These days demolition contractors don’t truly “demolish “buildings. In fact, they are strategically dismantled and removed piece by piece, using long-reach and high-reach excavators, as well as other construction equipment, in versatile ways.
These powerful tools are the linchpins of modern demolition. Their versatility and unique capabilities have enabled the industry to meet the increasingly complex demolition needs in cities such as Portland, Oregon where old buildings are often extracted from crowded neighborhood blocks to make way for new construction.
Here’s a look at the top challenges Oregon demolition contractors face—and how excavators help overcome them.
Demolition in the Big City
Over the past few years, economic growth in Portland has fueled demand for demolition services. Around 300 houses are demolished in Portland each year, and 110 commercial buildings were approved for demo in 2013 alone. Many of the demolitions occur in tight urban or neighborhood spaces, where traditional methods couldn’t safely remove a building without putting nearby people and structures at risk.
“In crowded cities there are tougher controls over demolition,” says The Economist. “With excavator arms that now reach up 12 stories, demolition firms can ‘chew a building apart’ from the top down.”
Eco-consciousness has also had a big impact on building demolition. Portland and many other forward-thinking cities have placed a high premium on sustainability, requiring “responsible management of debris generated by construction and demolition activities.”
The average 2,500 square-foot home can contain more than 25 tons of debris, most of which has traditionally ended up in landfills. Excavators make it possible to break down and sort up to 90 percent of a building’s materials for reuse or recycling—compared to 40 percent using conventional methods.
That’s why more than 99 percent of demolition work is now performed by specialized equipment such as excavators.
How Excavators Work
Since the first hydraulic excavator was built in 1951, these machines have played an influential role in construction. With the ability to shovel up as much as 57 cubic yards of debris, they made digging ditches, foundations and basements much faster.
Over the years, those early ditch-digging excavators evolved to tackle other types of projects as well. Demolition contractors began using them to scoop out debris from demolition sites. Excavators not only sped up the job, but they made demolition safer. Oregon demolition firms became more operator-driven than labor-driven; instead of having more people risking injury on the job, a few operators could complete the work faster and from a much safer vantage point.
Today’s excavators come in a variety of sizes, with all sorts of safety and utility features. (The world’s largest weighs more than 2 million pounds.) There are two main types of excavators: long-reach and high-reach. Although they look similar in many ways, they perform two distinct functions.
Long-reach excavators: These machines extend horizontally, allowing demolition contractors to reach inside a building and break apart or scoop out its insides. Although they can reach as far as 150 feet, they’re not made for upper-story work. Demolition companies most often use them for digging out rubble and salvaging scrap metal from a building’s interior. By attaching a pair of shears, for example, a contractor can cut a building apart, gnawing through steel columns thick enough to support 20 stories.
High-reach excavators: These are the giraffes of the demolition world, built to reach a building’s highest stories. They can extend as high as 160 feet—some are capable of taking down a 10-story building. Without high-reach excavators, demolition contractors would have to put machines on top of structures and work their way down. They also excel at precision demolition in tight spaces.
In many ways, these excavators have revolutionized building demolition; Portland contractors rely on them to meet tight timelines and strict city regulations. Instead of blunt force, they apply surgical precision. Take a look at our infographic to learn more about the incredible tasks this amazing equipment is capable of performing.