New Demolition Ordinance Creates Opportunities and Possible Challenges

As the oldest deconstruction firm in the City, the ReBuilding Center’s DeConstruction Services was well positioned to take up the additional work when the City of Portland implemented the mandatory deconstruction requirement for homes built in 1916 or before. The City also had been planning to move up the date of construction for homes subject to the mandatory deconstruction ordinance. However, in February, instead of expanding the mandatory deconstruction ordinance, the City passed an ordinance imposing a series of new requirements for the demolition of homes built after 1916 in the interest of environmental and community health and safety benefits.

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Requirements for home demolitions under the new ordinance include removing the exterior of the house before mechanically demolishing the rest of the structure. This could boost local interest in deconstruction, but new procedural and staffing requirements could prove onerous if the City decides to apply them to deconstruction.

Details of the New Requirements

The new ordinance requires removal of any painted elements on the exterior of houses (windows, doors, siding, etc.), before mechanical demolition. Once the exterior is removed, the permit holder can mechanically demolish the rest of the house, but if they do, the ordinance requires new procedures, including:

  • The contractor must continuously spray water on their equipment and waste materials to suppress dust.
  • All mechanical demolition must stop if winds exceed 25 mph.
  • Place plastic protection around the exterior of the house.
  • Cover all non-salvageable waste containers.
  • Have an accredited asbestos inspector on site during all work.
  • Submit a demolition/deconstruction plan detailing how the contractor will comply with the new requirements.
  • Post notices on all properties within 150 feet of the project at least 72 hours before work starts.

What the New Ordinance May Mean for Us

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The ordinance says that, if the whole house is deconstructed, the watering and the wind speed requirements do not apply. However, there is a lingering question about whether the additional procedural and staffing requirements would apply to whole house deconstructions.

If the City applies the procedural requirements to deconstruction projects, it could create challenges, including:

  • Each new non-mandatory deconstruction job would require additional preparation work to develop a demolition plan and may require additional onsite measures.
  • We'll need to certify multiple deconstruction staff as asbestos inspectors and will have to ensure that each job site always has a certified asbestos inspector on site.

Mandatory Deconstruction v. New Demolition Requirements

The City said they expect the new ordinance to increase the number of whole house deconstructions. Therefore, the City decided not to move up the date for homes subject to mandatory deconstruction, for fear of overwhelming the small number of deconstruction contractors in the area. Traditional demolition contractors may, indeed, decide to hire deconstruction contractors to do the exterior deconstruction. Additionally, some permit holders may opt to deconstruct the entire house. Plus, the new ordinance applies to hundreds of more residential buildings than the mandatory deconstruction ordinance. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that the new ordinance will be beneficial for licensed deconstruction firms.

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What's Next

The City will need to develop rules for implementing the ordinance, including an official statement on what requirements will apply to whole house deconstructions. The City will begin enforcing the new demolition requirements this summer, and DeConstruction Services is prepared to support and comply with any regulations that the City passes to improve environmental and community health.

Sara Eddie, Business Development