Since 2016, one-fourth of whole houses that were taken down in Palo Alto were deconstructed instead of demolished. This means workers were required to disassemble structures so materials could be recycled. The new policy intends to bring the successes of deconstruction to a city-wide scale. The ordinance will impact approximately 114 projects annually, according to a City Council Staff Report.
The demolition sorting operation at Zanker Recycling extracts concrete, sheetrock, asphalt and wood, among other debris, for recyclable markets. Photo by Veronica Weber.
The new deconstruction ordinance is expected to help the city divert 7,930 tons of waste annually (by contrast, the disposable-foodware ordinance that the council adopted at the same meeting would divert 290 tons). The deconstruction ordinance is also expected to reduce the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 22,300 metric tons annually (for the foodware ordinance, the number is 470 tons).
Milwaukee could pause its enforcement of a mandate requiring contractors to deconstruct, rather than demolish, historic homes after a assessment of the policy found that it struggled to get off the ground in 2018.
(Image courtesy of the Delta Institute via Extracting Value through Deconstruction)
On Jan. 1, the country’s second deconstruction ordinance went into effect in Milwaukee. In short, the ordinance “provides deconstruction requirements for the removal of Milwaukee’s older and more historic primary dwelling structures.” Deconstruction, in contrast to demolition, is the process of systematically dismantling a structure in an environmentally, socially and economically responsible manner, aiming to maximize the recovery of materials for reuse and recycling. The ordinance targets primary-dwelling structures built in 1929 or earlier. This reason for this specification? The likelihood that those structures will contain old-growth lumber and other valuable building materials.
This Eastmoreland house was torn down last fall to make way for new construction. Mike Francis | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Already, though, some say the new rule isn’t enough. A group called United Neighborhoods for Reform wants the City Council to require deconstruction for all homes built before 1978 — when the government banned lead paint in consumer uses.
“When a house is demolished through mechanical demolition, lead is pulverized and sent up into the air and falls into neighbors’ yards as dust,” said Barbara Kerr, the group’s representative on the city’s Deconstruction Advisory Group. “If it’s deconstructed, it poses little danger.”