Portland’s City Council Votes Strengthening Procedures for Demolishing Older Homes

Portland-older-buildingUrban growth and the demolition of historic homes in Portland has been a topic of debate for years. In the midst of a construction boom in response to the thousands of new residents the city welcomes, some Portlanders are concerned about projects that threaten the area’s unique historic homes. In February 2018, city commissioners voted to strengthen procedures regarding the demolition of older homes. At the same time, they did not extend the deconstruction mandate for homes built after 1916. As Portland demolition rules tighten, the number of homes requiring deconstruction remains unaltered.

Preservationists, Property Right Advocates and the Impact on Portland Demolition

Property right advocates maintain they should be able to do whatever they want with their historic homes. For years, Portland demolition contractors have sometimes found themselves caught between making stakeholders happy and navigating sometimes-confusing rules and regulations.

When city officials made their decision in February 2018, they stated they wanted to avoid overwhelming the limited number of certified deconstruction contractors in Portland and creating a larger supply of recycled materials than demand supports. Of the 16 certified contractors in Portland, only about eight are completing the bulk of the work. To create the new regulations, officials collaborated with the Deconstruction Advisory Group. The group’s goal was to include homes built before 1940 to the mandate by 2019. Doing so, however, would increase the number of buildings requiring deconstruction too quickly. For now, the 1916 date holds firm as procedures tighten.

At the time of publication, Oregon demolition contractors must first deconstruct non-structural, exterior, painted surfaces before using mechanical means of demolition on older Portland homes. When demolition begins, contractors must keep building materials wet to prevent the spread of dust containing contaminants such as lead and asbestos, which is often found in older homes.

A Case for Deconstruction

fall-leaves-portland-oregonWhile it’s more time-consuming, intricate and requires more labor, deconstruction allows for the reuse of building materials. Those who opt for deconstruction may also experience tax benefits that could help offset deconstruction costs when materials are donated. Clients can also use salvaged materials—including concrete—for other projects, which helps save money.

Other benefits of deconstruction include:

      • Less dependence on raw materials: Reusing salvaged materials from a deconstructed building reduces the consumption of virgin materials.
      • Use less energy: Deconstructing a home and reusing building materials consumes a fraction of the energy of extracting, processing and transporting raw materials does.
      • Green-building credits: Deconstruction, recycling and the use of salvaged materials can help a project earn LEED points and other green-building credits.
      • Divert waste from landfills: In 2014 alone, Portland residential demolition projects generated more than 21 million pounds of waste. Recycling and reusing building materials reduces waste and saves energy.
      • Reduce a community’s exposure to hazardous substances: Homes built before 1960 have a greater risk of containing harmful asbestos, lead paint, formaldehyde, crystalline silica, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Careful deconstruction helps prevent the hazardous particulates from becoming airborne.

    Elder Demolition is an EPA-certified demolition contractor in Portland whose managers have earned their 40-hour HAZWOPER certification. As the city’s population grows, residents can count on Elder’s knowledge and specialized equipment to exceed safety-related demolition standards. Talk to a demolition specialist about your historic home today.  

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