Week 3 Journal: Demolishing the Bedroom Ceilings (VIDEO)

by on Jun 21, 2012

The Curbly House: Week Three Journal (VIDEO)The first week of demolition on the Curbly House went so smoothly, you kind of had to expect things would get worse in week two. And worse they did get. Read on to watch my weekly video journal and learn how not to take apart a ceiling.

As you (may) know, we’re remodeling our hundred-year-old Dutch Colonial in hopes of getting it ready for us to move in this summer with our new baby (due mid July!). After finding a lot of structural problems in the first floor framing (see last week’s post if you missed it) I had a hunch we’d find some things wrong on the second floor too, so we decided to take out the ceilings in the front two bedrooms upstairs.

Here’s what they looked like before:

Ceilings before demolition started

When we demolished the first floor, we did it pretty carefully, and in layers. First we removed the plaster, then we pulled off all the lathe. This is the ‘right’ way to demolish a plaster ceiling or wall, in part because it makes cleanup easier, but also because it allows you to separate plaster and wood (and possibly recycle the wood). 

But it was also kind of time consuming, so for the second floor, we decided to try another approach: removing the plaster and lathe together. Since we had access to the attic, we could just climb up there and bust down through the ceiling with shovels, sledgehammers, or whatever else happened to be with grabbing range. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is some therapeutic value in demolition.

Demolition Man!

Unfortunately, we misjudged just how much insulation was sitting on top of those ceilings. It just looked like a few inches, but once we started breaking through it piled up quickly. Before long we had filled the first bedroom almost waist-high with a horrid mix of plaster, lathe and decades-old cellulose insulation. It was gross.

"A Ceiling demolished for renovation"

Rubble crumpling in the bottom of a room.

It was, indeed, a faster way to demolish a ceiling. But demolition is only half the battle. After that, you have to clean up your mess. And this approach made cleaning up much, much slower. Our slurry of mixed materials was impossible to shovel, vacuum, or sweep. There was really no good way to get rid of it. In the end, the only technique that worked was to lay down big tarps, push the debris onto them (by hand, mind you), and then carry those to the dumpster one by one. 

The first bedroom took us two days to demolish and clean up. After that, it was clear we couldn’t follow the same approach on the second bedroom. And given how slow things were going, I decided to change plans and leave the bathroom, third and fourth bedroom ceilings alone (they were in better shape anyway, and weren’t covered in ceiling tiles).

So for the second bedroom ceiling, we started by carefully (and painstakingly) clearing all the insulation off (moving it to the other side of the attic) before tearing into the plaster. This worked much better. We took off the plaster, then the lathe, and clean up was a cinch (ok, relatively speaking).

A man works at the window of a room filled with used planks.

Once the ceilings were gone, my suspicions were confirmed: the attic joists (they’re actually called ‘collar-ties’) were in terrible shape. They were only two-by-fours to begin with (way undersized for the fifteen-foot spans they were covering), and many were sagging badly, or even cracked all the way through. 

Wooden pieces are built with some gaps.

We’ll go through and fix them all up, and the end result will be a much sturdier, flatter (and higher) ceiling.

Also this week, our electrician started pulling wires on the first floor and cutting in new boxes for outlets and switches. Plus, we started work on getting a new 200 amp electrical panel put in (by drilling a 3-inch hole through our 16-inch stone foundation).

Cutting in electrical outlets

It was a pretty hard week (lots of nasty demo work), but sadly I’m not done yet. In order to keep things moving on schedule, I’ll be back in the house over the weekend to try to get the bathroom gutted. 

Check back next week to see how I did.


Hey, do you want to win a $20,000 home remodel? You won’t even have to tear out a ceiling (unless you want to)! Click here to find out how to enter HouseLogic’s Boost Your Roost home renovation giveaway (hint: entering is as easy as sending me an e-mail).


This is a post in the Curbly House series! Follow along as we document every step of our complete home makeover, from gutting the walls to putting up the finishing touches. And don’t forget to let us know what you think in the comments! 


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