Demolition – What You Need to Know

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White Line Waste
It’s time for that structure to go. There are numerous ways to remove an old building or house, and whether you decide to dismantle it board by board or to rent a wrecking ball, there are still a few fundamental things you should know.   


The first few things you want to consider when first preparing for demolition is:
  • Building Square Footage
  • Type of Construction
  • Time Constraints  
Consider the seasonality of the work and make adjustments to your time frame for expected adverse weather such as heavy rain, snow and ice, or high winds.  


White Line Waste Demolition PermitNext, you will want to contact your local city hall or local government office to find out what type of permit you will need and to start the necessary paperwork. You should contact your local 811 agency or other utility companies to have any underground utilities on site marked before any demolition begins.


It should go without saying that a demolition project of any size comes with inherent dangers and risks. Be sure your contractor has proper coverage or that you carry liability insurance in the chances of a catastrophic event.


The amount of waste you will have, and its weight are the two most important factors in planning your project. The building footprint (or square footage), the number of stories, and the type of construction determine those factors. When calculating the structure’s square footage, you may need to make adjustments for things such as height and pitch of the roof. Is there an attic or large gables? Other factors that will affect your accurate calculation for square footage are existing basements, porches, or unwanted outbuildings.


Are there other structures on the property that need to be included in your calculations such as an old shed or barn? Will you also be removing trees and shrubbery? Will you be tearing out concrete or other masonry? Is there a driveway, massive chimney, or patio that you will be demolishing and removing?


  • The building you will be removing is a critical factor in your weight calculations.
  • How is the building constructed? Is the frame wood, metal studs, or cinder blocks? What type of exterior does it have, vinyl siding or brick?  
  • What type of foundation is the building sitting on? Is it on a slab or a plywood subfloor?
  • Does the structure have a considerable footing that will have to be dug up?
  • Once you have determined the type of structure you are removing there are many free resources available to help you get a good idea of the building weight using the square footage and elementary math.  
You can find average material weights at this link: A single story building weighs between 140 – 200 lbs per square foot of living space.


Will you haul this yourself using a trailer or box truck or will you rent roll-off dumpsters for the job? White Line Waste Demolition Debris dumpsterMost trailers, box trucks, dumpsters, or dump trucks can be translated into the weight and the volume (measured in cubic yards) that they can safely and legally haul. To calculate the number of containers needed for a demolition job you can use the formula below: A container with an open top can typically hold between 6 and 9 square feet per yard, depending on whether or not the material is crushed and compacted during demolition.   A typical container used to remove debris from demolition is a 30-Yard open top roll-off dumpster. Between 185 to 260 square feet of debris can fit into each container, for calculation purposes. Using this calculation, you would need around six 30-Yard Containers to remove a 1200 square foot structure.  


There are some different ways to tear down a structure. If you have plenty of time or wish to salvage materials, you can take a house apart using a crowbar and a sledge-hammer. While this has been done, it is generally only recommended for parts of a structure that are desired to be salvaged before demolition–such as stained-glass windows, antique doors, massive wood beams, etc. The most common equipment used to remove smaller residential structures is an excavator. These are available for rent from an equipment rental company if you choose to do the project yourself and have experience operating heavy equipment. Excavators come in several sizes from very small to extremely large. The size of excavator needed for the job is mainly dependent on the height of the structure. A local equipment rental company should be able to assist with choosing the right size if you know your building height. A mechanical, or hydraulic thumb is a necessary attachment on the excavator. This type of attachment is critical if the excavator is to be used to load material into a dumpster or trailer. Any time that large heavy equipment is moved from one location to another–such as from the rental yard to your demo project you can expect a significant transportation fee because the hauler is required by federal law to get a permit for transport. Mini excavators, Front End Loaders, Bulldozers, and smaller tractors are also commonly used to assist with or perform the demolition process.   Using these other types of equipment alone is less efficient when loading a container. However, they can be an excavator’s essential companion during the demolition process.

SAVE MONEY ON THE HEAVY STUFFwhite line waste dumpsters dos and donts

Most demolition projects will have some heavy material to account for. This may be a brick chimney, a concrete staircase, a poured concrete foundation, or block walls.   This is important to note because heavy stuff will generally mean that your expenses to dump the material will be much higher.   It is very rare that a project does not end up getting dirt into the final loads. Dirt gets heavy very quickly. One cubic yard of dry topsoil weighs 1 ton alone. Crushing and loading structures into dumpsters cause building materials to splinter and break apart into fine debris. This debris is nearly impossible to remove entirely without carefully and time-consumingly hand picking it up or removing a top layer of the earth. Most projects will end up leaving some small debris behind. The final loads of debris usually gather up some dirt in the process of shoveling. This will add to the weight of a dumpster. Expect the weight of your final dumpsters to be more substantial than the others. It is best to keep concrete out of dumpsters and landfills. You should seek to find someone that can accept this material as “clean fill.” Clean fill is essentially earth, concrete, unglazed masonry that is not “contaminated with any other type of debris” such as nails, boards, etc. If the concrete contains rebar be sure to check with the accepting facility to find out if they accept concrete with rebar in it.


When it comes to setting a budget for a project, it is critical to account for the unexpected. Older structures may have unknown cellars or additional concrete that was not in the original estimation.   It is common to underestimate the number of containers or trips to a landfill required to remove all debris entirely. Overestimation is your friend. Also, take note that most containers filled with demolition debris are more cumbersome than average. Expect to incur additional weight charges in this process. Only haul debris with a trailer that is appropriate for the equipment and capable of legally hauling the average weight. Hauling an overweight load will adversely impact your vehicle’s suspensions, breaks, transmissions, and tires. If you are using dumpsters, you should know the overweight charges that may apply.

Hazards and Safety

Always account for power lines and other overhead utilities. Be aware of low hanging limbs and trees, mainly taking note of any rotting or unsafe trees. Double check that you disconnected adequately from water, electric, and any gas sources before starting the project. Research local regulations and understand the requirements around proper destruction or removal of septic systems if applicable. Assuming you have done your due diligence and contacted the utility companies to locate buried lines, keep in mind that if you or your contractor cause damage to an unmarked underground utility you may still be responsible for repair costs.   If you suspect that you have ruptured a natural gas or propane line you should immediately turn off any equipment you are using to prevent uptake of fumes into the combustion chamber of the motor. Immediately contact the local authorities and gas company to inform them.   Demolition sites can become very muddy. Due to the softness of newly disturbed earth, equipment and vehicles may be more difficult to operate or remove from the site than initially. Nails and sharp objects cause regular damage to tires and are almost impossible to prevent. Be prepared for the downtime and headaches caused by potential tire damage.