3 Pitfalls to Look Out for in Hazardous Building Demolition

While hazardous building demolition or repositioning may at first seem similar to any other construction project, the opportunities for missteps can be numerous and, if overlooked, often serious. If you have one of these projects coming around the bend, you’ll want to make sure you know what to look out for and how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls that can significantly impact your project schedule or budget.

The hazards of hazardous building demo

Skipping HBM identification and abatement:  In order to prepare a responsible demolition cost estimate, you must identify and abate any hazardous building materials (HBM)—like ACM, lead paint, PCB-containing products, and universal wastes—before beginning demolition. Often the levels of risk dictate that a detailed HBM survey be conducted to quantify the level of effort associated with removing and disposing of HBMs. Other specialty concerns, such as radioactive materials, hazardous wastes, and biological contaminants (like mold), can also impact demolition and the repositioning cost and schedule.

Keep in mind that any applied building material that was intended to remain elastic may contain PCBs. For example, if you encounter painted masonry surfaces in an old building and the paint is in really good shape, it may well contain PCBs. It’s also important to note that different areas of a building that were built or renovated at different times may have a different HBM condition, so be sure to understand the structure and investigate accordingly.

Jumping into the project without a detailed scope: It’s both wise and cost effective to spend some of the project budget up front to prepare a comprehensive scope of work in order to obtain accurate bids from contractors, and to create the final contract. Make no mistake, demolition, and especially demolition/renovation projects, are ripe for contractors to submit a low bid to win the work and then make their money on change orders to address “unknown” conditions, so developing this scope gives the client more control over the project and minimizes the number of change orders.

In addition to hazardous building materials, one of the most critical up-front factors to consider when developing your scope is utilities. Often a special permit is required to alter or shut off a utility, and you’ll want to avoid disrupting service to other parts of the property or surrounding areas. Subsurface utilities may need to be protected against damage during demolition. It’s also important to remember that older properties typically have antiquated utilities that can be extremely shock sensitive and very costly to repair.

Overlooking a property’s future use: In a demolition/repositioning project, keeping the desired future use of the property in mind throughout the process is critical. Depending on a site’s future use, it may prove cost effective to reuse certain materials, such as crushed concrete, or to cover contaminated soil or fill with a subsequent building rather than transporting it offsite. Both of these could yield significant savings.

Building these considerations into your contract can ensure that you see the benefits of thinking them through carefully and saving where you can. For instance: the salvage value of recyclable materials (e.g., steel) is always a consideration for a demolition project. If you plan to salvage demolition materials from your project site, your contract with the demolition contractor should either provide for a cost reduction up front for an anticipated value, or include terms for a “give back” from the contractor to the owner at the end of the project.

Like any construction project, the work involved in facility demolition or repositioning needs some degree of oversight or monitoring by a responsible party. In some cases, the project owner is knowledgeable enough about the specific requirements of this type of job, but otherwise, a trusted engineer or other third party should be brought on board to ensure the necessary precautions are being taken. With a detailed scope of work and a qualified contractor that knows the regulations and the conditions that may be encountered with the specific type of demolition job ahead, you can be confident that the actual demolition process will be done effectively and safely. Also remember that documentation is perhaps even more critical in cases where the disposal of hazardous materials is involved as compared to a traditional construction job. Establishing these basics at the outset of the project and avoiding the three pitfalls mentioned here can help you carry off your next facility repositioning project much more smoothly, with fewer interruptions, change orders, or other unwelcome surprises.


David MacDonald Business Development Leader Environment & Remediation

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