Portland City Council adopts new deconstruction ordinance to save quality, historic materials

News Article
Deconstruction instead of demolition: Disassembling Portland’s oldest and most historic houses and duplexes will protect public health and save valuable materials for reuse.

In July, Portland City Council adopted an ordinance, including code language, which requires projects seeking a demolition permit of a house or duplex to fully deconstruct that structure if it was built in 1916 or earlier or is a designated historic resource. With Council’s unanimous approval of that ordinance, Portland became the first city in the country to ensure that valuable materials from our demolished houses and duplexes are salvaged for reuse instead of crushed and landfilled.

“Our existing older houses are assets: They preserve our built history and contribute to neighborhood character,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. “If they must come down, materials from these houses can live on in new buildings. By keeping valuable materials out of the landfill, we ensure the least amount of impact on the environment and neighbors. Deconstruction reduces our carbon footprint; prevents harmful air pollution caused by demolition; and creates good, family wage jobs."

In Portland, more than 300 single-family homes are demolished each year. This produces thousands of tons of waste — a majority of which could be salvaged for reuse. From start to finish, deconstruction protects health, creates pathways to construction careers and generates affordable reusable building materials. Currently, less than 10 percent of houses that are removed use deconstruction.

About 18 months ago, Portland City Council asked BPS to develop strategies to increase deconstruction activity as an alternative to mechanical demolition. With the help of an industry- and community-based advisory group, BPS has:

  • Established a deconstruction grant program.
  • Been awarded $50,000 in funding from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to supplement the grant program.
  • Developed recommendations and policy targets that are included in the new rule.  

Today’s ordinance follows up on that resolution and adopts new code requirements, effective October 31, 2016, requiring deconstruction for houses and duplexes built in 1916 or earlier or designated as a historic resource regardless of age. 

Approximately 33 percent of single-family demolitions would be subject to the deconstruction requirement. Increased deconstruction will:

  • Divert 8 million pounds (4,000 tons) of materials for reuse (annually).
  • Create job opportunities that act as a pathway for construction careers.
  • Increase the likelihood of discovering materials containing lead and asbestos for safe removal and disposal.

Training the next generation of deconstruction experts   

Building Material Reuse Association (BMRA) will offer a training later this fall that will focus on developing the skills needed to work on a deconstruction site.