When it comes to demolition, there are many methods to bring down buildings. One worker with a sledgehammer can take down a wall, and heavy machinery can level a house. But when the building in question is multiple storeys tall and built of reinforced concrete and rebar, it takes a more extreme solution, as a residential demolition contractor, like Nielsen Environmental can explain. A search online can yield hours and hours of demolition footage, most of it consisting of explosions that topple over structures or melt them from the inside. These are controlled demolitions, also known as controlled implosions. They’re big, loud, and if planned properly by the right team, effective. But controlled implosions aren’t just for show: there’s a reason behind the spectacle. How did this method become popular, and what can a controlled implosion do that a worker with a sledgehammer can’t?
The Big Bang: The Start of Controlled Demolitions
It makes sense that using explosives to demolish buildings wasn’t really an option for workers until the advent of gunpowder. However, once gunpowder spread around the world, it still took plenty of time for gunpowder production to become industrialized to the point of using it for anything but warfare. While a controlled implosion may seem like a much more modern approach for demolitions, one of the earliest uses of gunpowder to bring down a building was in the 1770s. Workers used 150 pounds of gunpowder to raze a cathedral in Waterford, Ireland – and while it was incredibly successful, the process has come a long way since that first attempt.
The difficulty of manufacturing large amounts of gunpowder just for demolition work was one reason controlled implosions lagged behind other time-tested methods of demolishing buildings. The other main reason was that there wasn’t actually anything big enough to warrant the use of explosives. Cathedrals were typically the largest building in a town or city, and everything else was much smaller (and easier to raze the old fashioned way). It wasn’t until the early 1900s that skyscrapers began to grow in urban areas, and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the use of explosives for demolition work became more commonplace. After the industrial revolution, workers had access to dynamite and buildings that were large enough to require dynamiting, and a new method of demolition finally made its real entrance onto the global stage.
More than Just Gunpowder: Inside a Controlled Implosion
Controlled demolitions are a science. While using a huge amount of gunpowder to level a cathedral may have worked for the demolition crews of the 1770s, modern controlled implosions are ballets of proper planning, proper placement, proper safety precautions, and proper execution. As with all things dangerous and spectacular, a controlled implosion starts with paperwork and research.
Before a controlled implosion, demolition contractors examine blueprints to determine the best placement of explosive charges. Contractors target load-bearing parts of a structure with well-placed explosives, ensuring no part of the building collapses onto neighboring structures. Some controlled demolitions are planned so a building falls to one side or another, and some are closer to what the term “controlled implosion” would suggest: Explosives on the inside result in a building caving inwards and downwards on itself.
All of this starts with extensive reading of blueprints, and continues with a thorough walkaround of the building to be demolished. Contractors will typically go through a building several times to determine the best placement for their charges, and getting up close and personal with the building material and getting a close view at the construction of each load-bearing support helps the contractor determine which type of explosive will be best for the job. It takes checking and double checking to make sure the process goes smoothly and safely for everyone involved, and an experienced demolition contractor will take every step imaginable to make sure a controlled implosion is executed properly.
What Demolition Contractors Do Best
Controlled implosions are serious work. They require long periods of planning and examination, and trained professionals who have plenty of experience. While some bigger buildings need explosive assistance to come down, a controlled implosion may be overkill for smaller structures. In these cases, the heavy equipment comes out, and other methods are used to demolish these buildings. If you have a demolition job that needs doing, demolition contractors are a go-to resource for learning more on how best to proceed.
A controlled implosion looks spectacular, but it’s never simple. Each one is meticulously planned and prepared, and the field has changed since back in the 1770s. Demolition contractors have learned and grown with the method, and if a building needs to go out with a bang, you can expect them to make sure it goes down smoothly.