DC Rowhouse Renovation - The Demolition Phase / by Gregory Upwall

 View of interior after removal of walls and finishes

View of interior after removal of walls and finishes

The first phase of any renovation project is demolition, or more accurately, “selective demolition”. We typically prepare specific demolition drawings which indicate specific parts of the building to be removed in order to accommodate the new design. The removed components usually include walls, roofs, floors (or portions of them), windows, doors, cabinetry, plumbing fixtures, etc. For this project the demolition was significant. In order to accommodate the new rear addition, all 3 stories of the original rear brick wall had to be completely removed. To make way for the new 3rdfloor addition, the original roof will be removed entirely. On the interior all of the original walls, cabinetry, radiators, plumbing, electrical wiring and fixtures were completely removed. Even the original stairways were removed since they will be in a different location in the new design – this is what is typically referred to as “gutting” the house.

 2nd floor after interior demolition

2nd floor after interior demolition

 2nd floor after interior demolition

2nd floor after interior demolition

While the housing stock here in DC spans several centuries, the majority that come into our office as renovation projects were built between 1890-1930. Homes of this era can often contain old layers of lead paint and asbestos (which was used widely in many different building products from flooring to insulation to siding). These materials are hazardous and should be removed by professional abatement contractors who are trained in the proper removal and disposal of these materials. Another common concern comes from the very dust that is produced when removing old building materials since it commonly contains significant amounts of mold and other contaminants that can cause respiratory problems. These materials and conditions should not be overlooked and proper measures should be taken during the removal and disposal of materials that are to be removed from the building.

Another consideration that we recommend to our clients during the demolition phase of the project is the opportunity to salvage certain materials that are being removed for re-use or recycling. This is commonly referred to as “de-construction” and can help to divert significant amounts of waste from ending up in the landfill. It is generally advisable to consult with a de-construction contractor prior to the start of demolition work in order to identify which materials, if any, are candidates for salvage. In most municipalities today construction waste is required to be sorted and hauled to different facilities. Metals such as copper and steel are good candidates for recycling. The goals should always be to a.) dispose of all materials properly, b.) salvage or donate any worthy materials for re-use, and c.) minimize the volume of material that will end up in the landfill.

Another concept that is worth mentioning whenever we discuss demolition is that of temporary “shoring”. This refers to any temporary measures or construction that will be required to support the building in the time between the removal of the existing components until the installation of the new structural components. Shoring often includes temporary posts and beams that must be securely installed by the contractor prior to removing portions of the existing building. In this project since so many walls are being removed and new openings are being created within the walls and floors (for new windows and stairways accordingly) it was necessary to install a temporary bearing wall at the basement and 1stfloor levels in order to support the existing floor framing during construction.

 View of original stairway (before it was removed)

View of original stairway (before it was removed)

Demolition often goes quickly once started so this is often a time when it appears that a lot of progress is being made, which can be very satisfying (especially after months of waiting for permits to be approved). It can be both scary and deeply satisfying to see the old, worn and dilapidated parts of the building being removed to make way for the new construction to come. This is also the phase when you get to see the real “bones” of the building and to identify areas in need of repair. This is generally the time when we remind ourselves of the common saying  that “it’s going to get worse before it gets better”.