First of its kind: Deconstruction Resolution Approved

“We should capture another 100 homes per year,” Joe Connell said of the new deconstruction resolution passed in February.

The resolution, approved by unanimous City Council vote, stipulates that houses and duplexes built in Portland before 1916, as well as those that have historical designation, must be completely deconstructed instead of demolished. This ensures that valuable materials are salvaged and made available for reuse.

“Next year approximately 100 homes will have to be deconstructed instead of demolished, if we keep up our present rate,” said Joe Connell, vice president of retail operations for Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East and sitting member of the Deconstruction Advisory Group (DAG).

But there are other reasons why city leaders and neighborhood groups support the measure.

“Deconstructing a home provides more jobs-which helps our community.” Connell added. “For every one person it takes to demolish a home, it takes six people hired on to do a deconstruction. More decent-paying jobs.”

In an average deconstruction, from 70 percent to 85 percent of materials can be salvaged for reuse, said Stephen Reichard, exective director of The Rebuilding Center.

Then there’s the safety issue.

Prior to a demolition, a house must be inspected for asbestos by a certified contractor. If any asbestos is found, it must be removed and disposed of.  But often times asbestos may be hidden, unseen by inspectors.

In 26 of 51 homes deconstructed in 2013, 2014 and 2015-even after asbestos abatement-more asbestos was uncovered during the deconstruction process, according to Reichard.

“Even if the contractor is doing all they can, and hosing it all down, that asbestos is still there,” Connell pointed out. “It can get into the ground, it can get into the air, float to the neighbors and ultimately it goes in the landfill. They crunch it all up and throw it into boxes and it goes to the landfill.”

That takes us into energy conservation. Reichard used a BPS (Bureau of Planning and Sustainability) calculator to determine that deconstructing a 2,800-ft home:

  • saves 1,821 kilowatt hours of electricity,
  • 24 tons less CO2 released into the atmosphere (associated with landfilling waste), and
  • keeps 16 tons of reusable materials out of the waste stream.

More to consider

In an article by Sara Badiali, board chair of the Building Material Reuse Association, she said water is another valuable resource saved by using deconstruction over demolition. She wrote, “To demolish a 5,000-square foot building they typically use 6,000 gallons of water.  That comes out to roughly 1.2 gallons of water per square foot of building…Deconstruction does not need dust suppression.”

Wrestling with the fact that 300 single-family homes are destroyed each year in Portland, many of the neighborhood associations believe the 1916 cutoff was not enough. They want it to be 1930, but the feeling from the deconstruction contractors and the building industry was that that was too much, too soon.

Next Steps

Next up, the BPS and DAG have been charged with creating the language of the law, the city code, that will go into effect October 31, 2016. After that the city estimates approximately 33 percent of single-family demolitions would be subject to the deconstruction requirement. Once in place, officials expect about 8 million pounds of reusable materials will be diverted from landfills, more construction jobs will be created, and there will be more effective mitigation of asbestos and lead.

Four years ago The ReStore began doing partial strip-outs. We continue to look for creative ways to expand our Salvage Service program to meet the demand. As a deconstruction contractor we will establish new partnerships, allowing our team to soft strip everything possible and then work with a contractor to take the rest of the house down, salvaging the lumber and other reusable material to stock The ReStore.

“It’s the first deconstruction regulation of its kind anywhere,” Connell continued. “Some people in the industry say it’s the first globally, that this has never been written into law before. So it’s a huge step. I’m amazingly proud our stores are part of it.”


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