Cities promote deconstruction of old homes with mixed results

Market factors complicate efforts to recycle material from old structures.

August 23, 2018 |

A few U.S. cities have created laws and regulations to encourage deconstruction of old—and sometimes abandoned—homes.

Reclaiming old building materials rather than sending them to landfills holds great appeal, particularly in blighted areas of cities. Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Portland, Ore., have all initiated new ordinances aimed at promoting deconstruction as a way to create entry-level construction jobs and reduce demolition waste.

Portland’s ordinance requires developers to deconstruct homes or duplexes that are designated historic or were built in 1916 or earlier. The law allows contractors to apply for an exemption if a building is structurally unsafe or extensively damaged.

Portland’s effort has been uncontroversial and successful, with a quarter of the 318 demolition permits issued by the city in the first year the ordinance went into effect going for deconstruction. Initiatives in other cities, including Milwaukee, have struggled as contractors have difficulty turning a profit and finding workers.

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