So I just finished a 3 day job which included the removal of a concrete foundation, originally built to hold a car garage, and just as I started to write about the job, and how the job went, I had a light bulb moment and thought it best to explain the best ways to break up a concrete base yourself, instead of paying us professionals to do the work for you! This will apply for a shed base, concrete foundation or any other concrete type slab in the garden.
How hard is it to break up a concrete base?
This really depends on 2 factors as followed:
- Does your concrete have reinforced metal rods within the concrete base?
- Is your concrete slab deeper than 4 inches?
If the answer to any of the above questions is YES, then you will most likely need power tools, but the good news is that even if power tools are needed then the cost of these are probably less than what you might think, and will still save you money compared to paying labor costs for a professional landscaper or builder to complete the work for you. If the answer to any of the above questions is NO then you will likely be able to break up the concrete slab by using nothing but a sledge hammer!
In theory, providing that steel rods haven’t been used to reinforce the concrete (not likely in the most standard back garden concrete foundations) then breaking up the concrete really isn’t that hard at all. And on the off chance that steel rods have been used, then these would more be a nuisance as opposed to hard work.
How to break up a concrete slab with hand tools
In my experience, the only tool good enough to break concrete by hand is by using a sledge hammer, and not a light one either! The weight of sledge hammer we use for this work weigh 14lb, available from most DIY stores. How ever, it’s important to note that this won’t work on deep concrete, I’d say anything over 4 inches. We’ve actually had a handful of concrete removal jobs in the past where we have actually chosen the sledge hammer over the electric breaker as it saved us a huge amount of time. By using the breaker, we were only remove small pieces at a time, but the sledge hammer was cracking the concrete in all directions, allowing us to pick the broken bits out by hand.
How to break up concrete using power tools
The only power tool you can really use when breaking up a concrete slab or foundation would be an electric breaker. The one we use is just a cheap Titan breaker purchased from Screwfix, no more than £200.00. I have actually written a review about it here if you’d like to have a look.
Any solid concrete foundation with a depth of 5 inches or more would need an electric breaker to break it up. I know that £200.00 might seem like a lot of money to spend for a one time job, but trust me when I say that this is a lot cheaper compared to paying a professional like myself to do the work!
My concrete foundation has reinforced rods, how do I break the concrete?
These rods are used to help reinforce the concrete slab and make it stronger. You wouldn’t usually need to worry about these if you are breaking up a standard shed foundation, concrete stamped patio or any other base that isn’t holding a substantial amount of weight. If however, your concrete base is holding a brick built shed, is used as a driveway (holding vehicles) or has any other heavy duty purpose, then there will be a good chance that the base is reinforced.
I’ll be honest, these can be a headache to remove since the breaker doesn’t go through steel. In fact, the only thing breakers are good for is breaking concrete! Even when we use them to remove old concrete posts when installing fence panels, we can see that the breaker will just bounce off the tree roots, doing no damage at all!
The way we work around this is to first start by breaking the concrete using the electric breaker, working in sections. When you can see enough of the steel rods, to then use a 9″ grinder to cut through the rods as you make your way round the concrete slab. We use a Macallister grinder, which I have wrote a review about here.
My advice to those that want to break up a concrete base themselves
If you are looking to save money, then spending £200 on a breaker and protective gear such as goggles and ear muffs will definitely be cheaper than paying professionals like myself. If you have a sledge hammer handy, why not give it a wack and see if it’s thin enough to break?
Breaking the concrete isn’t necessarily hard (providing that it’s not reinforced), but what is harder, or at least more time consuming, is how you get rid of the waste when your finished. Don’t forget that you will most likely need to hire a skip (which the professional would have added onto their fees anyway) but there will need to be 2 of you to lift the wheel barrow up and into the skip. If doing it on your own, you will likely need to shovel the concrete out of the wheel barrow, taking a lot of time. The largest skip we can get for concrete is an 8 yard, so be sure to check with your local skip hire company to make sure that there are no problems when the driver comes to collect.
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