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Several cities mandate rehabilitation practices during building demolition — here's what they require

In the more thorough deconstruction process, hazards can be partially avoided.

In the more thorough deconstruction process, hazards can be partially avoided.

Photo Credit: iStock

Cities across the United States are embracing a new attitude toward old buildings that maximizes their potential instead of completely tearing them down and constructing new, expensive replacements.

Portland kicked off a healthy trend in 2016 when it issued the first-ever deconstruction ordinance in the U.S., meaning that it imposed a law that forces all homes built before 1940 to be taken apart piece by piece whenever they're demolished, according to Grist

This means that the materials within each older home can be reused in a later construction project instead of ending up in a landfill.

Since then, some of the country's biggest cities, including San Antonio and Pittsburgh, have adopted similar measures. Two cities — Palo Alto and Boulder — have even introduced policies that require deconstruction on every building set for demolition, not just historic ones. 

"Rehabbing buildings is looked at as the pinnacle of climate-wise building," Stephanie Phillips, the deconstruction and circular economy program manager for San Antonio, told Grist.

Almost 150 million tons of demolition debris from discarded buildings ended up in landfills in the U.S. alone when measured in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. According to MDPI, construction and demolition of buildings use about one-third of all the resources harvested from Earth every year and are also responsible for almost one-third of the planet's total waste.

Adopting more sustainable demolition practices like deconstruction could have positive impacts on the planet as well as human health. Since typical demolition (that is, not deconstruction) often launches dust and other pollutants into the air around the demolition site, wrecking crews' repeated destruction can cause respiratory problems and other health issues, according to Bella Contracting

In the more thorough deconstruction process, these kinds of hazards can be partially avoided, as demolishers must be more careful and gentle in their process to maintain the integrity of the materials.

Deconstruction policies are just one subset of human-friendly urban planning policies that help the environment. 

For example, Los Angeles placed a ban on natural gas in new construction, which contributes to both planetary pollution and respiratory health problems. 

Phoenix also recently enacted a water conservation policy that should redirect the city's water supply back to its most essential uses — drinking water and hydropower — and stop excessive usage elsewhere in the city to preserve the Colorado River. 

New Jersey destroyed one of its final remaining coal power plants to convert it into a clean energy plant, which will make the state's air cleaner to breathe.

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