What role does “ethical dismantling” play in a waste-conscious future? One Squamish developer isn’t waiting to find out.
Globally, construction and demolition waste (C&DW) contributes to approximately 35 per cent of the waste produced…in the entire world. This comes from a recent study published in volume 55 of the journal ScienceDirect, which noted that, “The improper handling and disposal of C&DW over the last few decades has increased land prices, resource consumption, and environmental pollution, putting a great deal of burden on the environment and negatively affecting living circumstances for people.”
According to 2022 numbers from the District of Squamish, 703 tons of “construction and demolition waste” ended up in the local landfill, this is just 5.8 per cent of the total. Be wary, however: 54 per cent of the 11,940 tons of waste that hit the Squamish landfill last year was labelled as “commercial waste,” and some (much?) of that could have also come from construction, demolition, and renovations.
For longtime local homebuilder Jason Wood of Diamond Head Development, those numbers need to come down. And when five homes had to be demolished for his recent Finch Drive project, Wood decided now was the time to find out just how much waste could be diverted.
“It’s easy to see that this is important,” Wood says. “We’ve seen crazy weather changes lately- heat domes, floods, fires- and we know global warming is a problem. We also know creating unnecessary waste creates all sorts of negative effects on the planet. So, we approached this the same we approach all problems. What is the most effective way to face this challenge?”
For Wood and his team, the solution was what’s becoming known around the industry as careful deconstruction or ethical dismantling. “It was simple to envision,” he says. “Let’s strip these buildings down manually and sell, re-use, or give away as much as we can.”
The homes were only 20-25 years old, Wood explains, so the materials were in good shape. His team, led by local specialists from Phase One Dismantling, diverted almost everything from the landfill. “I was surprised to learn asphalt shingles can be recycled,” Wood says. “So long as you can get them to the asphalt plant. We used a lot of the plywood and 2x4s for forming wood, that was easy. There is so much quality wood in old builds in this country.”
Phase One had a solid contact list for specialty items, but most of the materials found new homes through social media and a mini sale centre Diamond Head set up on site. “Windows were hugely popular,” Wood says. “People were coming for materials to build a shed or a barn, and we found homes for the old landscaping bricks, for old trees. Even insulation was reusable, people were coming and grabbing it as fast as we could bag it. It was amazing.”
Wood admits the dismantling process takes a bit more time than traditional demolition, but beyond the huge environmental benefits, the net cost surprised him. “It’s actually more cost effective,” he says. “You are paying people instead of machine or landfill expenses. For five homes we had less than $2,000 worth of dump runs.”
With housing density part of Squamish’s official community plan and landfill-capacity pressure increasing province-wide (the District estimates the Squamish landfill will top up by “the end of 2029/early 2030”) municipalities across British Columbia are implementing bylaws and incentives to promote broader uptake of ethical dismantling. Squamish is “working on it” according to communications staff so, for now, the seeds of change remain with builders and developers like Wood, whose goal is for Finch Drive to become Squamish’s first net-zero development of multi-family homes.
“We make decisions like this because of who we are and what’s important to us,” he says. “Ethical dismantling, building responsibly…that should be incentivized and then it should become mandatory. I don’t think it’s hard for anyone to understand why we can’t knock over a home and just throw it all in the garbage.”
To read the full magazine, click here.