Tearing Down the Shed

Demolition is not for the faint of heart.

Ever since I became a happy homeowner last December, people have been teasing me about the “joys of home improvement” — which is basically just code for “lots of money and work and very little joy.”

For months, though, I had yet to experience this personally. The only home improvements I had undertaken were enjoyable, simple things like painting and installing blinds and making my house prettier and better organized. Nothing ever took Hubby and me more than a day to finish, the results were immediate, and I was happy as a clam.

And then there was the shed demolition.

Our backyard had two sheds. One of them is very nice. The other, built in 1976 and left to rot and decay ever since, was an utter safety hazard. Instead of making any effort to fix the damage — which was probably caused by debris, snow, and ice on the shed’s flat-top roof — the previous owners built a brand new shed a foot away from it, letting the old one slowly rot from the inside out for several decades.

Guess which hapless homeowners would be the ones to take care of the problem?

Home inspections don’t cover freestanding structures like sheds, so we had to investigate both of them ourselves. The bad shed, covered in faded vinyl siding, didn’t look so awful from the outside, but the decay was obvious as soon as we got the doors open. Everything inside had completely rotted and become covered with mold. Huge mushrooms grew up through holes in the floor. The whole thing groaned violently when any weight was put on it at all.

The shed wasn’t a big enough eyesore to keep us from buying our house, but Hubby and I always knew the day would come when we would need to take care of it. We let the winter roll by, and then it was time to get to it before spring encouraged more vegetation to grow in the shed’s skanky interior. I rented a jumbo Dumpster (the biggest we could find), my parents bought face masks and work gloves, and Hubby stocked up on barbecue and pizza. On a drizzly morning in March, our work began.

Before we could destroy the waterlogged mess, we had to empty it out. The original owners, in addition to leaving it to rot, also left all of their stuff (like, say, a 30-year-old bucket of tar and paint cans and tables and huge rusty shelves) inside of it. So I stepped inside to help lift out a table.

I promptly fell right through the floor, scraping a nasty bruise up my leg and requiring Hubby to help fish me out of the hole. I’m still not sure how we managed to get everything out of that shed without killing ourselves.

In slow marches back and forth across the lawn, we filled our two wheelbarrows to the brim and heaved them into the Dumpster. Once the shed was emptied out and the siding was crowbarred off of the structure, we tackled the wooden walls — which had rotted out so badly that I was able to take down whole sections just by pushing on them with my hands. For the tougher stuff, Dad and Hubby and I used sledgehammers with great success.

With most of the walls down and just the support beams remaining, though, we realized that we had a problem. The roof was still intact, and there were a lot of things that could go wrong. A foot behind lay the neighbor’s fence and yard, a foot to the left lay our other neighbor’s fence and yard, and a foot to the right lay our nice shed, which housed our Christmas decorations and brand new ride-on lawnmower. We needed to demolish without destroying the rest of the yard.

That’s when Dad pulled out the chainsaw.

The original plan had involved my father climbing onto the ladder (which, by the way, was leaning on the very building we were trying to take down) and cutting into the roof itself, but my mother’s good common sense prevailed and he decided on another approach. He would saw across the wall supports in a few key places instead, hoping that would cause the shed to buckle and fall in on itself.

Unused for years, the saw took a while to get started, but after several tries it ripped to life in a blaring buzz and a cloud of smelly smoke. Hardhat and safety goggles in place, Dad went to town on the back wall, which looked to be the only thing keeping the whole structure together. In just a few deft slices across the beams, it was ready to go. Yelling for us to stand back, Dad gave the ragged wall a push and jumped back. The whole roof collapsed, landing perfectly in the outline of the shed and colliding with none of its surround obstacles.

It was about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

The fun ended shortly thereafter. Once the cool demolition was out of the way, we had two days left of hauling soggy rubble to the Dumpster, which eventually necessitated climbing into the Dumpster — and braving the nails and splinters — to rearrange everything so it would all fit. Being a short woman, getting back out was also no picnic for me; both my father and husband had to help haul me over the wall.

There was also the matter of the one corner of the shed that was not rotted through, and the doorway that was attached to it. Somehow, it ended up involving a bizarre maneuver wherein Hubby held the weight of the entire doorway over his head, Atlas-like, while Dad wailed on the rest with his sledgehammer.

But now, with the Dumpster finally, finally closed up and hauled away, the nasty old shed is no more. All that remains is a square muddy patch, still containing chunks of wall and roof here and there, waiting to begin its new life as a vegetable garden. After all, it was fertile enough for mushrooms and mold to thrive there — maybe carrots and flowers can too.

Article © 2009 by Molly E. Weeks