Demolition is the dismantling, razing, or wrecking of a complete building or any space within it in a safe, pre-planned, and controlled manner. Contrary to popular belief, demolition is not as simple as swinging a wrecking ball. The reality is that demolition can be very complex and dangerous, requiring meticulous planning, highly competent professionals, and the use of specialized equipment.
In this article, we address demolition from the perspective of a commercial space that is being renovated — and not the explosive demolition of an entire building. Commercial demolition is not as expensive or time-consuming as the process of imploding a complete building, of course, but does come with its own set of requirements. Below are the steps from start to completion we use at Cicero Construction Group.
Pre-Demolition: Developing the Plan
Demolition plans are documents that lay out exactly what is to be demolished, how it is to be taken down, how debris is to be disposed of, and how safety will be maintained on the jobsite. A well-drafted demolition plan helps to communicate with stakeholders on a project, creating a clear understanding of what demolition activities will be taking place in certain areas at certain times.
The initial step in a demolition plan is a survey documenting the type of space being demolished, such as its size, its structural supports, and its location. At this stage, our team will likely need to open walls to gain access to electrical, HVAC, gas lines, and plumbing for informational purposes. A survey will also identify hazardous materials that may be disturbed by the demolition. Specialized personnel will be called upon to remove any dangerous materials before demolition, such as asbestos, radioactive substances, flammable materials, and petroleum contamination.
Next, the plan will outline the demolition scope of work, including where and when demolition work takes place, the personnel involved, and their specific responsibilities. Drawings and construction notes will indicate the sequence of events from shutting off utilities to carting off debris.
Following this, a health and safety assessment is conducted. It will document the methods for limiting noise, dust, and vibration that may cause undesired side effects to those within the vicinity of the demolition space. Methods will vary greatly depending on whether the commercial space to be demolished is in a fully occupied building or a vacant one, especially applying to the available hours of demolition and the types of equipment involved in the demolition. Our onsite workers are advised of any potential hazards such as flammable materials and exposure to noise and dust and are required to wear OSHA-mandated PPE. Cicero Construction also secures the proper permits.
Lastly, there is the waste management plan. Once demolished, all debris and rubble must be safely removed. Demolition waste can include everything from wood, steel, concrete, and gypsum, to masonry, plaster, metal, and asphalt. It is not unusual to have toxic substances in demolition waste like contaminated containers, varnish, mercury, resins, treated wood, lead-based paint, adhesives, and caulk. Very likely there are legal restrictions on the local or state level regarding their disposal. Also, some items from the demolished space can be potentially salvaged or recycled. For instance, during a hotel renovation, there will be leftover beds, drawers, chairs, and televisions that can be donated to a homeless shelter instead of sent to a landfill.
Once the plan has been developed, the actual demolition process can begin. This typically involves the use of heavy machinery and specialized equipment. In some cases, the space may be carefully dismantled piece by piece, while in others it may be brought down in a more dramatic fashion using jackhammers or an excavator with shears, crushers, and hammers. The goal is to select the safest and most efficient demolition method that stays within budget.
Commercial demolition costs vary greatly. For especially large projects, demolition costs per square foot may fall slightly, while the abatement of asbestos, lead, or other hazardous materials will significantly increase costs. Hauling, landfill, and dumpster rental are other variables in the overall cost of demolition.
Demolition can be thought of as construction in reverse. Just as there is a science to construction, there is a science to demolition.