DIY Demo: Tips for Removing Old Flooring and Surfaces

Tile Removal

If you’re up to the challenge of removing old floor and surface coverings, we want to support your efforts by providing a few tips and tricks that will help you tackle the demo work like a pro. However, be aware that demo work may take more time, effort, and money than you imagine, and you can always leave this to us. Reading this article will help you move forward with realistic expectations. 

CAUTION: Demolition requires lifting heavy and/or awkwardly shaped materials. This type of work can lead to strains or accidents, especially for those not accustomed to physical labor. If you are not reasonably fit, your DIY demo experience could be unsafe and unmanageable. Be mindful of your health status and any physical limitations you may have. Approach tasks with an appropriate level of caution. Consider enlisting help or hiring us for your demo work if tasks seem to be beyond your physical abilities.

Tools: What type of surface are you removing?

Before you start planning your demolition strategy, consider the type of material you are going to remove. Is it hard and brittle? Is it soft and flexible? Is it nailed or glued down? The tools you need will vary from one type of material to the next. For example:

  • Tile removal will require a hammer, chisel, and floor scraper. For larger areas, rent a hand-held or walk-behind tile stripper machine. 
  • For hardwood flooring, use a pry bar, hammer, and floor scraper. If the wood is glued down, you’ll need a heat gun and/or adhesive remover.
  • Vinyl or linoleum may peel up easily, but the adhesives holding them in place may not. You’ll need a floor scraper or putty knife and possibly a heat gun and/or adhesive remover.
  • For carpet, a utility knife and pliers may suffice. If carpet tack strips are adhered very well, you may need a pry bar to remove them.
  • Drywall removal tools include a utility knife, hammer, pliers, drill with a screwdriver bit, and you may also need a pry bar or crowbar.

A reciprocating saw (a.k.a. Sawzall) with the appropriate type of blade can be useful for many types of surfaces. Be sure to use the appropriate blade for cutting through each type of surface, such as wood, metal, masonry, etc.

You’ll need personal protective equipment (PPE).

Protect yourself from dust and debris, fumes, sharp edges, loud noise, and mishaps with heavy materials with the appropriate PPE, which includes:

  • Eye protection – safety glasses or safety goggles
  • Ear protection – ear plugs or earmuffs
  • Respiratory protection – mask or respirator
  • Gloves – heavy duty work gloves, and if you are working with chemicals, chemical-resistant gloves
  • Clothes – long sleeved shirt and long pants made of durable material
  • Shoes – for light demo wear closed-toe shoes or work boots, for heavy demo wear steel toe work boots

In addition, it’s not a bad idea to have a first aid kit handy to treat minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, or splinters.

Demolition is notoriously messy. 

Containing dust and debris can be a challenge.

The first thing you’ll want to do is isolate your work area. Use large plastic sheets or tarps and masking tape or painter’s tape to create barriers that minimize the amount of dust that can travel into other areas of your home. 

Next, protect surrounding surfaces. For example, if you are removing surface coverings from walls but leaving the floor intact, use drop cloths or heavy duty tarps to completely cover the floor in the demolition space. If the floor covering is going to be removed, obviously protection will not be necessary, but you will still want to protect the floors adjacent to your work area. Cover cabinets, windows and sills, and any other surfaces that will remain in place.

Where to Start

The typical starting point is in a corner or along a wall on the edge of the room. From there, you can work your way across the floor or surface. For tile, you’ll need to create a starting point by breaking a tile. For carpet, use a utility knife to cut the carpet into sections that are small enough for you to handle and transport.

Recycle and reuse or dispose of construction materials.

Reusing and recycling can be more economical than disposal. 

For cleanup, you will need a shop vac, broom, and dustpan. NOTE: Do not use your household vacuum. It is not designed to handle demolition waste. 

A dumpster will easily enable you to dispose of construction debris, as well as appliances, cabinets, etc. in areas where disposal is the only option available. Don’t forget to get permission from the city or your homeowners’ association, if needed. Alternatively, heavy-duty trash bags and containers.

What else do you need?

Envision your demolition process and brainstorm about what else you might need so that you don’t have to visit a home store covered in dust. Do you need extension cords or power strips? Do you have adequate lighting? Will you be using a step stool or ladder? 

Are you sure you want to do a DIY demo?

While DIY demolition can be a great way to save some money, it often comes with unexpected challenges and expenses. Factor in expenses for materials, tools, and other costs, and don’t forget to account for the value of your own time. 

Our Demolition Process

Demolition is a multistep process. In addition to protecting the surfaces surrounding our work area and creating dust barriers to minimize dust from going into other areas of the home, we install a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air scrubber and a HEPA vacuum system to remove airborne dust particles. 

We remove surface coverings and adhesives, as well as cabinets, tubs, shower inserts, toilets, drywall, framing, etc., as needed. Once all the unnecessary materials are removed, we thoroughly vacuum to get the space ready for tile substrate preparation.

Removing old floor and surface coverings can be challenging, but if you feel confident, able, and willing to do your own demo work, we will be happy to discuss our expectations with you. Just remember that DIY demo work will require your time, effort, and resources. By setting realistic expectations based on the information we have provided here, you can make an informed decision about your involvement in this part of your tile project.

by Alice Dean


Copher Tile & Stone proudly stays up to date on tile installation with ongoing education with Mapei Technical Institute, Ardex Academy, the National Tile Contractors Association, Laticrete, and Schluter. Copher is a Certified Tile Installer (#1644).

Do you want a quote for demolition and/or tile installation? Contact us online or call 805-286-7460. We are San Luis Obispo County’s preferred tile installation company, serving Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Los Osos, and Grover Beach.
Contact us today!