Demolition vs Deconstruction— Portland’s New Policy

Over the course of 2017, the city of Portland has initiated a law mandating that any home built prior to 1916 must be deconstructed rather than demolished. Deconstruction is the method by which homes are slowly taken apart, so that numerous parts and materials are salvaged along the way. This is a much longer and more labor-intensive process than demolition, in which a house is destroyed with machinery and loaded into dumpsters, saving few materials along the way.

Vintage flooring being deconstructed and saved

Many materials used in classic and vintage homes have a substantial resale value. Stressed hardwood, classic windows, vintage appliances and numerous other materials are in demand among retail outlets such as coffee shows, brew houses, retail fashion storefronts, and others. There is a proven want for reclaimed building materials used in high end commercial and residential projects.

So far deconstruction has successfully served to preserve and to recycle vintage materials; but has also proven itself to be an extremely valuable training program for young workers. The training aspect of the program serves an important purpose in a time of need for the building industry. Post-recession, a large number of trained workers permanently left the building industry. This now leaves construction companies scrambling to find trained labor, and struggling to train adequate numbers of new workers.

This law in Portland shows that the lack of job training programs can be at least in part remedied by deconstruction programs. The training program has proven so successful, that the city is now considering whether or not to extend the law to homes built prior to 1926, thus expanding the scope of training programs. For an industry struggling to attract young and trained workers, any positive step is one in the right direction.

For now, Portland remains the only large city with these laws in place. However, with the seemingly apparent success of deconstruction programs many more cities and building associations may soon take notice.

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