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The Demolition Industry – Methods, Equipment, and Dangers

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What is demolition?

Also known by other terms such as razing, wrecking, and tearing down, demolition is the process of destroying a man-made structure. Demolishing buildings has transformed into a very scientific process over the years, and new innovations in the industry are coming on a regular basis.

Many people think that demolition is an easy business, but this is far from the truth. It involves more than just swinging hammers, launching wrecking balls, and planting explosives. Industry experts must destroy buildings in the safest and most efficient way possible.

Serious planning must be made to avoid excessive costs, damage to surrounding properties, and potential injuries or death. It takes literally years of training for individuals to become part of a demolition team, and it takes years of experience to achieve expert status.

Types of structures razed

The process of destroying a family house is significantly different compared to demolishing a 5-story building, as it’s different from a 10-storey building, a hospital, or a bridge. Just to give you a preview, here are two examples of structures, and how they’re starkly different from each other.

Residential Houses

House demolition Residential houses are the most common structures being torn down. Older houses can be demolished for a variety of reasons. They can be torn down to make way for a complete renovation, or for building an all-new structure. For residential houses, manual demolition techniques, or the use of machines such as rams and bulldozers, are commonly employed. As they’re small-scale jobs, demolition of residential houses is often completed within a few days.

Commercial Buildings – Office Buildings, Factories, Hospitals, Warehouses

The demolition of commercial buildings is completely different from that of residential houses. This time, heavy machines such as cranes may be used. Advanced techniques such as weakening of supports and the use of explosives are employed for a quicker and safer demolition. Due to the steps involved (from planning to destruction), it can take anywhere from weeks to months to finish destruction of a commercial building.

Types of demolition methods

There are multiple techniques used for completing demolition jobs. Each of these techniques has its own advantages and disadvantages, so industry specialists normally pick the method they deem to be the most appropriate for a given job. Here are some types of methods currently available.

  • Manual

    – This is demolition in its most basic form. It’s executed by sheer manpower, with the help of some hand and power tools. There are some jobs wherein going manual is the safest and most practical method. The advantages of manual demolition include cost-effectiveness and use of minimal equipment. However, it’s less effective on large projects, as doing it manually may take too much time.

  • Wrecking ball

    – The wrecking ball is one of the first machine-based demolition techniques developed. Often done with the help of a crane or other form of heavy machinery, a wrecking ball delivers a massive amount of force to partially or totally destroy a building down to its foundational. Its advantages are that the wrecking ball is quick to use, and is effective where the use of explosives is not possible. Its main disadvantage is that it can damage other buildings, or ruin plans if used incorrectly.

  • Deliberate Collapse

    – This allows the building to collapse on its own, in a manner planned by the demolition team. It’s done by the strategic removal of structural elements, and applying controlled forces to facilitate the building’s collapse. Its main advantage is safety; it can cleanly and safely tear down a structure if done correctly. Its main disadvantage is that it takes elaborate planning to execute such a method.

  • Explosion / Implosion

    – This uses explosives to induce the collapse of a building. The advantage of this method is speed: you can blow a huge building to bits in a matter of minutes. It’s also safe, as long as people stay at a safe distance. Its main disadvantage is that it’s incredibly expensive. Also, careful planning must be done to prevent loss of life and damage to surrounding structures.

Demolition vs Deconstruction

While demolition and deconstruction are terms often used interchangeably, the two terms are different. While demolition entails the total destruction of a given structure, deconstruction preserves some parts of the structure as elements of a new structure about to take its place. More than the preservation element, deconstruction is starting to gain value in the industry because it’s seen as a more earth-friendly option. Waste materials going to landfills are reduced, plus emissions are significantly reduced.

Emergency Response

There are a number of situations wherein demolitions must be performed on an emergency basis. A building can be rendered unsafe by elements such as fire or flood. It’s also possible that the structure is deemed damaged beyond repair, and a danger to the safety of the occupants and the people and structures surrounding it. For such situations, emergency response experts are called into action.

What Is “Interior Demolition”?

Interior demolition is defined as the process of dismantling the space within a specific structure. Such a procedure keeps the framework of the building intact. This is often done in preparation for the upgrading of the structure’s interior space for remodeling or modernization purposes. It involves the removal of walls, ceilings, floorings, and utility equipment.

  • Selective Demolition

    – This can be done either inside or outside a building. It often entails the destruction of part of a building to facilitate a reconstruction. This process is done in such a way that it doesn’t compromise the entire building’s structure.

  • Strip-Outs

    – A strip-out is an alternative term used for selective demolition. This process prepares a building for renovation.

  • Gut-Outs

    – A gut-out is another alternative term. This commonly means that the interior components of the building are removed.

Types of Equipment and Usage

A wide range of equipment is used by demolition experts to complete different kinds of jobs. There’s no such thing as a “most appropriate” or “most effective” tool in this industry, as no demolition job is perfectly identical with another. Each of these tools is effective in its own unique way, and can be called upon when the particular demolition plan calls for it.

  • Bulldozers

    – A bulldozer is a machine used for pushing large quantities of material. This piece of heavy machinery is highly valuable for moving rubble and other loose materials left as residue from a demolition job. They can also be used for loosening the surrounding ground to make it easy for builders to commence rebuilding post-demolition.

  • Concrete Breaking Equipment

    – As the name implies, these machines are made for breaking concrete. The most classic form of concrete breaking equipment is the jackhammer. There are hand-operated jackhammers, and then there are concrete breaking machines equipped with massive jackhammers.

  • Crane

    – The crane is one of the most important pieces of heavy machinery found in the arsenal of demolition firms. A crane has an extra-long arm with a hoist rope. All kinds of tools can be mounted on the arm, from platforms to wrecking balls.

  • Elevated Work Platforms

    – Elevated work platforms are essential tools for demolition teams, especially when working on high-rise buildings. Such platforms allow workers to reach high places, facilitating fast demolition. In emergency situations, they can even be used to rescue trapped workers.

  • Excavators

    – An excavator is used for digging in a construction site. For demolitionists, this piece of equipment can be used to destroy underground remnants of a building, and also to prep for building underground structures where the building used to stand.

  • Heavy Duty Hydraulic Crusher Excavator Backhoe Machinery Working

    Hydraulic Equipment

    – Hydraulic tools are very useful in both the construction and demolition industries. Hydraulics is used to transmit high amounts of force to a particular object.

  • Hydraulic Hammer

    – A hydraulic hammer is essentially similar to a jackhammer. This machine uses hydraulic power to break through stone, concrete, and other hard surfaces.

  • Scaffolding

    – Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to access hard-to-reach areas and to temporarily support a specific amount of weight. Scaffolding must be erected correctly and according to safety standards to avoid accidents and serious injury.

  • Skid Steers

    – Also known as a skid steer loader, it’s a compact machine that has lift arms that can be customized for a wide variety of purposes. Its skid-steering function allows them to make “pirouette” turns, providing them with superior maneuverability.

  • Wrecking Ball

    – The wrecking ball is one of the mainstay tools of demolitionists. It’s a heavyweight ball, usually made of steel, used for breaking down buildings thru sheer force. The wrecking ball is often attached to heavy equipment such as cranes.

What are the various steps involved?

Demolition is a multi-step process that requires both intricate planning and precise execution. Each step is necessary to ensure all projects are done safely, efficiently, and within legal parameters.

  • Getting the necessary permit(s)

    – This is the first step in the process. Both the demolition team and the owner of the property should be involved in securing the permits necessary to commence demolition.

  • Site preparation

    • NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutant) Survey

      – A prior survey from the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants is essential for completing demolition jobs. As part of the Clean Air Act, the building should be inspected pre-demolition, and demolition methods should be assessed. Here are just some of the items screened in the NESHAP survey.

      • Asbestos
      • Lead
      • Other Hazardous Materials
    • Utilities shut-off – Gas, Electric, Water

      – Utility lines should be shut off before commencing with the demolition. Not doing so would not just mean wastage, but it could also make the demolition site dangerous.

    • Cable Lines and Phone Lines

      – Cable and phone lines should be removed prior to demolition. Aside from these wires causing potential interference in the work area, accidentally cutting them off can cause inconvenience to surrounding areas.

    • Capping off the Sewer Line

      – Sewer lines should also be capped off before demolition. Not doing so can lead to contamination and/or clogging of sewer lines, which can lead to the compromise of the water supply.

  • Moving in equipment

    – Moving in the equipment should be done quickly and with minimal interference with traffic. Of course, this should be done in accordance to local traffic rules.

  • Demolishing the structure

    – This is the step where the building is actually torn down.

  • Debris Removal / Site Cleanup

    – After completion, the site should be cleaned up to facilitate the rise of the new structure, or at least to render the space clean. Site cleanup should be done within environmental standards as well.

  • Foundation Removal

    – Removing the foundation is essential for the complete teardown of a building. While some foundations are torn down together with the wrecking of the structure, sometimes the foundation requires a separate step.

  • Backfilling

    – Backfilling is the process of refilling an existing hole. This is an essential step when buildings with underground architecture are demolished.

  • Grading

Possible dangers

There are multiple dangers that can be encountered during the demolition of a building. This is the reason why you should only allow trained professionals to perform the job, regardless of how big or small the project is. Here’s a list of the possible dangers to be aware of.

  • Possible Premature Collapse of a Building

    – This is one of the most dangerous accidents that can happen during a demolition job. A premature collapse can damage surrounding structures and entrap people who may not be prepared to leave the area. Premature collapse can happen for many reasons, but it’s most commonly caused by poor planning.

  • Falling Debris

    – During demolition, debris of different sizes can be launched into the air, causing damage to both people and property. It’s the reason why people should be kept at a safe distance from a demolition site.

  • Excessive Dust

    – Excessive dust produced from a demolition site can be damaging to health, as it can contain toxic substances and/or obstruct the airways. This is why masks are part of the team’s safety equipment when working on-site.

  • Tripping Hazards to the Work Crew

    (Loose Floorboards, Cables, Cords, Nails Etc.) – Tripping is one of the most common causes of injury to the work crew. As such, it’s a must that buildings should be cleared of debris that may cause workers to trip.

  • Toxic Gasses

    – Toxic gases may be generated during the destruction process. Gases, vapors, and fumes produced post-demolition can cause health problems.

  • Hazardous Materials (Asbestos, Lead, Others)

    – Hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead are one of the leading causes of acute and chronic diseases linked to construction. This is why buildings should be pre-inspected for these materials before being torn down.

  • Danger to Bystanders

    – Bystanders should stay at a safe distance from a structure being demolished. Trapping, explosion injuries, and debris injury are among the hazards bystanders may be exposed to if they stay too close to the site.

Safety measures

Given the long list of dangers, it’s very important that safety measures be followed over the course of a demolition job. Here’s a short list of some of the safety measures considered to be standard practice in the industry.

  • Safety Equipment

    – It’s mandatory for all members of the team to wear safety equipment on-site. Safety equipment includes a helmet, protective eyewear, masks, full clothing, gloves, and appropriate footwear.

  • Securing of Premises

    – The premises surrounding the site should be secured, especially moments before the actual demolition. All people should be evacuated, and safety barriers should be placed where appropriate.

  • Pre-Demolition Inspection

    – A prior inspection is essential before commencing with the demolition. Potential danger spots are marked, all connection to utilities and sewers are sealed off, and explosive setups are assessed.

Environmental Concerns

Protecting the environment is very important before, during, and after demolition. The demolition industry has previously earned a reputation for being an industry that’s not concerned with the environment. This isn’t the case anymore, as the industry has stepped its game up to ensure that the environment is not harmed during the process.

Before the demolition, buildings are inspected for the presence of potentially harmful materials such as asbestos and lead. If they’re spotted, efforts are made to safely remove them. During the process, a conscious effort has been made to reduce the emissions formed during the process of tearing down a building. Afterwards, the clearing of debris has become more scientific. Efforts to segregate and recycle materials have significantly reduced the amount of waste that goes into landfills.

What Should You Look For in a Demolition Company?

There are specific things you should look for when hiring a demolition company. This will ensure that you get the job done correctly and legally.

  • Do They Have Insurance?

    Insurance is a critical but often overlooked part of getting demolition services. Getting a company that doesn’t provide insurance coverage for their work can be potentially disastrous for your side. Here are some particular elements in their insurance coverage that you should look at.

    • Certificate of General Liability

      – The certificate of general liability means that the insurance covers any accident or injury occurring at the workplace.

    • Performance Bond

      – A performance bond is a contract issued by a bank that protects you from non-performance of the contract. This bond also means you’re legally bound to pay if the contractor completes the work as agreed upon.

  • Are They Licensed?

    It’s crucial that you ensure that the crew performing the task are licensed and certified by the appropriate authorities. Not being licensed is legal grounds to terminate a working contract, plus it’s too risky to work with contractors who are unlicensed.

  • Are They Bonded?

    You should only work with a company that’s bonded. It’s basically your safety net should something untoward happen over the course of the contract.

  • What Tasks Will They (or Will They NOT) Perform?

    As early as the negotiation process, you should be aware of what they will and will not perform as part of the contract. Here are some of the things you should check before signing up for a particular contractor’s services.

    • Getting the permit

    • Site Preparation

    • Excavation

    • Hauling Away Debris

    • Backfilling

When you work with JTM you won’t have to worry about what’s covered and what isn’t JTM does it ALL FOR YOU!

3 Comments

  1. Jeremy

    Now I know what the difference is between Demolition and Deconstruction. I always thought that it’s the same thing. It’s good that you point out the things that might go wrong during a demolition run.

    Reply
  2. Thomas

    DIY demolition can be tempting but if you want to really get the job done, just hire a demolition company. Save your time, effort and your life. It’s super dangerous.

    Reply
  3. Marnie

    Highly informative post. Environmental concerns are sometimes being neglected, even by the big companies. So, find one that gives importance to our nature. Search for their credentials first before hiring them.

    Reply

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