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More on Deconstruction Ordinances and Bylaws

Published on: Jul 06, 2022

Earlier this month I was invited to the historic town of Victoria to give two workshops for a range of people tasked with implementing the city’s newly passed Deconstruction Bylaw. Audiences included building, demolition and deconstruction contractors, house movers, city personnel involved in the bylaw’s oversight, receivers and distributors of salvaged building materials and construction managers.

These were the city’s instructions:
• Review in detail the reporting requirements that contractors must meet when verifying the materials salvaged from each project.
• Outline the benefits of deconstruction over traditional smash and dash demolition.
• Detail the procedures, from the initial deconstruction survey through the delivery of salvaged materials to the recipient.
• Explain how to preserve the value of salvaged materials once removed from the structure.
• Demonstrate the nexus between deconstruction and historic preservation and adaptive reuse.
• Summarize how an item’s embodied energy is saved through deconstruction.

Since 2017, Several Western Canada and US cities have passed, or are in the process of formulating, deconstruction bylaws. Those passed in Victoria and North Vancouver are more effective than most of the others I have encountered in either country. By effective I mean that 1) contractors must meet or exceed specific salvage weights, and 2) contractors who miss those targets face financial fines ranging from $15,000 to $19,500 per project.

Since waste diversion (zero waste) is the objective, I am at a loss to understand why any municipality would enact an ordinance, but be unable, or unwilling, to measure its progress. My personal management hero, Peter Drucker, often stated, “If you want to manage something you must measure it.”

For a bylaw to be truly successful, deconstruction contractors must be held accountable for their diversion quantities and weights. This requires some education. By this I do not mean they need to be trained in deconstruction. If today’s contractors need to be taught how to remove a window, door, cabinet or framing member, they should not be allowed to call themselves contractors. What they must learn is how to protect a component’s value after it has been removed and during shipping. This knowledge is generally not in a contractor’s purview and simple training in value preservation is best.

Furthermore, when a municipality requires deconstruction, contractors who have failed to meet diversion requirements should be banned. One of the homeowner’s major incentives for choosing deconstruction is the tax reduction earned by donating the used materials to qualified nonprofit organizations and receiving a Canadian tax credit or documentation of their US tax-deducible donation. If a contractor is not meeting the city’s requirements, then the owner is not donating the optimum quantity of salvaged materials, resulting in a lower tax benefit. After all, the homeowner is really assisting the municipality in achieving diversion goals by bearing the increased cost of deconstruction and should not be further penalized by using an incompetent contractor.