Vancouver’s deconstruction strategy

New city permit encourages disassembling a building to maximize diversion of materials
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By Rachel Moscovich

The City of Vancouver is rethinking demolition and taking a new approach to managing demolition ‘waste.’

Construction and demolition activities generate 1.3 million tonnes of waste in the region on an annual basis and in Vancouver, building materials comprise 36 per cent of the city’s solid waste stream. As Vancouver sets its sight on being the greenest city in the world in seven year’s time, efforts are being made to reduce the volume of disposed waste. The city has set a target to reduce solid waste disposal by 50 per cent by 2020.

To keep building materials out of landfill, Vancouver is encouraging deconstruction as an alternative to conventional demolition. By dismantling a building into its component parts to maximize salvage, reuse and recycling of building materials, a pile of rubble may turn into valuable material for a builder or designer.

Metro Vancouver’s approach to diversion is based upon the “5R hierarchy,” which emphasizes the value of waste as a resource. The hierarchy sets out the relative value of different methods of waste management:

  • Reduce waste at source.
  • Reuse where possible.
  • Recycle products at the end of their useful life.
  • Recover energy or materials from the waste stream.
  • Residuals managed in an environmentally sound manner.

Don’t demolish, deconstruct
Metro Vancouver’s 2010 Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan includes two goals aimed at reducing waste disposal from the construction and demolition sector. The first is to divert 80 per cent of demolition, land-clearing and construction waste by 2015. The second is to ban all wood from disposal by 2015.

Of the resources that come out of buildings, diversion of wood is identified as a priority. Since the majority of wood waste is generated from the demolition and renovation of single-family homes, the city introduced a new voluntary deconstruction permit program designed to encourage reuse and recycling of materials from single-family homes.

An applicant that is planning to demolish and build a single-family home may be eligible for a deconstruction permit. To qualify, the applicant must commit to diverting at least 75 per cent of materials from their project and track waste diversion on a waste management compliance form.

The permit strives to remove the barriers associated with deconstruction such as time and money. In a standard demolition, the city issues the demolition permit at the same time that the building permit is issued. Once the permits are issued, builders quickly demolish a home in preparation for construction of the new project shortly after.

In contrast, the deconstruction permit is issued at least two weeks in advance of the building permit to allow extra time to sort, reuse and recycle materials. Deconstruction permit holders have the advantage of being able to begin construction on the day the building permit is issued. A deconstruction permit holder is also eligible for a 50 per cent reduction in tipping fees at the Vancouver landfill and Vancouver south transfer station.

A diversion economy
Vancouver is exploring the potential of wide scale materials diversion in preparation for the introduction of new waste disposal bans. There is great potential for the development of an emerging local economy around materials reuse. Diversion of thousands of tonnes of wood and other products presents a broad range of business opportunities such as new product development, fabrication, manufacturing and recycling. The City of Vancouver supports this evolving sector through its Greenest City goal to create a thriving green economy.

Rachel Moscovich is a green building planner at the City of Vancouver.

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