The Balancing Act: Building Resiliency while also Reducing Carbon

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Resiliency

Even if all humans on the planet were to stop emitting greenhouse gasses today, the carbon emissions we have already pumped out will continue to change Earth’s climate for many generations. These changes include rising temperatures and more frequent and extreme weather events.

The damage from extreme weather events will occur at the scale of buildings, communities, and cities. According to the Canadian Climate Institute, the number and cost of catastrophic weather events in the past decade alone were twice as high as the combined number and cost of all such events recorded in the previous four decades.

The cost of inaction or delayed action is rising. In addition to the Zero Carbon Transition, we also need a Resilient Transition.

That’s why CAGBC, in addition to mitigation through emission reductions, is focused on adapting the built environment to ensure that communities are resilient and that society can continue to rely on the built environment in the face of increasingly extreme weather events. The team at CAGBC and our valued volunteers want to share some insights and resources about integrating resilience into LEED and Zero Carbon Building Standards projects.

“We already have many building solutions to both adapt to and mitigate increasingly extreme weather events,” explained Michael Sugar, Director of Zero Carbon Building at CAGBC. “Passive survivability and eliminating operational carbon emissions, for a start, is a solid foundation for resilient buildings.”

Some features – such as green roofs, high-performance windows and facades, as well as high-performance insulation – can help improve resilience during both extreme heat and extreme cold events.

“Design elements like Trombe walls can passively absorb heat by day and radiate out that heat during cold nights,” explained Sugar. “Water also has a high capacity to store heat, so ‘water walls’ are in development as resilient features during cold weather events.”

When improving resilience with heatwaves in mind, the building’s situation and orientation are crucial.

“Trees, other buildings, and other planned elements of the site can contribute to shading,” explained Sugar. “Orienting a building’s longest axis in an East-West direction can maximize light and reduce heat gain in summer when the sun is high. Solar panels can be positioned to maximize energy generation and provide shading. Other features that can improve resilience to extreme heat include vegetated structures, planted and/or permeable surfaces, and passive ventilation strategies.”

In recent years extreme heat events, often combined with poor air quality due to wildfires, have brough home the dire need for resilient approaches to managing the temperature and quality of indoor air in many Canadian municipalities. A 2022 report from Health Canada notes that the likelihood of extreme days of heat has increased from one to three days per year, and as a result the likelihood of death in Canadian cities has increased by 2 to 13 percent.

In 2023, extremely hot weather combined with poor air quality due to wildfire smoke reinforced the need for more resilient approaches to cooling and indoor air quality across much of North America. The record-breaking heat and humidity in Ontario and Quebec this September also highlighted the potential need to retrofit buildings, including residences and schools.

“People are increasingly looking to cool the indoor air and close their windows when the exterior air quality is poor,” noted Mark Hutchinson, Vice President of Green Building Programs and Innovation at CAGBC.

“Whether cooling is already provided or not, Canadians can improve resilience and reduce emissions by using heat pumps rather than air conditioners. Heat pumps replace both air conditioning units and heating sources. In the winter, they reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of fuels for heating. In the summer they consume less electricity and dehumidify more efficiently than air conditioning units, which reduces stress on the grid and makes it more resilient to brownouts.”

There are several industry tools and resources, in addition to CAGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standards, that can assist with resiliency in addition to the reduction of carbon emissions. CAGBC’s LEED Canada Steering Committee recently met to discuss these resiliency resources in the context of changes for LEED v4.1 BD+C credit Integrative Process (see section on ‘Assessment for Resilience’).

Jason Packer, Principal and President of Recollective Consulting, is a volunteer on the LEED Canada Steering Committee and he shared this valuable summary of tools that are available for those seeking to evaluate resilience as part of building design and/or adaptation projects:

  • Integrated Building Adaptation and Mitigation Assessment (IBAMA) was developed by Ilana Judah, an architect who did this work for her thesis at UBC. This tool is available now for use in the IBAMA Primer, an IBAMA Reference Guide, and IBAMA Excel Tool. IBAMA and associated documents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Also available is a four-part video series that explains how to implement the IBAMA tools. Watch the videos here.
  • MBAR (Mobilizing Building Adaptation and Resilience) was developed by B.C. Housing, NRCan, BC Hydro, City of Vancouver, and others. MBAR and other resources are available on the B.C. Housing website.
  • The City of Vancouver requires all development projects complete a resilience assessment. The City of Vancouver also provides an Excel tool for Rezoning projects to itemize their resilience decisions and plans.
  • The Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee’s (PIEVC) Engineering Protocol and Resources are managed by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the Climate Risk Institute and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH. The Protocol systematically reviews historical climate information and projects the nature, severity and probability of future climate changes and events. It also establishes the adaptive capacity of an individual piece of infrastructure as determined by its design, operation, and maintenance. The PIEVC Program Alliance encourages the use of the Protocol for all types of infrastructure going forward. It is available for use at no financial charge for any public infrastructure assessment project in Canada.
  • The Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) Program is provided by Infrastructure Canada and supports green and accessible retrofits, repairs, or upgrades of existing public community buildings and the construction of new publicly-accessible community buildings.

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