How to Remove Concrete Steps and Slabs

I read online garden and landscape forums from time to time. Seeing what questions homeowners post there gives me a little insight into what you all are thinking. It’s akin to reading Cosmo to better understand women back when I was single, except this actually works.

One question that comes up a fair bit is “how to I remove my concrete patio/steps/slab/etc?” Having removed dozens if not hundreds of tons of concrete while I was in the field, my personal choice is “hire someone else to do it.” If you’re dead set on doing it yourself, here’s what you do:

Assemble the right tools

When I was a kid, my dad had me demo the concrete stoop that was poured against the back of our house back in the 1950s. Since I was free labor and he was in no rush, he gave me a sledgehammer and told me to figure it out by the end of the summer. It kept me off the streets and out of trouble, and (little porkchop that I was) the exercise did a body good.

You’re a grownup, with grownup responsibilities and such, so you’ll want to be more efficient. You’ll need:

  • a long-handled sledgehammer
  • a jackhammer (an electric 60 or 70 pound jackhammer is available for cheap from most rental yards)
  • a long pry bar (aka a spud bar) or, at the least, a pick

You can also rent a 14″ demolition saw to cut the concrete into smaller pieces, but if you’ve never used one before…. they’re not called “widowmakers” because they tickle if you nick yourself.

Technique is everything

Every once in a while I do something really manly. It confuses the neighbors
Every once in a while I do something really manly. It confuses the neighbors

The goal is to get the concrete to crack, then connect the cracks to create manageable-sized chunks you (or a helper) can pry apart and discard. That’s it. You don’t need to pulverize the entire slab unless you’re planning to use it for fill. I usually pick a spot near an edge or corner and start jackhammering. Almost immediately, you’ll see a crack run across the surface and a piece will break off. Move the point of the jackhammer farther in by a foot or so and start jackhammering again until another piece breaks off. Just repeat this process until the entire slab has been reduced to small chunks you can toss around, occasionally clearing pieces out of the way. You may need your helper to use the pry bar to raise the slab from time to time so it cracks more easily.

What if there’s rebar or mesh holding it together?

Steel reinforcement can ruin your day. If it’s a mesh grid, you can break the concrete into chunks and then cut the mesh with bolt cutters. If it’s rebar, your best bet is to jackhammer the concrete off the rebar, or bring in a pro with a demolition saw to cut it up.

Getting rid of the concrete

If you need to fill in a big hole, you can break the concrete into small pieces and use it for fill. Some people like to break concrete patios into bigger pieces and call it “urbanite,” and use it for stepping stones or stacked retaining walls.

ConcreteDemo_09_2006 011
That chunk of telephone pole was IN my steps. You never know what you’ll find.

If you want it gone, the easiest thing to do is to rent a dumpster from a disposal company. Just be sure to find out how high you can load it, because concrete weighs more than most other jobsite trash. If you overfill a dumpster and they can’t load it on the truck, guess who gets charged extra AND has to take some of the concrete out? Hint: not me.

You may say, “I have a truck. I’ll just haul it to the landfill/transfer station myself.” If you have a small truck, like a Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma, DON’T do this. If you have a full-sized pickup, you can haul some concrete, but be very careful. A half-ton truck (Ford F150, Chevy Silverado 1500, Toyota Tundra) is wimpier than you might think.

If you have a truck that will tow a trailer and you’re comfortable driving with a trailer, you could rent a dump trailer from a rental yard. Just remember the same advice I gave above and don’t overload the trailer. Remember that just because your truck can PULL an overloaded trailer doesn’t mean it will safely STOP with an overloaded trailer. There’s nothing more terrifying than hitting the brakes and feeling a load behind you say “nope, I’m an object in motion and by golly, I’m staying in motion.”

Well that’s it. Once you know what tools to get and a little technique, removing concrete isn’t rocket surgery. Just be safe, and know your limits and the limits of your equipment.

And bend with your knees! That stuff’s heavy. Be safe!

 

Dave Marciniak is a landscape designer and speaker. He lives in Culpeper, Virginia and can be found via his website and on Twitter.

10 comments

  1. Damaris says:

    Hi! I was wondering if you could offer any advice about removing concrete steps on a cement slab (in a garage) without damaging the concrete floor? We’re trying to do this at the moment and using a sledge hammer seems to vibrating the floor WAY TOO MUCH. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • David Marciniak says:

      that’s a tough one. Are the steps part of the same pour as the slab? Only thing I can really think of would be to cut as much of it out as possible with a gas-powered demo saw and use a chisel or a hammer drill to clean up what’s left, but those saws are NOT something I recommend for the random homeowner. One of the masons I work with almost took his leg off when the saw kicked back on him. There are companies that just do demolition, even some that just do concrete demo. Worth looking for a local one.

  2. Jenna says:

    Hi,

    We have some steps in the back of our house that are falling apart on their own. They have cinder blocks or concrete blocks inside (with little or no mortar left) and brick on the steps. The sides have a stucco finish that we were told was meant for interior work. My question is: Can we remove them without a jackhammer? Also, is a sledgehammer effective in a demo of the brick?

    Am I kidding myself that this job does not seem too difficult, because the stairs are already falling apart?

    Thanks!!

  3. Daniel says:

    If your removing a large slab you could get an excavator with a concrete cutter or rock breaker attachment in if there is room of course.

    • David Marciniak says:

      Daniel, I don’t disagree, but this post has a bit more of a DIYer bent to it.

      And believe it or not, this is the most popular post on my blog. Highest traffic #s by a HUGE margin, you believe that?

  4. Karen says:

    My new truck does not fit in my garage, by 3′. The front of my garage has a raised section the width of the garage and about 3′ high. Could I have a section removed so that my truck will fit? I have a black truck, live in Arizona and the sun is brutal on vehicles.

    • David Marciniak says:

      Karen, hard to say without seeing it. I’d reach out to a local contractor on that one so they can evaluate the situation. We had a black car when we lived in Chandler so I feel your pain!

  5. Jean says:

    We had a new driveway poured 2 weeks ago. When backfilling the dirt where the forms were, I accidentally hit a corner with a steel shovel and a quarter size chunk of concrete broke off. Is this a sign of weak concrete?

    • David Marciniak says:

      Jean, probably not. Concrete is essentially a big gray chemical reaction and it’s continuing to harden for months after it’s poured. The corner’s a weak point, you probably caught it just right.

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