Throughout 2017, Dunn Solutions will keep up with Daniel Westbrook as he restores this historic Seattle residence. This video and post are a part of the ongoing series. For other related posts, click here

Construction demolition runs the gamut from using heavy equipment to handheld sledgehammers, reciprocating saws, and pry bars. It’s a process that is often loud, dirty, and invasive. Sometimes, a more surgical approach is required to keep damage from spreading beyond the work, especially in a residential living space. Surgical demolition is a term I’ve used over the years to explain an approach to tedious remodel demolition that keeps agitation to a minimum, so that a home’s existing components are preserved. This approach helps to avoid unnecessary collateral damage and their related expenses.

Although surgical demolition might sound great, it’s not always cost-effective. It’s important to identify which areas of a remodel will require a surgical approach. In this case, we are going to expand an existing opening, but we want to preserve the historic lath and plaster cove on the other side. I started by getting a cost estimate for rebuilding the cove from my drywall contractor and compared it to my labor costs associated with preserving it using a surgical approach.  We had to remove the wall section either way and install a header, and already had access to the exposed framing on one side of the wall, so I determined it was going to cost less to preserve the cove. This in turn will save the client money. Critical thinking of this kind is how I weigh the best approach to my remodel projects and demolition, and surgical demo is no exception.  

Below are five points detailing the steps we took to surgically demolish and reframe the widening of this opening, while saving the cove on the other side.

1: Plan Ahead

The header we are using is a 1 ¾” thick LVL beam, designed to handle the span of the new opening. We support the cove by leaving a section of the 2x4 wall studs intact, and cut a notch out of the side of the studs at 1 ¾” deep by the height of the beam. That allows a section of the 2x4 studs to remain intact to support the wall while we install the header. Have all your material and tools ready to go before starting, and then simply lay out for all the stud cuts.

2: Perform Dust Control

We are working in an occupied home, so dust extraction is important. Once we start removing the studs, lath and plaster, we will be setting up a tighter control tent to keep the dust down during this portion of demolition.

3: Make the Cuts

Carefully cut the studs to receive the new header using a jigsaw, reciprocating saw, or circular saw set at a 1 ¾ depth, and cut out the studs on the layout marks to the size needed to receive the new header. Be mindful that there are nails through the top plate and into the top of the studs, as they can destroy a new saw blade.

4: Install the Header

Notice that the bottom cut is made larger than the height of the header. We can use this space to insert shims under the header to keep it tight to the existing top plates.

We use screws to secure the header to the rest of the existing stud behind. Sometimes a pilot hole needs to be made, and clamps can be used to keep material solid while working. Install any new trim studs if needed. 

5: Remove the Wall Below the Header

Set up the dust control. Cut the studs carefully so as to not agitate the wall. Remove the debris, cut off the bottom plates, and clean up.

Planning ahead and using a few simple surgical demolition techniques resulted in us being able to save dollars while preserving the cove on the finished side of the wall. Preserving parts of a remodel through surgical demolition will often cost more time and money than a standard demolition, so the moral of the story is to discern the best course of action before you start.