[CHALLENGE] A De-Construction Hub

We’re aiming to create a deconstruction hub in the False Creek Flats. There is a network of parties interested in deconstruction; the practice and teaching of, distribution of materials, reselling, upcycling, and more.

The City of Vancouver Greenest City Action Plan identifies diverting demolition waste from the landfill as a key goal. In 2015, The City landfilled 124,044 tonnes of demolition waste. De-construction focuses on conserving building materials for re-use, and maximizes recycling the remainder. It is generally done by hand, as opposed to bulldozer. In 2014, The City enacted a Green Demolition Bylaw to replace demolition with de-construction. Currently it only covers houses built before 1940; The City would advance this bylaw to cover all houses, if there were a centralized place to receive, sort, aggregate, re-sell and re-distribute these materials. This could also include a materials exchange, training and education programs, and re-manufacturing facilities. There is a great opportunity to build a central Deconstruction Hub, which would greatly advance Zero Waste Goals.

Deconstruction requires many more people to remove items carefully by hand so they are conserved - much more labour intensive - and costly. There is little incentive to de-construct; most demolition companies and the whole construction industry is quite conservative. The main cost advantage of deconstruction is if the developer is issued a tax receipt for the value of any items recovered. However the issuer has to be a charity. There are very few people trained to properly hand-deconstruct a house. It requires knowledge of building, and there may be issues with hazardous materials. Most salvage operations focus on the “low hanging fruit”; readily removable high-resale value items such as kitchen cabinets, appliances, and antique fixtures. The remaining materials, which constitutes the majority of the volume, are low or no value. Most new construction does not include re-used materials: the building codes prohibit the re-use of lumber (unless it is re-certified). Up-cycling can creatively re-use some building materials into artistic new uses. However this is mostly a “boutique” venture, and only uses a fraction of the total volume of all houses that could be deconstructed. Used materials are perceived as inherently inferior within some large cultural populations; much education is required to change these values. This is also true throughout the construction industry. Because there are very few examples of successful Deconstruction Hubs, it is difficult to acquire accurate information to make a business case necessary to secure funds for a start-up.

To fill during and after the event:

The Deonstruction Hub has had two meetings so far, which involved the following stakeholders:

  • RCBC
  • Recycling Alternative
  • Habitat for Humanity

The Green Demolition Bylaw states that houses older than 40 years (“Character Homes” must be recycled 75%. That’s because these houses have more value due to the type of building materials that was used 40+ years ago. There’s lots of value in old houses (bathtubs, antique doors, etc).

Some issues with the idea of a Deconstruction Hub:
**Scale:**There’s a huge amount of material (1000s of tonnes)–> What to do with all the material?
Funding and Financial Stability:

  • Cheaper to demolish (1 day with equipment)
  • If you want to reuse, you must disassemble carefully (lumber must be de-nailed by hand)
  • slow speed of deconstuction (time = money for a contractor)
  • scattered data makes the construction of a business case difficult: Not a lot of successful examples to use as a model (Seattle has 3 decon companies but they focus on high-value material only)
  • The business case is the stuff missing
  • need a small grant to do a feasability study
  • Want to figure out the value of a house
  • Also how much to deconstruct??
  • City studio did a project -> used youth-at-risk to take apart houses
  • How do we get this material out to people who would use it?
  • Where woud the Hub go?
  • No widescale acceptance yet
    Stakeholder Coordination
    Stakeholders to involve may include:
  • developers
  • demolition companies
  • homebuyers
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • job training programs
  • local government and policy-makers
  • contractors
  • recyclers
  • universities (for R&D)

** What does success look like?**

  • to be a model for the circular economy
  • a model to export and copy
  • declop jobs
  • use as a driver for change in the way we build and develop

**Original proposal **

  • 1.2 million, city approved but didn’t go through with it.

Models of Deconstruction
Seattle Companies

  • 3 deconstruction hub people went down to Seattle to look at 3 decon companies
  • Very focused on high value materials
  • For-profit

Habitat for Humanity

  • Does whole-house deconstruction
  • Have only done a couple of houses
  • Use volunteers
  • They try to break even
  • Will only do it if they’re sure that they’ll break even.
  • Decontruction Hub would work on a much bigger scale

Naturally Crafted

  • Vancouver company that uses only old growth fir

Possible Models for Deconstruction Hub
What is the entity that would run this???

  • COV saw it as a social enterprise

Currently, what recycling happens when a house is demolished?
What happens when a place is demolished?

  • A developer might call habitat to get people to take all the stuff of value
  • This is very informal!!!
  • RCBC has a materials exchange

Interesting Points, Observations and Musings from Team Members

  • If you’re building with used materials, you need to get materials (lumber) re-certified
  • Asbestos is an issue, also insulation
  • Passive homes (Metro Vancouver is pushing for these to be built) use lots of plastic, plus stuff gets moisture in it and insulation, etc needs to get replaced every 20 years
  • New homes need to use reusable materials
  • There’s a group at UBC that’s doing research into a centre for advanced wood processing, which would create particle board from deconstructed lumber
  • They can even take stuff that’s painted, treated, etc.
  • They’re moving into building a factory
  • There needs to be research for this!
  • They need a steady stream of materials…if you’re dealing with a hundred different companies/developers, coordination is difficult.

Possible Opportunities/Points of Leverage

  • If the decon hub was a non-profit, there could be a tax deduction given
  • Currently in Vancouver, It’s very difficult to get a building permit, so how could we streamline for green demolition?
  • How can policy require reuse rather than recyling of materials?


  • Where will it be distributed? Many centres? 1 centre?
  • What will be the location? False Creek Flats? Old expo site? That’s where the city wants to put it because they want False Creek Flats to be an envrionmental hub


  • City buy-in (there’s buy-in from sustainability department)
    o Was one of the 2020 goals
  • Funding (funding and feasibility business case are intertwined)
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