Permits and Planning Before Demolition

Demolition typically requires permits and approvals. Watch for wiring, structural walls, hazardous materials, and construction debris when ripping out existing construction.

The word "demolition" brings to mind dynamite and wrecking balls, fantastic explosions and implosions. Reality is usually less dramatic, but even the smallest home renovation project requires some sort of demolition. Adding a three-season porch to the home will take some demolition to create the doorway or opening from the addition to the house. Removing a wall between two rooms may not take a wrecking ball, but it will be a demolition project. And like any project, there are necessary steps to take and procedures to follow.

Know Your House
Homeowners should be secure in the knowledge of their property. Know whether the wall you wish to remove is a load-bearing wall. Although most walls are not, some are structural members of the house, and great care must be employed when undertaking their demolition. It is especially important that a homeowner who plans to do the project on his or her own determine these things in advance. "Hire an architect or an engineer to verify the nature of the wall," advises Michael Taylor, Executive Director of the National Demolition Association. If the homeowner has already decided to hire a contractor to do the project, the contractor will also be able to determine if the wall is load-bearing or not. Either way, check to see if the original plans exist. It will make all demolition work much easier.

Permits and Inspections
Before any demolition can begin, a permit must be secured for the project. The good news is, if a contractor has been hired to do the job, he or she will handle this responsibility, and the cost of the permit (usually a certain percentage of the project cost) should be worked into the original contract. "These systems are in place to safeguard against mistakes, or de-valued property," says Taylor. "Without a building permit, your project can be halted and any additions put on can be taken down."
Most building permits cover the demolition part of any renovation project. Although there is a National Building Code (BOCA, or Building Officials and Code Administrators), local municipalities all have their own code. Contractors should be familiar with local code, and local governments should have printed material outlining code specifics and information on required permits and inspection schedules.

Condo residents may be forced to take an extra step before starting any demolition and renovation project. Condo associations usually have very specific regulations concerning the alteration of a unit’s interior or exterior. Condo owners must adhere to these regulations according to the contract signed upon purchase. Taylor suggests towing the contractor along when presenting any renovation proposal to the condo association. "Most of the time, improvements to the individual condo is an improvement to the whole development," says Taylor. "It helps to have the contractor there to answer specific logistical questions." Some associations, for example, prohibit the presence of dumpsters on site, so disposal would need to occur on a daily basis. This additional cost must be planned for and worked into the contract from the beginning. Other associations might have strict regulations on the hours that demolition may take place, which affects the project timeline.

If the homeowner lives in a designated historic district, the restrictions on demolition and renovations projects can be even more severe. A historically certified house or National Historic Register property must maintain some semblance of its original appearance; so any additions or alterations must usually blend in and appear to be part of the original structure. Taylor strongly recommends a homeowner of a historically significant or certified property hire an architect — some architectural or historic preservation boards require a homeowner to hire an architect and a lawyer before entertaining any demolition or renovation project proposals. "To do any alterations to a historically certified house without the proper permit is risking expensive citations and even jail time," warns Taylor.

Hazardous Materials and Disposal
"The two main hazardous waste concerns in any demolition project are asbestos and lead-based paint," says Taylor. Asbestos is typically found in piping insulation, exterior shingles, and floor tiles. It becomes hazardous when disturbed during demolition. It is the responsibility of the contractor to determine if asbestos will be present during any phase of a demolition or renovation project. Although the rules for asbestos removal differ greatly from commercial projects to residential projects, precautionary and safety measures are to be taken by the contractor once its presence has been determined. "Most contractors are experienced in dealing with and removing any asbestos," says Taylor, "and if they’re not, they know someone who is and can get them do to it for them." Specialty asbestos removal contractors can be hired to repair or remove asbestos-containing materials. If the presence of asbestos has been determined, the contractor is obligated by law to inform the homeowner and any workers. Although most localities do not have laws prohibiting homeowners from removing asbestos on their own, health authorities generally advise that a professional contractor be hired to deal with the material. If uncertain of the presence of asbestos in a material, a homeowner can bring a sample of the suspected material to a specialty lab (see "Laboratories — Analytical" in yellow pages) for analysis. Homeowners must take precautions when handling a sample, and must be sure to keep the sample damp with a water mist. Samples should be tightly sealed and labeled in a clean sample container.

Before removing a wall, check to be sure that it is not a load-bearing structure.

As a hazardous material, asbestos must also be handled and disposed of differently than other wastes. Disposal of asbestos can be costly, and homeowners should have this cost worked into the original contract. A do-it-yourselfer will want to contact the local health department or air pollution control agency to determine removal and disposal requirements and sites.

The Federal Government has guidelines concerning lead-based paint in commercial and residential projects, and some states have adopted these as regulations. Although the regulations for commercial projects differ from residential projects, there exist specific guidelines that must be followed when removing lead-based paint to minimize the exposure to any workers or occupants, particularly children. Most hazards occur when the paint is disturbed during demolition. Safe removal and cleanup are essential. A homeowner may opt to hire a lead paint detection and removal firm if unsure or wary about the process. Procedures for safe removal and cleanup should be specified in the contract.

Disposal costs are on the increase just about everywhere, due to a shortage of landfill space and regulations on the disposal of certain materials. Any disposal costs should be worked into the original contract. During any demolition and renovation project, there are two types of waste: demolition debris and construction waste. Demolition debris is material that has come from the house itself, while construction waste refers to leftover materials (tars, adhesives, etc) brought by the contractor. Although handled and disposed of differently, the cost for disposing both should also be included in the original contract. "The disposal costs included in the contract should include basic cleanup after each day," says Taylor.

A homeowner must also consider the placement of a dumpster when it comes to disposal concerns. A condo association, might not allow the placement of a dumpster in the development for aesthetic reasons. "Without a dumpster, the contractor is going to have to haul waste from the site every day, which is an added cost," says Taylor. "Work this additional cost into the contract at the beginning." Determine how a rubbish and garbage removal company charges for the use of their dumpster. Most charge by the ton (of waste disposed) and rent out by the week. A homeowner will want to know which materials are accepted, pick-up times and frequency, and if the cost of drop-off and removal are included in the rate. Most fees and guidelines for demolition and disposal are best written into the contract from the start, so know your local regulations and insist in writing that protocols are followed.

Credit: Renovate Your World