5 Factors Affecting Commercial Building Demolition Costs

The process of expanding or building a new facility often requires first getting rid of the old one or, at minimum, demolishing a portion of an existing structure. Building demolition requires extensive planning and execution well in advance of when demolition crews show up on the job site.

To help you understand what goes into commercial demolition projects and how to determine costs, first familiarize yourself with the following critical steps. 

1. Obtaining Demolition Permits

Most municipalities require demolition permits to comply with local regulations. Some of the necessary steps include working with Diggers Hotline to mark public utility lines. Private utilities, however, such as irrigation lines, fiber optics, and exterior lighting may not be marked. A private utility contractor or electrician will need to trace back any private underground utilities.

If utilities need to be redirected or removed, the municipality will outline how they want them capped or abandoned. Some locations have noise ordinances and will specify acceptable hours of operation for demolition to take place. Construction routes for heavy equipment may also be specified to minimize traffic delays or reduce damage to roadways.  

One of the issues that can complicate the permitting process is if your building location is a historic landmark. Depending on its historical significance and any required accommodations, the permitting process could be significantly delayed.  

2. Handling of Hazardous Materials

As part of the permitting process, you’ll need to obtain documentation that outlines any hazardous material handling. One of the more familiar requirements is an asbestos report. A specialized testing company will test glazing and caulking on windows, VCT adhesives, flooring, insulation, and other materials to determine whether asbestos is present. Considerable costs and delays can be expected in the event asbestos remediation is required.

Other hazardous materials found in building materials might include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and heavy metals such as those found in lead-based paint. Some hazardous materials aren’t part of the building at all and might be found in the soil or in abandoned underground tanks. Any unsuitable soils need to be remediated prior to construction.

3. Evaluating Building Conditions

Before bringing in the wrecking ball, a thorough site evaluation and examination of existing foundational structures needs to take place.

Consider a seemingly straight-forward scenario involving the demolition of a small home. Records might show that the home was built on a slab, however, a detailed site survey might reveal access through a small closet to a previously unknown crawl space. This type of scenario is not uncommon. Without a thorough inspection, such a structure would easily collapse, causing potentially tragic consequences to heavy equipment operators and crews.

Some building permits allow a project to keep a percentage of the existing foundation or pilings based on the size of the new structure. However, it’s critical to consider your organization’s future development to ensure it won’t need to be removed later to remain in compliance. It might be better to remove it right away to minimize the risk, stressing the importance of working closely with your construction team to ensure your building project fits within your long-range plans.

4. Salvaging Recycled and Repurposed Materials

As contractors and business leaders “go green,” they want to extend those initiatives to their waste management plans for demolition and construction. Demolition crews will often remove salvageable items such as light fixtures, interior finishes, casework, doors, and other materials to be repurposed elsewhere.

It’s not uncommon for charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to benefit from the removal of salvageable materials for use in housing projects. Some scrap, such as steel, is typically recycled, and all other materials are separated as much as possible. Clean construction waste is sent to designated landfills, and any potential hazards are disposed of properly.


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5. Ensuring Safety

A strong safety program is critical to the success of your project. Prior to demolishing a building, the contractor will secure proper barricades and signage. They might also need to work with the municipality to reroute or block off any affected streets or sidewalks.

There are multiple OSHA standards for demolition that outline safety measures, including minimizing silica exposure. If a partial demolition of a building takes place, there will need to be physical barriers to keep dust and debris from infiltrating areas occupied by staff and patrons. Maintaining operations during construction can be a challenge, but it’s possible with proper planning and safeguards.

Determining Building Demolition Costs

The combination of all these factors will help your contractor estimate the cost of building demolition. Ultimately, the scale of the project — both its size and complexity — will be the determining factor.

Do you need to tear down a 1,200 sq. ft. residential home, or do you need to dismantle a multi-story commercial building containing asbestos in a crowded downtown district?

Each scenario has its own unique considerations and associated costs. When considering which construction manager or general contractor you want to work with, be sure to ask about their demolition process and how it might impact your project’s cost and timeline. As part of the conversation, also be sure to talk through the 10 Questions to Ask a Commercial General Contractor. Download the discussion guide below.

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