One of the things we love about being a demolition contractor is the large variety of work that occurs during our daily operations. At Milburn, we offer a variety of demolition services to meet our customers’ needs.
Sometimes, our customers want us to knock down a full building, which is a process we typically refer to as complete structure demolition. On other projects, our role is to remove interior elements from a structure, like walls, ceilings, floors, furniture, millwork, and more. This form of demolition is simply referred to as “interior demolition” because the outside of the building remains intact.
The third form of demolition we commonly perform is specialty demolition. With this method, we remove specific portions of a structure without impacting the rest of the building. For instance, this can include removing vaults, conveyor systems, mechanical systems, chimney stacks, fire escapes, and other elements. In this guide, we’ll discuss all the relevant details of specialty demolition.
We often hear some confusion regarding the difference between specialty demolition and interior demolition. After all, both of these methods involve selective demolition, as we remove parts of a structure and leave the rest intact. The difference comes down to the complexity of the demolition job, as well as whether it’s a routine job or not.
If we’re gutting a building by tearing out ceilings, walls, HVAC systems, and related structures, that’s interior demolition. However, specialty demolition can be much more complex, involving the removal of structures that are significantly more difficult to remove due to their impact on the rest of the building. Let’s illustrate this with some examples, shall we?
One form of specialty demolition is vault removal. If we’re hired to remove a heavily reinforced concrete vault from within a structure, that’s a job that requires some careful planning and complex execution. It’s highly difficult to remove a concrete vault without damaging the building that houses it, so typical removal methods would include sawcutting the concrete walls and lid into smaller pieces for rigging/removal and utilizing hammers by hand or mounted on robot or skid steers..
The same can be said of removing structures like chimney stacks and cooling towers. These structures require special care because they were often a central feature of a building. For example, large manufacturing complexes were often built around massive chimney stacks. The same can be said for cooling towers in industrial facilities. Due to the size and location of these features, they can be quite difficult to remove without damaging or impacting the rest of the structure, hence the specialty processes required.
Another example is that of fire escapes. Milburn has performed numerous fire escape removals. One specific project we were tasked with in downtown Chicago was the removal of four 21-story fire escapes from a historic building, while fully occupied by tenants. There were numerous challenges to this scope, including avoiding damage to the existing building, tight working constraints, and even tighter schedule constraints.
One of the other interesting specialty demolition projects we’ve completed over the years was the Oakmont Point office complex in Westmont, Illinois. This job involved the removal of indoor pedestrian walkway bridges that connected four post-tensioned structures. We were unable to simply destroy the pedestrian bridges because it would have endangered the stability of the remaining buildings. Therefore, we had to come up with a plan to safely remove the interior bridges by shoring and de-tensioning the structural supports to keep the structures standing while we demolished the connecting bridges.
At this point, we should probably discuss some of the specific processes involved with specialty demolition. Our favorite method for specialty demo involves the use of our remote-controlled demolition robots. These machines typically look similar to a small excavator, but without the cab that you’ll see the operator sit in.
Demolition robots move on tracks and have arms that we can attach a variety of attachments to. Whether we need a loader bucket, a breaker, a processor, lifting vacuum or some other form of attachment, these machines are quite versatile. We’ll have an operator controlling the robot remotely using a joystick, which provides an excellent safety benefit because we don’t need to have anyone inside the machine while it works. This means that we can take some risks that we otherwise would never even consider if we had an operator in the cab.
As you might expect, these robots can be very expensive, but in our opinion, they earn back the money they cost pretty quickly. They allow us to work more safely and efficiently, especially in tight spaces — in our industry, time is money, and safety is an even higher priority.
Another form of specialty demo is controlled demolition using explosives. When you hear the word “explosives,” many people just assume that we’re talking about a complete structure demolition, like an implosion. However, we can also use explosives to target specific structures, which makes it a nice tool for certain types of specialty demolition.
Controlled demo is a great option when we’re selectively demolishing structures like cooling towers and chimney stacks because these structures are so tall that we can’t use our high-reach demo machine to reach over the top of them. In these situations, controlled demolition can be the easiest, safest, and most cost-effective method to use.
How does a controlled demolition work? Depending on the size of the structure, as well as how the structure fits within the larger building, the timeframe to prepare a controlled demolition can vary considerably. If we’re dealing with a small chimney, it will likely take us just a few days to bore holes and place our explosives. However, large cooling towers can take a matter of weeks to prepare because, in general, the larger the structure the more potentially dangerous a controlled explosive demolition can be.
Regardless of the specific method, we select to perform specialty demolition, there are many measures to be taken before a demolition process to ensure the safety of our people and the stability of the remaining structure. When we use our demolition robots, it’s all about planning our work in a way that keeps our crew members away from the action. When we use controlled demo, we take great care to place our explosives in locations that don’t threaten the integrity of the rest of the building.
By focusing on safety above all else, Milburn can ensure the well-being of our crews while providing our clients with the highest quality demolition work available in the United States. Safety in demolition works best when everyone buys in, and at Milburn, we’re proud to say that everyone who works here — from ownership to laborers and everyone in-between — knows what our top priority is.