SIC 1795

This category covers special contractors that primarily wreck and demolish buildings and other structures, except marine property. They may or may not sell material salvaged from demolition sites. Businesses that do marine wrecking are in SIC 4499: Water Transportation Services, Not Elsewhere Classified.

NAICS Code(s)

235940 (Wrecking and Demolition Contractors)

Despite opposite objectives, wrecking firms are grouped in the larger trade construction industry. This is due to the similar physical and economic nature of demolition and construction work; they use many of the same tools, and the former activity often precedes the latter.

The wrecking and demolition industry is grouped into two sections: building and non-building demolition. The first category destroys houses, commercial establishments, and office buildings; the second removes highways, streets, and other non-inhabitable construction projects. Companies in the wrecking and demolition industry may specialize in one type of task—for example, demolishing small single-family homes.

According to the National Association of Demolition Contractors, roughly 1,000 firms operate in this industry. These companies employ nearly 19,000 workers and secure more than $3.5 billion in sales. Many of these firms are small, family-owned companies already in business for a generation or two.

Before the 1930s, buildings were usually demolished by hand tools, which could take many months for an average-sized building. Newer building techniques developed in the early twentieth century gave rise to larger, sturdier buildings. This development, coupled with methods developed in post-World War II Britain to clear building debris, brought new demolition techniques. Because the German air force bombed so much of London, civilian and army units mobilized to help clear the destroyed buildings. These first methods were primitive, but the need to clear large sections of rubble and debris eventually led to quicker and more large-scale building removal techniques.

Another effect of World War II on the wrecking industry was a U.S. construction boom in the prosperous years afterward. The returning troops, a population shift away from urban and industrial areas, and a baby boom led to severe housing shortages in many parts of the country. It also was necessary to clear older sections of cities to make room for new apartments and houses. The push toward urban renewal also played a role in the development of the industry. This idea began in the 1930s, when Roosevelt's administration tried to improve living conditions in poor urban areas where old tenements housed people in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The U.S. Housing Authority, the forerunner of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), began in 1937 to clear large tracts of slums and erect federally-subsidized housing. More wrecking and demolition firms set up shop to meet the higher demand. Urban renewal continued to effect the demographics of American cities well into the 1970s.

The decline of American manufacturing since the 1970s showed in the number of related edifices torn down in 1987—15 percent were former industrial buildings. The next largest group was commercial structures, such as stores and restaurants, which made up 12.4 percent of the buildings demolished. Office buildings were next, with 10.1 percent of the total, followed by single-family homes at 5.8 percent. The rest of the structures torn down by the industry in 1987 were, in descending order, highways and streets, blast furnaces, petroleum refineries or other heavy industrial complexes, hospitals and other institutional buildings, apartment buildings, and warehouses.

Various demolition methods, ranging from the traditional wrecking ball to explosives, were often used in conjunction. The largest expense for industry firms was often payroll costs. Generally these costs took one-third of the wrecking or demolition company's operating budget. Supplies and materials were the next biggest expense, while other pre-or post-demolition work, if contracted out to other companies, was an additional cost. Many smaller firms could not afford to own their own heavy equipment because the purchase price and maintenance costs were prohibitive. A thriving sister industry in equipment rental was another segment of the wrecking and demolition business. Insurance costs were also high, due to the relative danger of demolition work.

In 2003, the industry leader was Walsh Group Limited, of Chicago, Illinois, with $1.7 billion in revenue. Following Walsh were Cleveland Wrecking Company, of Los Angeles, with $64 million, and Brandenburg Industrial Service Company, also of Chicago, with $60 million. D.H Griffin Wrecking Co. and Gateway Demolition Corp. were among those firms that gained national recognition in 2001 and 2002 for their demolition work following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The four largest contracts for the clean-up were secured by three New York City-based firms—Bovis Lend Lease, Tully Construction Co. and Amec Construction Management—as well as Turner Construction Co., located in Chicago, Illinois. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded each of these firms contracts for up to $250 million apiece.

Issues concerning the industry in 2003 included the environmental impact of various activities, such as demolishing buildings with lead-based paint. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study, funded by the Construction Materials Recycling Association and the National Association of Demolition Contractors, on lead dust levels during such practices in California. Results were pending as of 2003.

Further Reading

"Filled with Unleaded" Recycling Today, October 2003.

Frederickson, Tom. "Big Bucks Flow to New York as Key Firms Benefit." Crain's New York Business, 1 October 2001.

National Association of Demolition Contractors. Press Releases. Doylestown, PA: 2004. Available from .

U.S. Census Bureau. "Wrecking and Demolition Contractors." 1997 Economic Census—Manufacturing. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000. Available from .

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