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Portlanders show their support for deconstructing – rather than demolishing – older buildings


Nov. 6, 2019

Contact: Tim Becker

In 2016, Portland became the first city in North America to require deconstruction for its oldest and most historic houses when proposed for removal. Portland’s deconstruction ordinance prioritizes material salvage and reuse over landfill, provides economic opportunity and workforce development, and facilitates the safe removal of hazardous materials.

New ordinance increases number of deconstructed houses

Today, Portland City Council heard a Bureau of Planning and Sustainability proposal to expand the current deconstruction ordinance from houses built before 1917 to houses built before 1941. This proposed year-built threshold would increase the number of annually deconstructed houses from one third to two thirds of all house demolitions.

Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced the proposal and highlighted how Portland is disrupting the business-as-usual approach to removing houses by mechanical demolition.

“We believe in a circular economy, where we move away from the linear model of using something once, throwing it out, and having it go to the landfill, and instead finding ways to creatively reuse materials,” he said.

Testimony focuses on benefits of proposed ordinance

Commissioners heard testimony on the benefits of expanding the ordinance from deconstruction companies, salvage retailers, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, United Neighbors for Reform (UNR) and Restore Oregon. Commissioner Amanda Fritz thanked UNR and other neighborhood associations for their efforts and support for this policy and stated that, “The [ordinance is now the] standard for the nation. And instead of two deconstruction companies, there are 12 companies doing this work.”

Dave Bennink from the Building Deconstruction Institute talked about his role in training contractors and workforce development. He noted that other cities are looking to Portland for guidance on deconstruction as well as the exponential benefits from other cities replicating Portland’s deconstruction model.

Watch the hearing

Since the deconstruction ordinance went into effect three years ago, more than 200 houses have been deconstructed. From those projects, more than 2.4 million pounds of material was salvaged for reuse. That salvaged material – as well as avoided disposal and production impacts – translate to significant carbon benefits when compared to mechanical demolition.

Next steps

Council overwhelmingly supported the expansion and will vote on the proposal next week.