Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

New bylaws in Metro Vancouver require commercial building demolition permit applicants to submit recycling receipts in order to receive refunds of permit deposits as high as $50,000.Lincoln Clarkes

Developers in Victoria and Metro Vancouver are coming to terms with demolition bylaws that impose pricey recycling incentive deposits and wood-salvage quotas on a broader range of buildings.

Following Port Moody and Surrey’s lead, Burnaby has introduced an all-structure green demolition bylaw that mimics the stringent bylaws that once just covered heritage home demolitions.

Port Moody’s recently amended bylaw sets a new high for recycling quotas: 100 per cent of clean wood – wood that is not contaminated with paint, stain or chemical treatments – and 85 per cent of all other materials must be recycled before a deposit fee is refunded.

Burnaby’s new bylaw marks a new high for deposit fees, which cap at $50,000 for structures more than 22,000 square feet, such as a warehouse. Before the fee is refunded, applicants must submit a compliance report with receipts from recycling facilities proving 70 per cent of demolition material was recycled.

“We’re incentivizing developers to make adjustments in their current work processes to divert more material from our landfills,” says Tracey Tobin, climate action and energy officer for Burnaby. “This aligns with our goal to become a zero-waste, carbon-neutral city.”

Open this photo in gallery:

A new bylaw requiring wood salvage from pre-1960 homes will ultimately be expanded to include commercial buildings in order to save the old-growth wood with which they were built.Unbuilders

Construction and demolition material accounts for the largest category of solid waste – more than one-third – in Canadian landfills, yet it’s possible to divert and recover value from the vast majority of these materials, according to a 2019 report by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Ms. Tobin says, so far, “only a handful” of commercial demolition permit applicants have paid the $50,000 fee since the bylaw went into effect last October.

But the number of hefty deposit-fee permits is expected to rise as the growing metropolis marches ahead with “a realignment of our town centres,” she says. Around mass transit stations, “we’re seeing some older stock – multifamily and older commercial buildings – targeted for redevelopment. So, we’re setting the stage to be ready when these buildings come down.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver’s demolition bylaw still only covers heritage homes; builders can demolish any other structure with no minimum recycling rate, although they must adhere to landfill bans on clean wood, hazardous waste and other substances.

While the city’s bylaw is limited compared with Burnaby’s all-structure bylaw, a 2019 amendment requiring wood-salvage quotas reset the bar for sustainable building removal.

“We’re incentivizing developers to make adjustments in their current work processes to divert more material from our landfills. This aligns with our goal to become a zero-waste, carbon-neutral city.”

Tracey Tobin, climate action and energy officer for Burnaby

Almost half the wood on pre-2010 homes must be saved for reuse rather than recycled, a process that usually entails shredding the wood into chips to be incinerated for electricity.

The bylaw requires proof of wood reuse or resale before a $14,600 deposit fee is refunded.

The Canadian precedent-setting rule has been influential. Recently, both Victoria and the District of North Vancouver introduced demolition bylaws requiring wood-salvage quotas for older home removal.

Victoria will eventually broaden the quota’s reach to cover older structures of all types, city official Rory Tooke says. Ultimately, Burnaby, too, plans to include a wood-salvage quota in its all-structure bylaw, Ms. Tobin says.

Careful deconstruction

Open this photo in gallery:

Most recycled wood ends up as chips for fuel.Harvest Urban Wood Recyclers

Wood-salvage requirements mean a building can no longer be demolished in the typical manner, with an excavator doing most of the work as quickly as possible. Rather, it must be deconstructed or dismantled, which involves carefully taking it apart to prevent damage to the wood in order to maximize its value.

Victoria’s new wood-salvage bylaw is more rigorous than Vancouver’s. Since B.C. buildings were built with old-growth wood until at least 1970, Victoria’s bylaw requires salvage from all homes up to 1960. Its permit’s incentive deposit of $19,500 is 33 per cent higher.

Mr. Tooke, sustainability manager for Victoria, says “the benefits are both environmental and economical, [with potentially] hundreds of thousands of dollars of reclaimed old-growth wood per project” returning to the market.

“A building has value for 100 years and then the components of the building have another 200, maybe 300 years of value. That’s a completely different model” from a linear-production cycle to a circular one, which minimizes resource extraction and waste, Mr. Tooke says.

The Victoria Residential Builders Association states deconstruction will add “$20,000-plus” to development costs, even factoring in full refunds and money saved by wood reuse or from resale.

While the association laments higher labour requirements, policy makers see more job creation. For every one person a demolition requires, six to eight are needed for deconstruction.

Developer Jordan Milne, president of Victoria-based GMC Projects, says the new bylaws are a “double-edged sword.”

“I like that they create a framework for accountability to ensure people remove buildings in more sustainable ways,” he says. “However, they also create extra cost to a project while we’re trying to address affordability.”

Yet GMC Projects already chooses to deconstruct non-residential buildings. It hired Vancouver-based Unbuilders to dismantle a mixed-use complex in Victoria, saving bricks, wood, stain glass and other heritage features. GMC also plans to hire Unbuilders to deconstruct a church in Vancouver.

Mr. Milne says he is willing to pay “double or triple more” to deconstruct rather than trash a building “because that’s our duty right now: to do what we can to minimize our footprint.”

Robert Fung, president of Vancouver-based Salient Group, claims he received “a good, competitive bid” from Unbuilders to deconstruct a pair of retail buildings in downtown Victoria. Salient Group reused the heritage facades in the replacement building, while Unbuilders cashed in on all the old-growth wood it salvaged.

“I have an issue with the amount of stuff that ends up in the dump,” says Mr. Fung, who has preferred deconstruction ever since Salient began rejuvenating Vancouver’s historic Gastown back in 2007.

“At the same time, it’s not an easy process. It takes significantly longer [several weeks] to dismantle a building,” he says.

In a business where time is money and margins are tight, Adam Corneil, founder of Unbuilders, says he would prefer bylaw incentives that offer developers fast-tracked or discounted building permits in return for wood-salvage and recycling receipts – rather than costly deposits.

As the leader of Canada’s first deconstruction firm in Canada, Mr. Corneil advises policy makers across the country about green demolition, most recently in Montreal and Toronto.

Deconstruction may still be in its infancy but given the country’s landfill-capacity pressures and timber supply shortages, “in the next five to 10 years, deconstruction will be mandatory across Canada and in many parts of the U.S.,” he says.