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Tool 3: Good Demolition Practices

Tool 3: Good Demolition Practices


This section summarizes the key nuts-and-bolts issues that add up to good demolition practices. The more demolitions that a city does – or wants to be able to do – the more important it is to have systems that get the most out of every demolition dollar, and make sure that the city’s demolition activities yield the greatest benefit to the community and its residents.


Go to a table highlighting good practices for each of the demolition elements.


►Go to HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Resource Exchange website for a Demolition Toolkit that Community Progress helped produce. The site has a number of useful resources including: a Sample RFP for Demolition Contractors, detailed and basic versions of HUD, NSP, and the Demolition Process, an Example Survey Form for Demolition Site Inspection, and an Example of Homeownership Documents for Demolition. This tool highlights some of the most important features of an efficient and cost-effective demolition system.


Have all systems, documents and specifications in “ready to go” status at all time.

It is important to minimize turnaround time for putting out bids, executing contracts and pulling permits. It is best to have a “default spec” in place for each different type of demolition, with a series of alternatives available for clearly defined situations. For example, the default spec should provide for complete foundation removal; in some cases, however, that may not be necessary, and an alternative spec should be available, with clearly defined conditions under which it can be used.


Make sure capacity to carry out demolitions is available.

While most cities contract out all demolition work, some have found that creating in-house capacity to carry out all or some of their demolition needs is cost-effective and productive, particularly if the city has good managerial/supervisory staff, and employee productivity is not impeded by regulations or contracts.


Where the city contracts out demolition work, the city should create pre-qualified pools of demolition contractors. This should include both small and large contractors. Including small contractors allows more business to flow to locally-based and minority- or women-owned firms, as well as allowing for greater volume of single-family demolitions. Unless the pool is small, bids should be invited on a rotating basis; i.e., a smaller number of firms are selected from within the pool to be invited to bid on each contract.


Firms in the pool should be carefully monitored. If firms do not submit bids on repeated occasions, or firms do not perform timely and high-quality work, they should be removed from the pool. Similarly, the city should open up the pool to new firms on a regular basis.


Some cities bid on individual buildings or packages of buildings, while others issue fixed quantity contracts based on square footage, dollar amount or other criteria.


Set up efficient legal systems to get demolition approval and maximize cost recovery.

In most cities many, if not most, of the buildings that the city demolishes are owned by private parties. In order to make sure that the city can take care of these buildings in a timely fashion, the city should identify the most efficient process for getting the needed approvals to demolish privately-owned buildings. In some states, this may require going to court to get a court order, but it others it can be done administratively.

Learn about the City of Chicago’s fast-track demolition program.


At the same time, the city should prepare in advance to take advantage of any opportunities it may have for recovering the cost of demolition from the property owner.

Go to a detailed discussion of cost recovery strategies.


Address disposal and material removal issues constructively.

Disposal of demolition debris is both a major cost item and a significant environmental issue, adding to the nation’s already excessive waste stream. While deconstruction – the careful or systematic dismantlement of buildings in such a way that the individual building components are separated and preserved for potential reuse – is useful in some circumstances, it is unlikely to be a solution for the entire problem of material removal and disposal.

Go to a further discussion of deconstruction and sources for further information.


Cities should balance the pros and cons of landfill disposal, material separation and recycling and deconstruction to find the most cost-effective and responsible system. This includes working with contractors and landfill operators to find the most cost-effective disposal solutions consistent with state regulations, which vary widely from state to state. In some cases, cities carrying out large volumes of demolition may even want to explore creating or buying a landfill, something that is likely to be difficult in the short run, but may save millions in the long run.


Leave the demolition site in good shape for the future.

The demolition specs should ensure that when the contractor leaves the demolition site, the vacant lot is improved to a level where it is not going to blight its surroundings, and subsurface conditions are suitable for any likely reuse of the property. If there is any likelihood that the site will be redeveloped with new buildings, all foundations should be removed. Where this is not the case, as long as the site has been screened for environmental contamination and combustible materials, and adequate clean fill is provided, it may be possible to obtain some savings by leaving foundations in place.


Where a building is demolished in the midst of a vital neighborhood or an active commercial area, the demolition spec should include, at a minimum, the modest site treatment designed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society or something similar. It is more cost-effective and timely to have the work done as part of the demolition contract than to come back months later and have it done as a separate contract.



►Go to Tool 4: Recovering Demolition Costs