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So, you want to gut a house?

Good. Let's review what this process actually entails, starting with a simple definition and moving on to the harder stuff later.

Gut is used here as a transitive verb, referring to the act of removing or destroying the most important parts of an object or being. Ironically, this word seems to imply the removal of the vital organs which the word "guts" normally refers to. So, you can repair a man's gut, or you can gut a man. The first action heals him, the second will probably kill him.

In the case of gutting a house, the procedure is usually undertaken for two reasons:

  1. The house has been damaged in some way which makes it unsanitary or extremely unpleasant to live in. This problem is most often seen in flood zones, and accounts for many of the 200,000 unlivable homes left in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In order to make a flooded home habitable, the house must be gutted to remove mold living in walls, ceilings, and floorboards.
  2. The house has been somehow damaged in an area normally hidden by a wall. This doesn't happen too often, and the gutting process is usually quite swift, as only a small section of wall must be removed.

This guide will mainly cover the first reason to gut a house, but can be applied to smaller jobs.

What You Need:

  1. Three foot long crowbar
  2. Hammer
  3. Large rolling trashcans
  4. Tile remover (flat blade at the end of a long pole)
  5. Axe
  6. Work gloves
  7. Lots of dust masks
  8. Lots of water

Preparations

This is long, tiring work. From my experience, it takes a team of twelve people about a day to gut a seven room house. Depending on the house construction, and extent of mold damage, it might take up to three days to gut even a small house.

As with most long demanding tasks, the work goes easiest if each team member concentrates on a specific area and specific tasks. I recommend working with between one and three people in each room, with two other people doing miscellaneous cleanup, like removing debris, pulling nails, and sweeping.

Before you do any work, make sure that the house is completely free of furniture and carpets. Then, open all the windows you can find. Next, choose a large central room as your "base". This is a good place to keep extra tools and trashcans. Finally, make sure you have a good place to dump your trash outside. One of those big dumpsters works great.

Hitting Things With Heavy Bits of Metal

This is the fun part. Walk into a room. Choose a wall. Give that wall a few taps with your long crowbar/axe. Does the wall feel "solid", or hollow? If your tap returns a "solid" sounding echo, the drywall has been reinforced with horizontal strips of wood, nailed between studs about eighteen to twenty-four inches apart. These walls take a good deal of force to break through, so you'll need to use the axe. If your tap returns a more hollow echo, or the plaster actually dents from your tap, you've gotten lucky, and the drywall has not been reinforced. If you want to impress your friends, simply punch your fist into the wall, spread your hand, and pull back, removing a large section of moldy wall. Otherwise, just use the long crowbar.

Make your way around the room, removing every bit of wall that you find. If you're using an axe, this may take you a while. If you're using a crowbar, it probably won't take longer than half an hour.

Now, find the moulding (pretty trim wooden border) around the room's doors and windows. These bits of wood are filled with mold, and must be removed. Take hammer or appropriate end of crowbar, wedge between moulding and wall, and separate the two. Make sure you also get the wooden trim around the floor boards and ceilings. After removing the moulding and trim, knock away any drywall which is still standing.

If you've been removing debris as you work, you're probably almost completely done with this room.

Next step: remove each and every nail you find. I would suggest switching between hammer and crowbar for removing nails. Use the crowbar to reach nails above your head, and the hammer for everything else.

Congratulations! You have finished gutting one room of your house! If you're lucky, three to four other rooms have been gutted while you worked. Continue what you've been doing, and you should have the house completely gutted by the end of the day.

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