Decarbonizing Canada’s Large Buildings

For Canada to achieve its 2030 and 2050 climate targets, building owners and operators will need to upgrade, retrofit, and ultimately decarbonize hundreds of millions of square metres of space.

CAGBC’s new study, Decarbonizing Canada’s Large Buildings equips Canadian building owners and policy-makers with the tools and information needed to supercharge deep carbon retrofits.

The study gives a window into the cost of deep carbon retrofits, the energy and carbon savings they will achieve, and even details how building owners and operators can maximize the cost efficiency of their retrofits.

The study breaks down Canada’s large buildings into 50 different archetypes, and sets baselines and business-as-usual upgrades — that is, routine improvements to building systems. The report then identifies what retrofits are needed for the archetypes to achieve net-zero and their performance outcomes and provides a financial analysis of the retrofit measures.



The report also examines best practice approaches for management and procurement, as well as the recommended policy and support mechanisms needed to increase deep carbon retrofit activity.

To accelerate much-needed retrofits, Canada will need to maintain a steadily increasing carbon price while providing new or strengthened regulations and policies, significant investments, and innovative financing structures. Governments should also support building-system and materials advances, and focus on energy grid optimization.


What we learned:

Canada can decarbonize existing large buildings by 2050 if we start today

Owners of all large buildings can slash energy use by more than 70%

Good news now and on the horizon for deep carbon retrofits’ business case

Cutting energy demand first, especially with enclosure upgrades makes deep carbon retrofits more attractive


The key learnings from the report are clear: Every large building can be retrofitted to achieve net-zero operations and energy use can be slashed by more than 70 per cent. While some building types offer more attractive business cases today, all business cases will improve with time and an increasing carbon cost. 

Importantly, every building owner should start transition planning today. By structuring deep carbon retrofits around regular building system life-cycles, they can methodically move forward on carbon reduction. To achieve the best performance results and cost-effectiveness, retrofits should focus first on energy demand reductions so owners can right-size mechanical systems. Energy demand reduction measures will also help mitigate peak energy demand issues resulting from the electrification of buildings.

The most significant demand reduction measure for any building archetype, but especially those of the 1970s vintage, was enclosure renewals. Tackling the building’s exterior can have significant impacts on energy reduction. Since enclosure renewals are often a once-in-a-building-lifetime opportunity, owners have to seize the opportunity and squeeze every possible energy and carbon reduction benefit.

Canada has committed to significant carbon reduction by 2030, and complete decarbonization by 2050. The building industry can no longer put off deep carbon retrofits. With this study, we provide a clear, actionable path forward for Canada’s large buildings, and issue the call for the supports needed to make Canada’s retrofit economy thrive.


About the study

CaGBC commissioned RDH Building Science in partnership with Dunsky Energy Consulting for this study. The researchers used whole-building energy modelling to evaluate deep carbon retrofit opportunities across the 50 different building archetypes.

The Canada Green Building Council acknowledges the contributions of the Government of Canada, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, and the Province of Nova Scotia (represented by the Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines) in the preparation of this report. CaGBC also thanks the consultants on this report, RDH Building Science, working in partnership with Dunsky Energy Consulting.