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How to Break Up Concrete

Last Updated: August 21, 2023

How to Break Up Concrete

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There is probably no material you’ll encounter that is tougher to break down and dispose of than concrete. This makes sense though. Concrete is designed to be durable, last a long time, and resist breaking down. Demolishing a concrete slab is hard work and can end up being expensive.

There are many scenarios where you might need to break up and dispose of concrete. You might be removing a retaining wall from your backyard, busting up an old driveway, tearing down a small building, or busting through your basement slab to install some plumbing for a bathroom.

Complications of Concrete Disposal

When concrete begins to crack, sink, or flake, it can quickly become an eyesore. Small cracks widen into deeper cracks, the surface can chip away, and chunks may loosen and fall off. This not only looks bad. It can also be a safety hazard. An uneven concrete surface can cause trips and falls, and cracks around the foundation of your home can allow water to seep in.

The tools needed for concrete demolition are not those you’d typically find in your garage or shed. Breaking up concrete needs some heavy-duty equipment, from a large sledgehammer to a powerful jackhammer.

Digging requires special precautions. You don’t want to cut through a power line, hit a gas line, or bust your sprinkler system piping. Before you begin your concrete excavation, you’ll want to ensure the area is free and clear of these types of obstacles.

Breaking up concrete is hard work. You need to be sure you are physically able to handle the stress of repetitive motion and the impact of a sledgehammer or jackhammer. While falls are the most common cause of construction injuries, demolition accidents rank right up there. Old concrete may also contain asbestos. If your slab is very old, get it tested before beginning demo work.

How to Break Up Concrete

There is no denying that breaking up concrete is hard and strenuous work. The best strategy for this type of job is a combination of the right tools and a good attitude toward hard work. These tips will help you get the job done in the easiest way possible.

An infographic detailing how to break up concrete properly
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1. Take the Proper Safety Precautions

Before you start working, gear up for safety. Safety googles are essential to protect your eyes from flying debris. Wear heavy-duty gloves and ear protection. Strap on a dust mask or respirator with an N95 rating or higher to avoid inhaling the fine concrete dust. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants of durable material and put on your steel-toed boots.

If you are working outdoors, be aware of the risk of heat exhaustion. Set up a canopy to provide some shade, drink lots of water, and take frequent breaks. Before operating any equipment, familiarize yourself with the proper operation of the machinery and learn how to quickly shut off the equipment if needed.

2. Evaluate the Concrete to Determine the Best Approach

The thicker the concrete, the more work it will take to break up and remove. Concrete slabs bigger than four inches require power tools like a jackhammer to get the job done. Break off some the concrete to check for rebar or wire mesh reinforcement so you can get the right tools. If you don’t have the tools you need, you can rent them from a home improvement store or construction equipment rental business.

3. Prepare for Demolition

Before you start your demo work, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig number. Don’t dig into the ground without knowing if there are utility lines underneath. In some places, you may need a permit for concrete excavation. Discuss your plans with your local municipal or county building department to determine any permitting needs.

4. Get the Best Tools for the Job

A thin slab can be broken up with a large sledgehammer. Wire mesh in the concrete is easily handled with a bolt cutter tool. But thick concrete requires heavy-duty tools. You can rent a jackhammer, but be sure to learn the proper technique for use to avoid injury.

If there is rebar in the concrete, you will need a heavy-duty bolt cutter, angle grinder, saw, or a specialized rebar cutter. To dispose of the concrete, you will need a sturdy wheelbarrow to take the pieces to your dumpster.

5. Break up Concrete With the Right Technique

The easiest way to start concrete demolition is to create a void under the slab. Undermine the concrete by digging out some of the surrounding dirt, moving under the slab to create a void. Or break up a small section of concrete and then stop to use a pry bar to create a void.

Start the demo near an edge and use a sledgehammer or jackhammer to crack the concrete. Move around the slab, trying to hit the concrete in a unique spot each time. Work across the slab in a grid pattern, breaking the concrete into pieces small enough to easily load into your wheelbarrow. If there is wire mesh or rebar, you’ll need to stop and cut through those at intervals across the slab.

6. Arrange for Removal and Disposal

The best way to dispose of your concrete is to use a concrete rental dumpster at your site. When calling to arrange for a dumpster rental, be sure to explain that you are disposing of concrete.

Since it is so heavy, you’ll want to avoid exceeding the weight limit of the dumpster, which can lead to overweight charges. With a dumpster on-site, you can dispose of the concrete pieces as you work. This keeps your work area clean and safe.

Work Safely to Prevent Injury from Concrete Demolition

Breaking up concrete is hard work, but doing it yourself can save you money. Be sure to have the right tools for the job, and always wear your safety equipment. This work goes much easier if you have a friend or two to help. Because it is very physical work, take lots of breaks and stay well hydrated during the day.

Be realistic about your ability to do this labor-intensive work. If it is beyond your limits, hire out the work to avoid injury and timeline delays.

Get a Low Price on a Dumpster for Your Concrete Disposal

Discount Dumpster is ready to partner with you to get rid of your old concrete in the easiest and most affordable way. We have experience in all kinds of jobs and can answer all your concrete disposal questions.

We’ll guide you with advice on how to break down concrete for responsible disposal in a concrete dumpster. You’ll also get the lowest prices in the area on a dumpster rental for your project. Call us today to get a free quote and arrange for fast delivery to your home or job site!

Call to Reserve Your Concrete Dumpster Today! - (888) 316-7010

About Monica Mayhak

I am an expert content writer with a depth of experience in the waste management and dumpster industry, with over 25 years of experience writing about construction, home improvement, property management, and education topics. As lead research writer for Discount Dumpster, I have expanded my knowledge and understanding of waste management, construction, and environmental issues over the past several years.

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