Many of us have gotten used to the idea of recycling consumer waste. From our plastic containers to our office papers, recycling has become the standard in many areas of the world. But what about recycling your entire home? Deconstruction policies aim to make this practice a reality.
A new brief now available from the USGBC Advocacy and Policy team, "From Demolition to Deconstruction: City Salvage and Reuse Policies," outlines important considerations for policymakers thinking about a deconstruction policy.
Deconstruction as a reuse strategy
Cities around the nation are currently facing growing numbers of old, inefficient and deteriorating homes in their communities. Owners of these homes often turn to demolition because of the impractical costs of renovation. Frequently, these older homes are made of high-quality materials that go to waste because demolition sends them straight into a landfill.
Deconstruction is an innovative process that can salvage waste from demolition and address the myriad other issues that come along with demolition, while simultaneously contributing to a city’s overall sustainability goals. The deconstruction process involves taking apart an existing building, element by element, in the reverse order of its construction to preserve or recycle as many of the materials as possible. Those salvaged materials can then be transformed into profitable resources, sold for future construction projects.
Deconstruction benefits more than just the environment—the process can help protect public health by reducing the airborne toxic pollutants associated with demolition, create new construction careers, foster the creation and expansion of small businesses that handle salvaged materials, and provide quick and affordable access to building materials in the event of a natural disaster.
Deconstruction as a city policy
Recognizing the multiple benefits to the community and environment, some cities are using their power over demolition permits to require deconstruction in certain buildings. By creating a deconstruction policy, the first cities are starting to exercise control over how older homes are torn down, ensuring that certain buildings are deconstructed rather than demolished through the standard procedure.
A deconstruction policy can take shape through different city departments, such as an office of historic preservation or an office of sustainability, or it can result directly from a local city council effort.
In addition to sharing the benefits of deconstruction policies and considerations for creating them, the USGBC brief highlights the work of Portland, Oregon, the first city in the U.S. to implement a successful deconstruction ordinance.