Getting Dirty: Tear Out and Demo

By Andrea Julian, AAA Countertops – March 31, 2020

Once you have your kitchen remodel planned and budgeted and  have decided who to hire, it’s time to get down and dirty! The first step of a remodel is the tear out and demo. This is when the old material is removed in order to pave the way for the new.

The cost of having a professional do the demo versus doing it yourself comes down to a matter of time versus money. Demo doesn’t require any special skills or talents, so if you have time you can save yourself an average of $1,000 by doing the work yourself.  Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from a kitchen tear out and demo.

You’ll need a few key items for a successful demo:

  1. Rent a dumpster. A rollaway dumpster is a must for any demo. We recommend a 20-yard dumpster for a typical kitchen.
  2. Gather your tools. Helpful tools for a demo include (but are not limited to)
    • Pry Bar
    • Screwdriver and Drill
    • Putty and Utility knife
    • Hammer and pliers
    • Ladder
    • Drop Cloths
    • Gloves

Prep the Space

Next, you’ll need to prepare your kitchen to be demoed. What needs to be done depends on the scope of your project. 

  1. Pack up your valuables. We recommend removing all the dishes and food items from your kitchen cabinets and counterspace before you get started. If you can’t remove everything, you’ll at least want to cover what’s left with plastic or drop cloths.
  2. Protect the floor.  Cover your floor with drop cloths to protect it from damage during the demo. If you will be removing your flooring, you can skip this step.
  3. Turn off the electricity to your kitchen. This can be done at the breaker box. Find out which switch, or switches are for your kitchen and turn them off.
    • Pro tip: Place a piece of tape over the switches so that they don’t get accidentally turned back on while you’re working.
  4. Turn off the water. If you will be taking out your kitchen sink, you’ll need to disconnect the plumbing. Turn off the water before starting by closing off the valve under the kitchen sink.
    • Pro tip: Look for 2 pipes running from the sink to the back wall or under the floor. These are your hot and cold-water lines; each should have a knob or lever. Make sure these are both fully closed.
  5. Disconnect the gas. If you have a gas stove and will be moving it, you need to make sure the gas is fully disconnected first. Locate the valve for the gas is behind the stove, it is usually a ball valve with a lever handle.
    • Pro tip:  When the valve is in the “off” position it is perpendicular to the direction of the gas pipe.
  6. Remove appliances. If you are replacing any appliances go ahead and get them out of the space. Cover or, if possible, move any appliances that will be remaining out of the way to avoid having them damaged during the demo.

Start Demoing!

You’ll have to use your best judgment as to the order of what is demoed and when. It will really depend on the scope of your project. The order of the demo below is based on doing a complete kitchen tear out. If you are working with a contractor or designer make sure you consult them before doing any demo to make sure you’re doing it in the order that best meets the needs of your project and timeline.

Demo Countertops. For this step, you’ll need a pry bar, screwdriver, and putty knife.

  • Remove the sink. If you have a drop-in sink, use a putty knife for chisel to cut through the caulk around the sink and use the pry bar to lift it out of place. If you have an undermount sink, you’ll need a helper. Have the helper hold the sink while you remove the brackets holding the sink up. You’ll be able to slide the sink out once they are removed.
  • Check to see if there are any screws holding the countertop sections to the cabinets and remove them. Use the putty knife or chisel to loosen the tops from the cabinets and well.
  • Once the countertops are loosened you should be able to lift and remove them.
  • Pro tip: If your tops are quartz or granite, they will be extremely heavy (think hundreds of pounds per piece). If you are not prepared to deal with these it is recommended you hire a professional.

Demo the Base Cabinets.  These are the cabinets attached to the floor. For this step, you’ll need a prybar, putty knife, screwdriver, hammer or pliers.

  • Remove the trim along the base of the cabinets. You can use a putty knife to loosen them and then pry them out.
  • Open the cabinet doors and locate and remove the screws holding them to the wall and connecting cabinets.  After all screws are removed, start pulling each cabinet section out and away from the wall.
  • Remove any remaining nails or screws so that they don’t pose a risk to you or your workers later.

Demo the Hanging Cabinets. This step requires assistance. Make sure you have plenty of help before attempting to remove the hanging cabinets. You’ll also need a ladder and a screwdriver.

  • Unscrew all the cabinet doors and remove them from the cabinets.
  • Remove all the screws that connect the cabinets to each other.
  • When you are ready to unscrew the cabinets from the wall, have a helper hold the cabinet from below. Once the screws are out, carefully remove the cabinets from the wall.

Remove the tile. If your kitchen has a tile backsplash you will remove this next. Removing tile can be a slow and tedious process depending on the amount of tile that needs to be removed so make sure you give yourself plenty of time for this next step. To get started, you’ll need a chisel, hammer, screwdriver and drop cloths.

  • Lay out the drop cloth underneath the section you are working on. Broken tile will fall into the cloth and make it easier to dispose of.
  • Remove any light switch or outlet plates that are included in the tiled area.
  • Break up the grout lines in the section you are working on with the hammer and chisel.
  • Slide the chisel under each tile and pry it off. Use the hammer if you have difficulty getting the tile to loosen and fall off.
  • Repeat until the entire tiled section is removed.

Remove the floor. If you have vinyl or linoleum floor, you’ll need to plan on renting a few tools for its removal. Vinyl and linoleum are glued to the floor using an industrial adhesive. You can rent a wallpaper steamer, heat gun or use a chemical stripper to completely remove it.  Other than that, you’ll need a utility and putty knife to remove the flooring.

  • Use a utility knife to cut the flooring into 6” wide strips. Pull up each section to reveal the adhesive section below. If you have trouble getting the pieces to come off, use the heat gun.
  • Once the pieces are removed, heat up the the wallpaper steamer and apply the pad to a section of adhesive for 90 seconds. Once it softens you can use a putty knife to pry it out. Repeat until all the adhesive has been removed.
  • If you have sections of adhesive that just won’t come off, you can use the chemical stripper. Make sure and carefully follow the directions on the package and use recommended protective gear.

Now that you’re done with demo its time to start on the fun stuff!  In our next article, “Tackling the Vertical: Walls, Doors and Windows” we’ll start the installation process!