Decarbonizing Canada’s Large Buildings

2021 report provides a path to zero 

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 building space. Yet, most combustion-based space heating and hot water equipment installed today will still be in operation in 2050, which is incompatible with the climate goals of governments and many private sector owners and investors. Eliminating combustion must be prioritized in every building design and retrofit.

Getting there will require supportive regulations and policies, significant investments and innovative financing structures. Decarbonization also requires we optimize energy grids and continue to increase the carbon price.

To encourage more deep-carbon retrofits, CAGBC commissioned a study to evaluate the potential technical pathways to decarbonize building operations. Researchers from RDH Building Science, in partnership with Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, calculated estimated costs of deep carbon retrofits and identified market barriers and solutions. The study is geared towards helping equip Canadian building owners and policy-makers with tools and information needed to supercharge Canada’s retrofit economy.

The research team used whole-building energy modelling to evaluate deep carbon retrofit opportunities across 50 different building archetypes. These archetypes reflect a range of building types (office, multi-unit residential, and primary school), size (low-rise and mid-rise), age (1970s and 1990s) and region (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver).

Illustrates the building types covered by the research study including low and mid-rise office, low and mid-rise MURB, and primary schools in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

For each building archetype, the researchers developed baselines and assessed business-as-usual upgrades — that is, improvements routinely undertaken as building systems reach their anticipated service life. The researchers then identified and assessed the performance outcomes resulting from deep carbon retrofits and conducted financial analyses of the retrofit measures for each archetype. Finally, the researchers examined best practice approaches for management and procurement, as well as recommended policy and support mechanisms needed to support increased deep carbon retrofit activity.

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

Energy demand cuts via enclosure upgrades makes deep carbon retrofits more attractive


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