Bringing down the house

A residential demolition project doesn't begin when the excavator's bucket crashes through the corner of a home. It begins well before that with people like Jack Cook, estimator and project manager at CVE Demolition.

Cook, who has spent more than 30 years in the Bay Area demolition business, lays the groundwork for a demolition job by drawing up plans, taking pictures, requesting an asbestos survey, coordinating the utilities and obtaining permits. He knows he will need documents in hand that show that the gas, electric and water have been capped, and that he has the green light from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The second one involves filling out a form, which grants the demolition company a "J number."

"Most of the time we go on-site to get the details we need," Cook said. "You really need to put eyeballs on the project."

Once the work site has been cleared for demolition, Cook comes up with a plan for his demolition team. For a small home, this team includes three people: an equipment operator and two laborers. During the project, the equipment operator will run the excavator while the laborers use recycled water from a water truck to control dust, Cook said.

As they go along, they also sort out the materials so that they can be recycled and disposed of, such as metals and concrete.

A problem-free job takes a couple of days, he said, but if a job comes to a halt, it is most likely because employees found asbestos. This requires certified asbestos personnel to review the site and then the asbestos has to be safely removed. It holds up a job, but needs to be done correctly, Cook said.

After all the materials have been removed, the site is graded, trip hazards are removed and holes are filled in with dirt, Cook said.

"We leave the site ready for the next people," he said.

The demolition outlined by Cook is what Matt Bradberry, senior estimator and project manager at V's Demolition, calls the "munch and crunch" method.

"You aren't going to salvage anything from that method," Bradberry said. "That's why we don't do it."

Instead, his company offers two different methods: surgical demolition and deconstruction.

Surgical demolition diverts as much of the residential home material as possible from the landfill, Bradberry said. To accomplish this, his teams avoid heavy machinery and use tools, such as handheld electric hammers and Sawzalls, a brand for electric-powered handheld saws.

"Every city has a percentage that they would like to see recycled," he said, "but there is always going to be some debris."

His company limits the waste by sorting materials on-site and then sending it to recycling facilities.

Despite his more painstaking approach, Bradberry follows a lot of the same steps as Cook to begin a project. The regulations and permits vary by city and region, but they are necessary for the project and the safety of his employees.

"Safety is No. 1," he said. "It's the first, middle and last. It's the deciding force in everything we do."

To stay on top of any changes, Bradberry communications with his teams and they have weekly safety meetings.

Safety also comes into play as they use demolition tools. Their safety goggles protect their eyes from concrete and wood that may fly up while using a jackhammer or other tools.

"If we don't take safety seriously, it could slow down a job," Bradberry said.

The typical surgical demolition job is about 13 days, he said, so an injury would probably tack on additional time.

The other type of demolition V's Demolition offers its Bay Area clients is called deconstruction. This method salvages materials for reuse by the homeowner or other organization while stripping the home down to its studs for upcoming renovation.

"This method requires us to pay attention to details," Bradberry said.

During deconstruction, crews will remove everything, such as cabinetry, by hand. Instead of prying a cabinet out with a hammer, they will use a drill to back out screws, Bradberry said. This type of work takes longer, and he estimates that it takes three times as long for the same amount of material removal.

For a deconstruction project, the crew will use a systematic approach to removal, pulling each piece out layer by layer. On-site, the crews will have giant checklists, called scope sheets, that include every step of the project. As they go, they check off their progress with large markers.

"The crew has a very clear vision of the scope of the project based on this sheet," Bradberry said.

A final cleaning will be the last thing marked off the list. At this point, the crew is vacuuming and wiping down the surfaces, doing final dust-control measures, and checking that all the nails have been removed from the studs.

"We want it to be a clean slate," Bradberry said. "That's always our end goal."


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