paper, which must be torn away.

Once the drywall on the near side is out of the way, there's still the drywall on the other side. That layer is likely to give way in larger pieces, because the impacts will push it off of the screws holding it to the studs rather than breaking it into the stud cavity.

You average not-karate-trained person would come through this with at least some bloodied knuckles, maybe a broken wrist or toe. Also, they'd be very dusty.
posted by jon1270 at 5:04 AM on February 15, 2012

Interior wall in a McMansion. Then you are taking about two sheets of 1/2 inch sheet-rock, separated by a 3.5 gap. With a good pair of boots, anyone (even a 10yr old girl) could kick through the wall in a matter of minutes.
posted by Flood at 5:08 AM on February 15, 2012

The stereotype of punching a hole in a wall in anger is actually not an exaggeration, it's pretty easy to do.

It would be a bit more difficult to put your fist or foot right straight through a good plaster wall the way you can with drywall, but the quality of plaster walls is all over the map. It's not hard to further weaken a spot by chipping at it, and then the lathe behind it isn't too hard to rip apart.
posted by desuetude at 7:00 AM on February 15, 2012

My freshman year physics teacher was one day demonstrating inertia in class and broke most of the way through a wall simply by running at it. He tried to act afterwards like he'd done it on purpose but, um, no.

Also when we bought our previous house there was a largish hole in one hallway near the floor. Penciled around it in a child's handwriting were the words "mommy got mad".

If your first kick at the wall happens to hit one of the studs you might hurt yourself, but otherwise the only real potential for injury would be maybe a scraped knuckle or breathing gypsum dust.
posted by ook at 7:16 AM on February 15, 2012

A house I worked on had a demolition party before starting construction, where we went around busting up walls that weren't going to stay in the new design of the house. Now, I'm 6'-5" and around 230 lbs, but I kicked entirely through both layers of an interior wall from a standstill, and we were all breaking the first layer with punches (generally open-faced, striking on the heel of the palm). Didn't hurt anyone.
posted by LionIndex at 7:17 AM on February 15, 2012

I fell against a wall when I lost my balance coming down a set of stairs opposite, and put my shoulder all the way through the near-side drywall. Didn't hurt me, but patching the hole was a project.

A lath-and-plaster wall would be much more of a problem to get through. Plaster is a lot harder than gypsum, and the lath* is typically nailed in place. The plaster and lath reinforce each other, to a much greater degree than the gypsum and paper in drywall do.

* Please not the spelling. Lathes are machine tools made of iron and steel, and nobody your side of the Hulk is going to do them any damage barehanded.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2012

A sharp heel kick (bare feet) to drywall will either put a hole right through it, or make it very easy and painless to put your hands and fingers in and pull big chunks of drywall out.
posted by peep at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2012

Totally. Interior drywall is often only 3/8" thick, and trivial to go through with a shoulder or even a punch.

When I took my CERT class, the final exercises involved search and extraction in darkened warehouse with all sorts of traps, and one of the places a Boy Scout with fake wounds was hiding was behind a wall. I happened to be wearing steel toed boots the only delay in getting to him was looking for a hint from the instructors that I wasn't breaking the meta structure. Walking through a wall is more satisfying than I would have thought.

But, yeah, even 5/8" drywall with 16" stud spacing won't slow down a determined person more than 15 or 20 seconds. And many new buildings use 2x6 studs at 24" spacing (or, in between attached townhomes, staggered 2x4s at 12" which also puts the drywall over 24" spans).

Exterior walls are a different story.
posted by straw at 9:29 AM on February 15, 2012

If one goes at the drywall with a shoulder, one had better hope that one goes *between* the studs. So using a studfinder (yes, that's really what it's called) first would help. Does that violate "no tools"?
posted by kestrel251 at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2012

Studfinder? My dad taught me to rap carefully along the wall with my knuckles and listen to the sound. It changes distinctly when there's a stud underneath.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:28 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or, find an outlet on the wall. It's mounted to a stud. You can extrapolate other stud locations from there by knocking. Or, if the outlet is in a good spot to go through, start your hole-punching a couple-three hand-widths either side of the outlet.
posted by chazlarson at 11:10 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine who worked for KB Homes saw his supervisor punch a hole in an exterior wall in a tirade about the poor quality of their construction. That would be a stuccoed wall.
posted by yohko at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bricks and cinderblocks aren't all that tough if you can attack them from the top of a course. I once did a lot more brickwork than I planed because, well, they just kept coming off in my hands.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:31 PM on February 15, 2012

Don't throw your shoulder against walls. Everyone I know who has tried it has not broken through the wall/door and hurt themselves. A kick is usually all it takes.
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2012

My brother did a somersault on his bed the short way, and knocked a big hole in the wall with his rounded back and/or his butt. That room now has wood paneling to cover it up.
posted by CathyG at 4:04 PM on February 15, 2012

Obviously dry wall or gypsum board as described above is child's play. I also think with a regular pair of shoes a brick wall, one brick thick, would be pretty doable in about a half an hour. The mortar will start to crack after repeated kicks if the bricks are laid against gypsum board. Cinder blocks, I would only try in a life or death situation as I think it would hurt like shit to kick or punch it.
posted by AugustWest at 4:33 PM on February 15, 2012

Now, I'm 6'-5" and around 230 lbs, but I kicked entirely through both layers of an interior wall from a standstill, and we were all breaking the first layer with punches (generally open-faced, striking on the heel of the palm). Didn't hurt anyone.

No qualification needed -- I'm a 5'4" wuss who weighs just over 100 lbs, and and I've kicked through drywall easily. (So cathartic when remodeling, I must say!)

* Please not the spelling. Lathes are machine tools made of iron and steel, and nobody your side of the Hulk is going to do them any damage barehanded.

Where's that edit window? Goddamn, I saw my typo the minute I hit post.

posted by desuetude at 9:30 PM on February 15, 2012

And I saw saw "please not the spelling" right after I clicked Post. I'm glad you know the right L-word; a lot of people don't. I know the difference between not and note, but it might be hard to tell.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:37 AM on February 16, 2012

And so once you're through the drywall and seen that its easy enough to tear out a stud, you could use that stud as a battering ram to get through the exterior wall by knocking the plywood and shingles off. You also have a 92" 2x4 with which to fend off zombies.
posted by mearls at 5:36 AM on February 16, 2012

No qualification needed -- I'm a 5'4" wuss who weighs just over 100 lbs, and and I've kicked through drywall easily. (So cathartic when remodeling, I must say!)

Both sides of the wall though?
posted by LionIndex at 7:25 PM on February 16, 2012

No, but I wasn't being pursued by zombies, either.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 PM on February 16, 2012

So we're all agreed then.
posted by scalefree at 12:01 AM on February 19, 2012

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