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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Demolition Party: A DIY Bash

Having friends over for tear-down work before a remodeling project

can save money -- and also lead to personal injury and property damage.

by Michelle Hoffman, Special to The Times

ARNIE AND LILY RICHARDS have helped plenty of friends move or complete minor remodeling projects over the years. So when the couple needed to demolish the concrete patio of their Downey home to make room for a larger kitchen and dining-room addition, they didn't mind asking for help by throwing a demolition party.

"We had to remove the concrete anyway," said Lily Richards, 51, a project administrator for Mattel. "So we thought we might as well have a demolition party while waiting for the plans to be approved by the city."

With party invitations sent, Arnie Richards, 58, purchased beer, sodas, snacks, food and several sledgehammers and rented one jackhammer. And on the day of the party, the couple, along with six friends, had a light lunch and got to work.

The Richardses, who hosted their party in 2001, were ahead of their time, according to Eric Schotz, president and chief executive of LMNO Productions, which produces HGTV'S "Over Your Head," a show that focuses on homeowners looking for help with botched renovation projects. "The summer party of this year is going to be a demolition party," said Schotz, adding that producers are currently working on a possible new show tentatively titled "House Party," based on alcohol-free demolition parties, for HGTV. "This is clearly a trend."

The idea of a community barn-raising is not a new one. Historically and culturally, people have come together to help build homes for years -- not that the results are always stellar. But experts say that for homeowners looking for ways to save money on renovations, this hybrid barn-raising complete with invitations, food, party favors, decorations and power tools is gaining popularity.

Retailers are acknowledging the interest. Home Depot has offered a clinic on do-it-yourself parties that target women, according to Western division regional communications manager Sherry Caraway. And Lariayn Payne, vice president of marketing for online party-planning service Evite, said the number of remodeling-event customers who sent formal invitations rose nearly 40% in the second quarter last year over the same period two years ago, the latest periods for which statistics are available.

In addition to harnessing the power of like-minded people during these events, Schotz said, people who have fears about remodeling work can find comfort, support and experience when they're part of a group project.


Jim Vanderveen got the idea to host his demolition party when his contractor suggested the homeowner could save some money on construction by removing an old covered patio from the back of his house himself. Vanderveen, a 44-year-old computer programmer, hosted the party in April 2007.

Eight people showed up, and the event was such a hit that Vanderveen has hosted two more since -- one to strip the roof framing off his two-bedroom, two-bathroom Sacramento home and another to remove the entire back wall of the house to allow for a 1,100-square-foot addition.

"I have a lot of friends who want to get their hands dirty and get some experience," Vanderveen said.

Still, if you're considering having a demolition party, Vanderveen cautioned, have a good understanding of the project and skill levels for everyone involved. And put safety first.

"As the host of one of these events, you need to be the lead safety person," Vanderveen said. "Know your friends' capabilities and make sure they don't take on something they are not comfortable with or capable of handling."

So do some research before hosting one of these events. Arnie Richards, an engineer and experienced do-it-yourselfer, consulted with a city building inspector and got safety information before he and his wife hosted the party.

"This isn't brain surgery," he said. "Many of these things can be done without professional help, but you do have to read and research the information before getting started."

Richards, who purchased goggles and gloves and other safety gear for party guests, said guests and hosts should be aware of potential dangers.

"I bought goggles so someone didn't end up with a piece of concrete in their eye," he said. "But liability issues and safety weren't a big concern for me because we are all friends, and we were just breaking up a patio."

Vanderveen said the potential effect of someone filing a claim on his homeowners insurance related to the party was not a major issue for him. "I would just feel awful if one of my friends got hurt," he said.

Although one bad demo-party moment might ruin a friendship, Andrew Fodo, an attorney with the law offices of Los Angeles-based Carl D. Barnes, said if someone gets injured during one of these parties, the host could be liable. "There are all kinds of claims that could come from one of these events," Fodo said. "Homeowners insurance covers negligence. But the guests, knowing the event is inherently dangerous, might assume some of the risk. And the insurance company might deny the claim, which would mean the homeowner is exposed for any damages."

Plus, Fodo noted, "there's the whole issue of whether this kind of event is covered within the terms of your insurance policy because you are actually sponsoring an event that substantially increases the risk to your insurance company. So people doing this might be well advised to buy specialized insurance just for the event or have people sign a waiver, like a guest list, at the door."

Even with educated caution, demolition work can be dangerous. And that danger is compounded when alcohol is involved.

Schotz said parties on the show are alcohol-free. "This isn't an alcohol party. We are trying to promote the idea that if you act smart, you can really learn something during these parties," he said.

Vanderveen's demo parties, which included invitations and each ran about four hours, also were alcohol free.

"We don't mix power tools and cocktails," he explained.

Neither does Lily Richards. There was beer served at her demo party, but "we weren't drinking and working at the same time. We had a beer when it was time to eat, but there was no drinking while people were working," she said. "We have very responsible friends."


Remodeling-related injuries are on the rise, according to Lara McKenzie, an assistant professor with Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy at Ohio State University.

McKenzie, senior author on a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2007, said that from 1990 to 2005 ladder-related injuries increased 50% over the previous 16-year study period. And more than 97% of those injuries occurred in non-occupational settings.

In April 2007, researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that the number of do-it-yourselfers treated each year for nail-gun injuries in U.S. hospital emergency rooms more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, increasing to about 14,800 per year.

Marc Taub, medical director for the emergency department at Laguna Hills Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, said the fact that homeowners are having demolition parties is a cause for concern.

"Even highly trained professionals using the best safety gear get injured," Taub said. Smashed thumbs, sawed-off fingers, electrical burns, chemical exposure and broken bones from ladder falls are common injuries for professional contractors, he added.

"If someone were to be involved with one of these demolition parties, they might be placing themselves and their guests at risk for those same types of injuries," Taub said. "I think any potential benefit you could get on cost savings or the hope of having fun with your friends would be eclipsed by the dangers."

But don't consider just the risk on the day of the job, experts say. Consider the long-term implications of a future fire or a collapse that may result from physical damage done to a structure during a party.

Chapel Hill, N.C., contractor Chuck Solomon, who created, a referral network founded in 2006 to link homeowners nationwide with contractors, recommends hiring a contractor to help oversee a demolition party.

Pro may be the way to go

In the long run, the cost to hire a professional may be less than the cost of using inexperienced labor, said Los Alamitos handyman Paul Maceyka, owner of a House Doctors handyman franchise.

Maceyka has taken several calls from homeowners facing post-demolition-party disasters. One couple who had recently installed a new tile floor in the kitchen hosted a remodeling event.

"But one of the guys helping with the painting ran out of hose and thought it was stuck on something. He pulled the hose and spilled the 5-gallon bucket of paint all over the kitchen floor. We had to go in and remove the grout and replace it," he said. "It probably cost them about $4,000 to fix the mess they made during the party."

The risks are real, but homeowners say that using friendly labor has financial benefits.

Vanderveen estimated that his trio of demolition parties has saved him $4,000 to $6,000 in remodeling and contractor fees. And Arnie Richards said his party saved him $900, or about one-third the cost of hiring help.

"I could have saved more money if we had served hot dogs," Richards said, "but we had spareribs instead."

Michelle Hofmann can be reached at michellehofmann

15821 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 320, Encino CA 91436 / 818.380.8000

(Dave Wheeler)

May 9, 2008