How to Break up Concrete (2024)


November 10, 2023
Builder worker with pneumatic hammer drill equipment breaking concrete at floor

Removing a concrete slab by breaking up the concrete is just a matter of having the necessary tools. If you’re up for a little hard work, doing the project yourself could save you significant money. On the other hand, hiring a professional guarantees the job is done correctly and provides a more stress-free experience. We’ll walk you through how to break up concrete below so you can decide if you want to take on the task yourself or hire a pro.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Breaking up Concrete

Before beginning any do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement project, it’s always a good idea to map out the steps. Working with concrete, whether outside or inside, requires forethought, safety gear (such as safety goggles), and various tools.

1. Prepare

Contact your local permits and inspections office or a similar local department because you may need a permit to remove concrete. If your local government finds out you did unsanctioned work, you may have to pay a fine, which could impact your future ability to sell your home.  

Next, call 811, which is the national call-before-you-dig number. Your county or parish will send someone to scan the area for utility lines. When you see spray paint marks on the ground, you’ll know someone has completed the scan.

After you know it’s safe to work, you’re ready to clear the area of any obstructions. You don’t want anything nearby that might affect your range of motion, may get damaged, or could be dangerous. Depending on your work area, this step may feel like an unnecessary headache, but doing the job safely and efficiently is essential.

Lastly, get your gear ready. Before you do anything, ensure you have all the appropriate safety gear and tools. Eye protection, a safety mask, safety gloves, knee pads, and a hard hat are all essential. 

Required Tools and Materials

Here’s a quick list of tools you’ll need for your project. 

Tools and Materials That May Be Needed

2. Dig Under the Concrete

If you’re working outside, and your landscaping allows for it, try to loosen the soil beneath the old concrete with either a shovel or pickaxe. The more give beneath the concrete, the easier it is to break once force is applied. You may just need to do this once to get started, but you may also have to return to this step periodically as you break the concrete into smaller pieces.

3. Break up the Concrete

Concrete slab removal strategies depend on your slab type and whether rebar or wire meshes were used. Below, we talk about how thick you can expect your concrete slab to be and which tools you’ll likely need for several projects. 

Regardless of where your project is, there will be lots of dust and flying particles. To minimize dust contamination, seal off the working area by hanging plastic sheets over doors or windows. Sprinkling water over the working area also helps minimize airborne particles. 

A concrete grinder is a good option if you want to simply remove a thin layer to repair cracked concrete. Resurfacing may be the best option if you’re just trying to fill in small hairline cracks. Learning how to make concrete and leveling a new concrete floor are relatively easy projects.

4. Pry up the Remaining Chunks

Once you’ve cracked up the concrete and cut through rebar or wire mesh, it’s time to pry it up. A crowbar, pry bar, or wrecking bar are all good options, but the more leverage, the better. You can purchase digging bars as tall as 72 inches at Lowes. When used with a pivot point/fulcrum, this gives you more lifting power.

5. Dispose of Broken Concrete

Take your broken concrete to a landfill, but remember that it’s quite heavy. Even if you have a truck, the weight may be too much for its axles. Check the truck’s specifications to see how much weight the axles can bear. You can always carry the concrete to the landfill via a trailer or multiple trips with smaller loads.

Can You Break Up Concrete Yourself?

Yes, it is possible to break up concrete yourself. A sledgehammer, jackhammer, or rotary hammer should all suffice. The most difficult aspect of removing concrete isn’t breaking the concrete. It’s cutting through the rebar or wire mesh. Cutting can be the most time-consuming aspect of the entire project, but if you skip it, the chunks of concrete will likely be too large and heavy to remove.

Regardless of the tool you use, cutting concrete is physically demanding. All the tools mentioned (including the power tools) are quite heavy. If you have any back or joint issues, consider hiring a pro. Additionally, a professional concrete technician can complete the job faster and properly. If mishandled, concrete removal can lead to other structural or landscaping headaches. Hiring a pro guarantees peace of mind and a seamless transition.

Our Recommendation

Removing concrete can be a DIY job if you don’t mind a weekend of physically demanding work. The hardest part will probably be cutting through rebar or wire mesh reinforcements, but with the proper tools, the job is doable. 

However, we recommend hiring a pro. Not only is breaking up concrete demanding and difficult, but it can also lead to foundation problems and physical harm if done incorrectly. Our tool below connects you with reliable concrete professionals in your area.

Breaking Up Concrete FAQ

What is the best tool to remove concrete slab?

The best tool to remove a concrete slab depends on its thickness. If it’s over 4 inches, a jackhammer or rotary hammer would work well. A sledgehammer would be the best tool if it’s 3 inches or less.

How do you break up concrete without a jackhammer?

Use a sledgehammer or rotary hammer to break up concrete without a jackhammer. 

How do you remove concrete from a basement?

Remove concrete from a basement using a sledgehammer or jackhammer. Concrete basement slabs can be thin, so start with a sledgehammer and see if it’s doable. Because the slab may be thin, a jackhammer or similar device could pierce through the concrete and get stuck in the dirt below.