In this Readers' Platform, the merits of clearing a site with a jackhammer are explored

In every facet of the construction industry, site prep is the most important process for continued success. You need to understand your project from start to finish. That knowledge allows you to plan and strategize while giving you the flexibility to improvise when needed. If you've been in this industry a long time, you know that not everything goes according to plan. But, having a plan is important; it gives you the confidence to meet obstacles head-on. The elevator industry is no different — site preparation isn't just integral, it's completely necessary. Understanding the multitiered process before installing an elevator can be the difference between a successful job and catastrophic failure.

While your knowledge and experience are the most important things to bring to an elevator installation, choosing the necessary tools can be just as important. While there are tried-and-true standards in the elevator industry, sometimes the best tool for the job is so innovative it hasn't become the standard yet. Staying ahead of the industry and understanding emerging technologies is just as important as old-school expertise. Using both will ensure success and make for happy clients.

The Multistage Process of Site Prep

Be it for elevators or other structures, site prep in the construction industry is fairly standard. It’s a multistage process that clears, evaluates and approves a specific parcel of land for construction. With elevators, that land is typically on the interior of an existing structure, but in the case of new builds, elevators are a part of the overall construction process from the beginning. And in the case of new installations in existing structures, it’s important to do site prep to properly understand the building in which you’re working.

Clearing the Site

It’s incredibly important to clear and grade a site before any construction can begin. In the case of elevators, you would do this even with an existing structure. You need to have a cleared and clearly marked space in which to work. This includes understanding the wiring and plumbing and knowing which materials you’re going to be excavating and removing before you begin.

Clearing a site is backbreaking work. You first need to break up existing material that can include concrete and rock, which aren’t easily removed by hand like wood and drywall. While you could use a sledgehammer for a simple job, elevator installations aren’t simple work. It's best to have at least one jackhammer onsite for heavy-duty work, should the need arise. Pneumatic jackhammers are usually the standard at a site, but working indoors has its complications. Be it indoor or outdoor work, you should research gas jackhammers, as they are much more portable, less noisy and do not require a bulky, dangerous air compressor.

Surveying the Area

If working on an entirely new build, it’s important to survey the land. Surveying denotes property boundaries and provides important detail about the variation in elevation at the site to ensure proper concrete filling and leveling. Surveying can, on occasion, be done indoors, by hand or using innovative Lidar equipment that uses laser guidance to measure distance and elevation. Whatever you’re building or installing, it needs to be completely level, and surveying will accomplish that.

Design and Planning

First, design and plan the installation. This requires precisely measuring the existing space. From there, design a shaft space that works with the structure. Planning at this stage goes a long way, as well — the site plan is a facet of construction that is meant to be a flexible, living thing throughout construction. After all, not everything can go exactly as planned, and things must change on the fly. Often, you’ll find old blueprints aren’t as reliable as they should be — wiring and plumbing can change over the years without notice.

A good project manager has experience with this process — like a master chess player, they’ve already thought of plans B through Z, should plan A fall through, and they’re aware of the effect their improvisations will have on the whole process.

Coordinating Equipment

Using the right equipment might be the second most important facet to successful site prep. Once you have a comprehensive strategy for the design and build of your elevator, it’s time to coordinate your equipment. With elevators, you generally have less space with which to work. That’s why gas-powered jackhammers come in handy for breaking concrete and cement. Beyond that, ensure you have everything you need for when the installation occurs. The last thing you want is to delay a job because you don’t have the parts and equipment needed for that day. Losing a day is losing money.

Elevator Installation Is Demanding Work

At the end of the day, it’s best to leave things like elevator installation to the professionals. It’s an esoteric industry, full of experts with decades of experience. While the knowledge and skill sets needed to perform professional elevator installations haven’t changed much, the equipment is constantly changing, such as the advent of the gas-powered jackhammer to make quick work in challenging environments.

Site preparation is an art form, a strategic process contingent upon the professional's ability to think ahead and pivot around the inevitable obstacles that materialize. Elevator installations require precision and knowledge unlike any other industry. When possible, ensure you're using the best tool for the job to make the process a little easier.

Chris Galloway is the owner of US Hammer Jackhammers and Postdrivers. A lifelong contractor, he runs US Hammer and Pioneer Machinery, his rental equipment company, from Woodland, California.