Shutterstock

The land is on a quiet corner of a lovely street. The school system boasts every AP class in the curriculum and it's a five-minute walk to your favorite coffee shop door-to-door. But then there's the house on that land.

Old but not rugged. Ragged without charm. The pipes boast hot and cold running water, but never at the same time. It was built using the softest wood available with walls best described as "buttery." And the second floor is haunted by a handsy ghost named Stavros.

The best thing to do in this situation might be to buy the place for the land and turn that house into nothing more than a (probably still haunted) hole in the ground. Here's how to figure out what that might cost.

What Is Demolishing a House?

Demolition can be divided into four main categories:

Interior

An interior demolition is typically done in preparation for remodeling. In this process, construction crews will eliminate structural elements of individual rooms. Sometimes this can mean single rooms, for example, demolishing just the kitchen while not touching anywhere else. In other cases this can involve entire sections of the house, for example if you were to demolish the first floor.

The extent of the work will depend on the scope of the remodeling you'd like to do. An interior demolition might remove only specific elements (ripping out countertops or an island, for example). Or it might involve taking out entire walls, staircases or other pieces of the house's basic structure. In all cases, however, the building itself remains intact. The work is done entirely on the inside of the home.

Exterior

Exterior demolition involves leveling some specific structure that's either attached to the house or outside of it. For example, you could hire a crew to demolish your back deck or swimming pool. This would be considered an exterior demolition, as all work is performed outside of the building.

Partial

In a partial demolition you will destroy a specific section of the house. The damage will be isolated just to the area destroyed (unless something goes wrong of course). For example, removing an exterior wall would be considered a partial demolition. So would removing a roof or an attached room.

Typically, you will conduct a partial demolition for one of two reasons. First, it is common to do this as part of a very large remodel. If you would like to add a new section on to the house, you will likely need to destroy some parts of it first. Second, it is also common to conduct a partial demolition if you want to downsize the building or get rid of something unattractive. A cute stone cottage with an ugly metal office bolted to the side of it, for example, would probably call for a partial demolition.

Total

You will knock the house down entirely. What you do with the foundation will depend on what you plan to do next. In some cases you might like to rebuild, using the existing foundation if that's a practical option. In other cases, particularly if you don't want to build something new on the land, you might remove the foundation and fill in the hole as well.

Demolition vs. Deconstruction

It is important to distinguish demolition from deconstruction. When you demolish a building you literally destroy it. The contractors will use heavy equipment to break the pieces down and little, if anything, will remain usable. When a contractor deconstructs a house, on the other hand, they take apart structural elements instead of breaking them apart. Ideally this lets them salvage the building materials for use later.

Deconstruction is more common for interior projects, as those often involve finished elements that have resale value such as cabinets, shelving and other home décor.

What Does It Cost to Demolish a House?

It's important to understand that there is no standard price to demolish a house. Your costs will differ very widely depending on many different factors, most notably the scope and nature of your project. Tearing down a two-story, four bedroom home entirely will cost far more than taking a living room down to the studs in anticipation of a remodel.

However, there are some standard numbers you should know. First, the averages:

  • $15,000 - $18,000: The approximate average cost to demolish a free-standing house.
  • $1,000 - $3,000: The approximate average cost for an interior demolition.

In general, totally demolishing a free-standing house costs between $3,000 - $35,000. This will generally involve heavy equipment and your costs will go up depending on the amount and weight of the debris involved. Your costs will break down by a couple of factors. Some of the most significant will typically include:

  • Flat fees - Any form of up-front or fixed fee involved with this project, such as permit costs and dumping fees, typically gets included in the price.
  • Material and Equipment Costs - It is common for a contractor to bill the customer for any out-of-pocket costs involved in the job. If they use any materials in the process of demolishing your house or have to rent any equipment, for example, this will all show up on the bill.
  • Time - On a demolition project a contractor will typically bill for their time in one of two ways. Most often, the contractor will charge for this project per square foot being demolished. It is common for this kind of project to cost anywhere from $5 - $20 per square foot. Others will charge based on the time it takes to complete the project, billing the customer per hour worked. When estimated by hour, costs will vary widely based on the individual contractor.

What Affects This Cost?

It is hard, if not impossible, to publish nationally applicable numbers on costs to demolish a house. This is because of the variety of factors that significantly affect the final estimate. Some, but certainly not all, of these factors include:

Nature of the Project

Whether you are doing an interior vs. exterior demolition, or a total vs. a partial one, will not just affect the volume of work involved. It will also change the price per square foot, the necessary equipment and a host of other relevant factors.

Location

As a general rule, it costs more to undertake any form of construction project in a city vs. a rural environment. However, expect additional costs if you are working in a particularly remote location.

Regulations and Permits

Most towns will have specific regulations about building and demolition. This is particularly true in a city and if you live in any kind of protected historic area.

Building Materials

Your costs will increase if your building has asbestos, lead or any other form of regulated building material. They will also increase based on what your home is built out of. It costs more to break and haul stone than plywood.

Site Factors

A contractor will need to prepare a site, including making sure that any gas, electricity and water is shut off before starting work. Anything that makes site preparation more difficult, and particularly anything which touches on municipal lines or dangerous materials (i.e. sewage, gas, electric or water infrastructure) will make the project more difficult and therefore more expensive.

Post-Demolition Plans

Your plans for the site will affect how your contractor approaches the job. Depending on how you want to rebuild, if at all, your costs can fluctuate.