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Everything You Need to Know About Breaking Up Concrete

When concrete surfaces are too weathered and cracked to repair, it may be time to break them apart and start fresh.

By Abbey Hughes| Last Updated: 06/22/2022
A metal hammer near broken pieces of concrete.

How to Remove Concrete at Your Home or Business

As resilient as concrete seems, it’s not immune to damage from erosion, weather and the passing of time. If you notice cracks in your walkway, patio or driveway, it’s best to address it sooner rather than later. Damaged concrete can become uneven over time, creating potential tripping hazards and unsightly rocky debris.

Lighter, surface-level cracks can be mended with fresh concrete, but if the damage is deep, it’s time to tear the concrete out and make a clean slate.

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Adam Toporowski, Specialty Trade Account Manager | Dumpsters.com

“Safety precautions that should be taken into account are all OSHAA guidelines including safety glasses, earplugs, and heavy-duty work gloves. In addition, steel-toed boots may help to protect your feet.”
 

Before You Start Your DIY Concrete Removal

There are a few important precautions to take before you get cracking with your concrete removal project.

  • Assess how thick the concrete is. If it’s more than 4 inches thick or reinforced by wire mesh or rebar, you’ll most likely need power tools to break it. Otherwise, hand tools like sledgehammers and pry bars should be sufficient.
  • Call your utility companies before breaking any concrete on your property to ensure there are no cables or gas lines underneath.
  • Check if the concrete is connected to the foundation. If so, it will need to be separated before you start.
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Adam Toporowski, Specialty Trade Account Manager | Dumpsters.com

“Concrete has a number of telltale signs that it is time for removal. Some of these include the obvious cracking and chipping. Additional signs can include warping and uneven blocks. If the concrete has a finish on it, another sign could be the fading and discoloration of that finish.”
 

How Much Does Concrete Removal Cost?

Breaking up concrete costs between $1,500 and $2,500, according to the national average. However, concrete removal project expenses can vary depending on square footage, the thickness of the slabs, whether or not you hire outside labor and whether or not the concrete is reinforced, among other factors.

Power tool rental is also a potential expense to consider. Rental rates for jackhammers and pneumatic breakers can vary widely depending on the local tool retail options available to you.

Removing slabs of concrete may seem like a daunting task, but the right plan and the correct tools make it a manageable process. If you’ve made the necessary preparations, concrete removal is a simple matter of gathering your tools, assessing the site, breaking the surface apart and cleaning up the fragments.

Tools You’ll Need to Break Up Concrete

As mentioned above, your specific situation may call for different tools in order to break up the concrete on your property. These are the basic tools for most projects.

Concrete Breaking Tools and Equipment

Necessary tools

Safety Gear

Sledgehammer

Heavy-duty gloves

Pry bar

Safety goggles

Bolt cutters

Heavy boots

Jackhammer (for thicker concrete)

Dust mask

Wheelbarrow

Hearing protection

Shovel

Plastic sheeting

Mattock or pickaxe

How to Break Up Concrete Slabs in 4 Steps

Now that you’ve assessed the project area and you have your tools assembled, it’s time to get started.

Step 1: Make Space Underneath the Concrete, If Possible

Create space underneath the slab to remove the cushion that could otherwise absorb your blows and make it more difficult to break the concrete. Use your shovel to dig underneath the slab from the side and pry the concrete off the surface underneath once you’ve started making cracks. This is called “undermining.”

A raised slab of sidewalk with dirt underneath it.
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A man in work boots and jeans using a yellow jackhammer to break concrete.

Step 2: Put the Hammer to Work

Start by hitting the concrete with the sledgehammer near the edge of the slab. Strike different parts of the surface to create more cracks. Let gravity do as much work for you as possible.

If your project calls for a jackhammer or similar heavy-duty breaking tool, hearing protection is heavily recommended – especially in enclosed environments. Jackhammers can be equipped with various points and tips. For breaking up concrete, a chisel point is the best option.

Hold the jackhammer at a slight angle with the tip pointed away from you to minimize the risk of the point getting stuck in the concrete.

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Safety Tip

This is a good time to lay down the plastic sheeting over the concrete to prevent fragments from flying away from the project site. A dust mask and goggles are also must-have safety items. Always lift the jackhammer with your legs to avoid back strain.

Step 3: Pull Apart Broken Sections

Use your pry bar or mattock to separate the broken sections of concrete. This is the best time to cut any wire mesh that’s present with your bolt cutters. Rebar reinforcement requires heavier cutting tools like a reciprocating saw or an angle grinder. Capitalize on large cracks to break sections into smaller pieces.

A man in red work gloves, pants and boots picking up broken sections of concrete
A blue dumpster with concrete debris.

Step 4: Clean Up the Rubble

After you’ve broken up and removed the concrete surface, it’s time to clean up. Put away or return tools you no longer need and sweep or pick up smaller concrete fragments, using caution around the former concrete slab location. If you had to shut off utilities before breaking the concrete, check with your provider to make sure it’s safe to reactivate them.

If you have holes to fill in your yard or driveway, the rubble could be used as a filling material. If the concrete cannot be used on your property, a roll off dumpster is a convenient way to get rid of heavy debris. Load fragments and chunks of broken concrete into a wheelbarrow to safely move them to the dumpster, taking care not to overload.

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Look Ahead to Your Next Outdoor Project

When you’re finished clearing the broken concrete, all you need to do is call to have your dumpster picked up. From there, you can hire a crew to pour new concrete or start planning your next outdoor project like a new stone walkway or brick patio.

Use your newfound concrete removal expertise to reimagine your outdoor spaces with some creative hardscaping.

Expert Contributors

Adam Toporowski Headshot

Adam Toporowski

As an Account Manager at Dumpsters.com, Adam works with clients to meet their waste removal needs. He collaborates with contractors and learns about their work sites and daily operations to coordinate deliveries, swap-outs and pickups as needed. Based in Cleveland, Adam has a diverse background with experience in manufacturing, logistics, distribution, project management and consulting.

 

What Do You Think?

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