Economic way to demolish concrete steps?
March 3, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

We have an old wooden deck at the back of our house that we want to remove and replace with a brick patio. It turns out that under the deck is a solid concrete set of steps. We need to get ride of them. How can we do that economically?

The concrete steps are about three feet wide and five foot deep. I suspect the size and heft would prevent someone from taking them away in one piece. Does anyone have any experience on the best way to do this? I am wondering what kind of company (or individual) would have the equipment to break and remove the steps without breaking the bank.
posted by starkraven to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you are interested in tackling the problem yourself, a sledge hammer (~$30), pickup truck, and a few hours of labour should be all you need.

If thats not really your thing, call a local company that does home renovations. My guess is that you can get someone else to take care of this for a few hundred dollars.
posted by axismundi at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2014

You can rent a jackhammer at Home Depot. Or buy a sledgehammer and get a real workout.
posted by adamrice at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Expansive grout (also, more provocatively, sometimes known as "chemical demolition agent").

Basically, drill a grid of holes (geometry varies by product) in the concrete, pour in a powder, add water, wait. The grout is massively expansive and applies huge forces to the holes, causing cracking throughout the concrete. You then grab a prybar, peel the chunks apart and dispose of them via whatever means seems suitable. It's not explosive, it's completely silent and usually environmentally friendly (basically, they're just particular clay powders).

Warning: you will probably need to take care as you get close to your foundation. The product chosen should have notes about how close you can get -- but it's probably still going to be close enough to shatter what remains without excessive difficulty (ie., you won't get stuck with a "stump" of stair). Nevertheless, beware and follow instructions precisely.
posted by aramaic at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I did this myself with a sledgehammer. They were pretty brittle. Getting rid of the chunks was kind of a pain--a little at a time in the garbage, some used as fill in planters. Wear eye protection!
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2014

You can throw this away via the regular municipal trash, it just needs to be done piece at a time, Shawshank Redemption-style.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:52 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

The strength of concrete varies a lot, but chances are you can break it up yourself using one of the above methods. For disposal, hopefully you have a friend with a pickup truck that can haul the resulting rubble for you. Peruse Craigslist for people seeking free fill, or see if you can find a concrete recycler in the area that will take it.
posted by jon1270 at 11:56 AM on March 3, 2014

I bought a 16 lb sledge for like $30 and broke up a 3' x 6' slab myself in less than an hour-I was quite surprised at how easy it was. This was sidewalk thickness and strength, so it could have been harder if it were more than a few inches thick. Watch a video first about the proper way to lift a sledge so you don't hurt your back, and you can just let the weight of the head do the work on the way down.

Then I spread a tarp in the trunk of my car and put the chunks in there, using a shovel for the smaller pieces, and hauled the whole mess to the concrete recycler. It was a heavy load and my buick was riding pretty low, a smaller car would not have worked in one trip.
posted by Kwine at 12:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sledgehammer. And it's damn hard work, but most satisfying.

I took out some stuff at the old house this way. My BiL said "let me take a swing," took a swing, and hit himself right in the ankle. Years later, he admitted that he may have broken it. Whatever, Stretch Armstrong, just gimme back the sledge so I can finish demolishing this sidewalk and start demolishing a beer in the shade.

*ahem* I mean, watch your ankles! Work boots are a fine idea, as is eye protection and some gloves to protect your hands from too many blisters (if you have soft, knowledge-worker hands like I do).
posted by wenestvedt at 12:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A concrete company/contractor is experienced at removal as well as installation and will also handle carting it away. That's who I would call for an estimate.

This is one of those things I wouldn't bother to attempt myself, ymmv.
posted by sageleaf at 12:45 PM on March 3, 2014

Best answer: If you're doing it yourself

> you can just let the weight of the head do the work

is true, but the kinetic energy in the head is given by its mass times the square of its velocity, so if you can make the head move twice as fast it gives four times the impact. That's my secret to ringing the bell at the sideshow.

Breaking up concrete is a great workout, if you like that kind of thing.
posted by anadem at 1:28 PM on March 3, 2014

Best answer: Make sure that the steps are a free standing piece before you do anything.

If you go sledge, YouTube handling first. The correct way to maximize use isn for me and plenty of people, not at all intuitive.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a klutz and a sledgehammer was just asking for trouble. I rented an electric breaker from Home Depot and it worked out great. And I was still in one piece afterward.

And this can't be said enough: EYE PROTECTION. You are guaranteed to get a rock chip in the face if you do this yourself.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Getting a fire going on, under, or against the concrete can help make it easier to bust up with a sledgehammer; I recall my father lighting a fire in a hollow under our old concrete front steps when he was trying to get them good and busted up.
posted by limeonaire at 6:32 PM on March 3, 2014

Best answer: Regardless of particular solution chosen: DO use eye-protection, DO wear gloves (not cotton ones, they promote blisters).

Another way to defeat concrete is to whack it while it's unsupported. Dig out the soil from under the spot you're attacking, even if it's just a few inches, and you'll make it much more vulnerable.

With pairs of shovels, sledge hammers, pry bars and the appropriate safety gear given to two industrious high-schoolers, I'd guesstimate a two day project. Probably one long day for a handy guy with a jackhammer.
posted by cult_url_bias at 10:43 PM on March 3, 2014

I had a neighbor who needed to do this. Maybe not the best solution, but he dug a large hole in front it it and connected a cable from the stairs to his pickup. He pulled and the three steps (perhaps 1x3m in size) flipped over into the hole and he buried it. He then built a deck over the top it it.

Good luck with whatever you do.
posted by Leenie at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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