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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

Innovation. Collaboration. Practical Solutions.

Phone: 503-823-7700

Curbside Hotline: 503-823-7202

1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201

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BPS E-News: Designing without waste and building with less

Consider the five elements of green building: Energy efficiency, water conservation, healthy indoor air quality, durable materials and a sustainable site.

While reducing a building’s energy use is important, so is the selection of materials used in its construction. Each year building construction and remodeling consumes many tons of materials,  creating significant waste. While designing and building a project there are multiple ways to reduce waste, saving time, materials and money.

How to reduce construction waste and decrease material purchases

Reducing waste is an important first step in construction debris management: 

  • Whether a do-it-yourselfer, or hiring a design-build team, identify which materials you will reuse or recycle before you start your project.
  • Talk to your contractor and waste hauler about your waste management goals and how to reach them.
  • Make the best use of materials through thoughtful design, measurement, ordering and installation. Recycled-content porcelain tiles and steel roofing panels are examples of these types of building materials becoming more easily available.
  • Build flexible additions or rooms serving multiple functions, saving space, materials and reducing waste.
  • Reuse salvaged materials like finish lumber, doors, lighting and hardware – an added bonus is the patina and added character these bring to your design.
  • Protect materials from moisture and exposure to reduce maintenance or replacement (and save money) down the line.

Waste reduction can also be broken down into strategies that happen before breaking ground (design phase) and strategies that happen on the site during building (construction phase). Here are some examples of design strategies: 

Design in two-foot and four-foot increments: Lumber and sheet materials are typically milled in two-foot increments. Designing your building using these modules will maximize the use of materials and minimize waste.

Deeper eaves — it rains in Oregon: Deeper eaves or overhangs protect siding and windows from the elements, meaning they will need repair and replacement less often. Deeper eaves may also keep your building cooler in summer by blocking the sun's heat from penetrating windows and exterior walls.

Use fewer materials and design for simplicity: Designing spaces with open-frame ceilings and shelves without cabinet doors are a few examples of how less is more.

Adaptability: Think about how a building will evolve over time. How can it be remodeled or reconfigured with minimal impact to elements such as flooring and utilities? Design multi-use spaces, not just a room for each activity. Eliminate the need for hallways. Consider dedicating a small area to grouping utility connections for easy replacement in the future with minimal disruption to interior spaces.

Aging-in-place: Designing a house with universal design principles (accessible to both people with and without disabilities), allows elders to remain in a house without having to make major modifications to the structure when needs or abilities change. Doorway widths, counters, toilets, grab bars are examples. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are an excellent example of a way to accommodate change in the various stages of life.

New form makes it easier to plan recycling of construction debris

BPS recently revised the Pre-Construction Recycling Plan Form that general contractors or property owners receive after issuance of a building permit. The updated form is now a postage-paid self-mailer, making it more user-friendly. The revised form, now known as the Construction and Demolition Debris Management Form, is distributed at permit application for all building projects regardless of value. Owners or general contractors of building projects equal to or greater than $50,000 (including both demolition and construction phases) are still required to complete and return the form. However, completing and returning the form is optional for building projects less than $50,000.

For more information on the City’s construction and demolition debris requirements, the revised form, and additional ways to reduce construction waste (or reuse/recycle it) please visit BPS’s Construction and Demolition Debris website,

Visit us at an upcoming Fix-It Fair

Pick up a free handy waste minimization bookmark at the Regional Green Building Hotline booth at the upcoming neighborhood Fix-It Fair February 23 at Ron Russell Middle School.