Except in real life it isn’t quite that easy or exciting—and I know this from personal experience.
When my husband and I purchased our first home, I was pumped to rip out the floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the pantry and replace them with more convenient open shelving. But since we wanted to preserve some of the cabinets’ structure, I couldn’t just smash everything.
Instead, our exciting demo day turned into a dull demo week—full of painstaking work to remove the cabinet doors without damaging anything. One by one, I stripped 45 screws (which had been painted over multiple times, making them even more difficult to remove). It felt like 45 hours. And that was just the first step.
By the time I was finished, I swore off demo day forever.
Apparently endless tedium isn’t the only part of demo day the TV shows gloss over. Here’s the reality TV myth—and the reality— behind this crucial step of home renovation. Consider yourself warned.
Doesn’t it always seem like Chip and Joanna Gaines are swinging sledgehammers through drywall in oddly clean rooms? It turns out, when you’re demolishing something, it creates a great big mess. And in real life, you’ve got to haul that pile of rubble out on your own.
And if you’re renovating your condo or co-op, prepare for even more of a fiasco.
“Packing out the debris and carting it outside can take at least two to three weeks in an apartment,” says Francis Toumbakaris, an interior designer in New York City and former contestant on Jonathan and Drew Scott‘s “Brother vs. Brother.” “You need to double-bag it, and make arrangements with the super to use the service elevator the whole day.”
On TV, it’s like it was never there. “You never see who carries the debris out,” Toumbakaris says.
Here’s a fun fact that may surprise you: Tearing out drywall and cabinetry is loud. And it isn’t unpleasant just for you.
“If you have neighbors and you are about to embark on a renovation, you have to do amazing networking and maybe send some nice emails,” Toumbakaris says.
Don’t forget to check your local noise ordinance, too. If you start too early or finish too late, you could face a fine—or at the very least, the ire of those living nearby. And even if you are working within the proper hours, you might want to keep your neighbors’ schedules in mind.
When he does renovations in New York City, Toumbakaris says he “always feels really bad for the people who live downstairs. It might be an elderly person or a Broadway actor who sleeps in until 10 a.m. It could be a very miserable period for them.”
No one on TV ever seems to acknowledge the sheer amount of cleaning required after demolition. Every strike of the hammer produces a snowstorm of dust. And if you have an older home with plaster walls, which are notorious for making a mess, it’s more like an avalanche.
“Sometimes the demo dust can get so overwhelming that a full face mask is required,” say Jaclyn Isaac, a decorator in Jersey City, NJ.
Expect to do a lengthy scrub of the space afterward—especially if you forgot to cover everything with tarp. And don’t be surprised if that still doesn’t do the trick: When we began renovating our 1950s bungalow, the plaster dust stuck around in tiny corners for eons.
TV makes it look like two people can tear down a few walls in an afternoon. But remember: The camera’s typically rolling only when the talent’s on set. And “work doesn’t stop when the camera shuts off,” Toumbakaris says.
What’s ultimately condensed into a short segment might take weeks in real life. Plus, the TV shows have the benefit of help—and lots of it.
“There are supporting crews all the time.” Toumbakaris says. “I am not going to demolish an apartment by myself. It’s impossible to renovate a kitchen in a day.”
There’s a recurring arc in most of these shows: A problem is discovered (oh no!). A plan is hatched (what shall we do?!). Finally, a convenient phone call is placed, and everything is A-OK.
But in real life, you might not have anyone to solve the problem—except yourself.
New Yorker Sara Gorelick was renovating her 1950s home when she discovered how difficult wallpaper is to remove.
“I tried every possible way to get it off,” she says. “After a few hours, I was only able to get a few inches off. By the end, we literally took the walls down to the studs and put up new Sheetrock.”
Ever noticed how Chip Gaines gets so giddy before a demo day?
“There is something about demolition that is very exciting for an audience,” Toumbakaris says. “People are smashing things, the hammer makes noise … there might even be a little blood. Producers put a big emphasis on anything that’s being hammered.”
But once you, the homeowner, start demolition, you might find it much less exciting. (See: stripped screws.) Unless you’re ripping out everything, studs to nails, you might find yourself dealing with finicky details for hours at a time.
When you’re working on a TV timeline, decisions must be made quickly. Want a backsplash? You have two days to decide. New sink? Get it done now.
In real life, prepare to spend a long time on each decision.
“I have clients who went through 25 different faucets when we designed their kitchen,” Toumbakaris says. “On TV, you have to pick the damn faucet because it needs to get installed in five minutes.”
Home renovation shows provide fodder for design inspiration. But don’t take everything they say literally—or demolition day could end up disappointing you.