Removal of existing flooring is one of those things that can go like a walk in the park—or like being caught in the perfect storm. I recently got a call from an installer doing removal of direct-glue carpet. He was having to cut the carpet into three-inch-wide strips and called to see if I knew anyone in North Dakota that had a scrape-up machine. (I got him a couple of names, and I hope he was able to find a machine—let me know what you ended up doing, Troy.)

On a commercial project I’m consulting on, a floor preparation team with state-of-the-art machines and dust containment is contracted to remove the existing 6” by 6” tile, set on a concrete slab. Should be a walk in the park, right? Not! Even they are having a difficult time with the removal of tile. Instead of just hopping on the ride-on machine, they are having to use rotary hammers first and remove every other row so the ride-on machine doesn’t get overworked (Photo 1). They were expecting to remove more square footage each night but were having a difficult time meeting their quota. This just goes to show that no matter what you have for removal tools, removal can still be a challenge.

Dust containment is always an issue; polyethylene (plastic) sheeting should be used on every job (Photo 2). Extension poles and Zip Walls are well worth the investment. We had a removal job that was on a second story and were contracted to remove the gypsum-based pour and plywood subfloor in the living room. It had been damaged when firefighters, responding to a fire in the unit below, doused the second-story condominium with water.

Rather than hauling all the gypsum and plywood subfloor down the stairs, we opted to construct a slide and set it up outside of a window and place it in our dump trailer (Photo 3). This allowed less physical work as well as speeding up the overall disposal process.

A corrugated steel panel with 2x4s fastened on the sides made up the slide, which protected the exterior of the building and placed the debris right inside the trailer. We couldn’t get our trailer on the back side of the condo where the removal was, so we had to figure a way to get to the front of the condo to get rid of the debris without creating a mess through the kitchen and family room. We placed drop cloths down over the floor and used a Zip Wall system to keep dust down to a minimum and removed the screen from a window (Photo 4).

When removing flooring in a kitchen, you generally don’t have a lot of room to maneuver equipment without the risk of damaging the cabinets. We use hardboard (Masonite) to protect cabinets and appliances. After it was cut to size and fastened with duct tape to hold boards to each other (Photo 5), one of the guys set up poly sheeting and hardboard.

More and more we are seeing flooring that had been installed under cabinets and islands needing to be removed for new flooring. A toe kick saw does a great job of cutting wood or underlayment next to cabinets. If you have ever used a toe kick saw, you probably found out it can also cause some damage to the face of a cabinet or toe kick. When possible, we try to remove the toe kick veneer and then replace it after cutting away the existing flooring, or we may even wait until the new flooring is installed (depending on the type of flooring we’re installing).

Another trick we have found that works great is a piece of tin. We place this next to the cabinet and then run the toe kick saw along the tin. It’s thin enough yet strong enough that your toe kick saw can get right up to the face without damage (Photos 6-7). If you’re having to cut tile, a grinder with a continuous rim diamond blade can be used right up next to the tin also.

Don’t forget to wear proper protective equipment when removing flooring. Safety glasses, proper respiratory protection, and gloves are a must. Here’s wishing you all a walk in the park with your flooring removal jobs!