Buildings: Retrofits and Innovations

Canadian Task Force for a Resilient Recovery

“An independent panel of experts making up the Canadian Task Force for a Resilient Recovery have released a preliminary report just last week that includes “5 Bold Moves for a Resilient Recovery” after COVID, the first of which is a proposed $27.3B federal investment in climate-resilient and energy-efficient buildings. The building retrofit package serves as the keystone of a proposed total $49.9B clean economic recovery package. A final report and supporting materials are expected to be released in September.”

“The other 4 recommended “Bold Moves” include:

  • Jumpstart Canada’s adoption of zero-emission vehicles.
  • Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors.
  • Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us.
  • Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy”

“The Task Force’s overall goal is to make Canada’s economic recovery from COVID ‘resilient and sustainable’, getting Canadians back to work at the same time as supporting the jobs, infrastructure and growth that will keep Canada competitive in the clean economy of the 21st century. The 5-year investments and policy measures go beyond short-term stimulus to put Canada’s economy on a low-carbon, climate-resilient, sustainable and competitive pathway over the next 1-5 years, by 2025.”

“To ensure effectiveness, our proposals are optimized for three criteria:

• Economic – yielding timely, lasting economic benefits and jobs

• Environment – supporting the environment, clean competitiveness and climate resilience

• Equitable and Feasible – addressing implementation, and with attention to youth, women, Indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups.”

Six Recommendations for Building Retrofits

The task force made six recommendations related to improving the efficiency of the country’s building stock:


“Expand public-private financing facilities for building retrofits”

“Objective: Create a well functioning building retrofit market that sustains jobs and manages health and affordability concerns.”

“How: By using a $13-billion public investment to leverage $35 billion in private capital through de-risking and co-investment strategies, and enabling regional efficiency finance networks through standardized project origination and underwriting approaches, and aggregation and warehousing of projects to attract large institutional investors.”


“Expand existing provincial and municipal building retrofit programs, enhancing energy efficiency and climate resiliency”

“Objective: Accelerate the retrofitting of existing home and building stocks across Canada, creating jobs, improving energy efficiency and resiliency (including flood proofing), cutting energy costs, reducing energy poverty, increasing Indigenous participation, and advancing zero-carbon heating systems.”

“How: With $10 billion for expanding the scale and scope of existing provincial and municipal energy efficiency and resilience program portfolios.”


“Objective: Create new jobs and ensure there are sufficient skilled workers, particularly among women and Indigenous, to meet demand for energy efficient and climate resilient retrofit and building projects.”

Train a diverse green building workforce

“How: By investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”


Demonstrate large-scale standardized retrofits

“Objective: Transform energy retrofit approaches and develop economies of scale for Made-In-Canada innovative retrofit techniques.”

“How: With $2 billion to select a diversity of large-scale demonstration projects through a competitive process, and applying innovative techniques to significantly reduce the cost, time, and customer disruption of deep energy retrofits.”


“Work with provinces to ensure that new buildings meet stringent net-zero and resilience codes, and that a newly developed Resiliguide rating system can enable the financial sector to incent building resilience.”

“Objective: Reduce emissions from Canada’s building sector and improve the resilience of homes and businesses to the effects of climate change.”

“How: By introducing the new national model building code incorporating net-zero and resiliency measures, in the next year, while also providing incentives for provincial uptake; collaborating with provinces and the private sector on adoption of building energy performance and resilience disclosure requirements; and investing $2 million to integrate a ‘ResiliGuide’ rating, to measure the climate resilience of buildings, into the Energuide for Homes certification system.”


“Create an Indigenous Infrastructure Fund to bolster investment in sustainable infrastructure in Indigenous communities across Canada”

“Objective: Drive investment in critical infrastructure, improve access to private capital in Indigenous communities, and enhance Canada’s innovation and industrial base.”

“How: By creating a rotating $1-billion-per-year, non-lapsing infrastructure fund, capitalized by the federal government and administered by an Indigenous-led governance structure.”

Task Force for a Resilient Recovery: Preliminary Report July 2020

Types of Retrofits as Listed by Natural Resources Canada

“When you do an energy-efficiency retrofit on your building, you upgrade its energy-consuming systems. Retrofitting may involve improving or replacing lighting fixtures, ventilation systems or windows and doors, or adding insulation where it makes economic sense. It also means including energy efficiency measures in all your renovation and repair activities.”

“A thorough retrofit gives you a chance to audit your building’s energy performance. The retrofits you undertake can reduce your building’s operational costs – particularly if it is older – as well as help attract tenants and gain a market edge.”

“You can use ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to support your retrofit initiatives. Benchmarking can help you to identify opportunities and to track and monitor investments once implemented, whether for minor, major or deep retrofits.”

Minor retrofits

“With minor retrofits, you target ‘low-hanging fruit’ – modifications that are low-cost, easy to implement and that offer good value for the money and effort invested.”

“This could include:

  • Sealing with caulking or spray foam
  • Adding insulation
  • Upgrading lighting systems”

“Although they are relatively simple, these projects can make a big difference to your building’s energy consumption.”

Major retrofits

“With a major retrofit, you take a more holistic approach. Your retrofit could include:

  • Replacing window glazing and doors
  • Updating inefficient heating and cooling systems
  • Installing low-flow faucets with sensors and automatic shut-offs
  • Installing sub-metering”

“This level of retrofit is still minimally disruptive to your building’s occupants.”

Deep retrofits

“With a deep retrofit, you undertake an extensive overhaul of your building’s systems that can save you up to 60 percent in your energy costs.”

“Deep retrofits can be disruptive to your building’s occupants, so it’s best to time them with tenant turnover or other major changes to your occupancy.”

“Measures may include:

  • Significantly reconfiguring the interior
  • Replacing the roof
  • Adding or rearranging windows for increased daylight
  • Replacing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system with a renewable technology like a ground-source heat pump”

Why invest in energy retrofits?

“By investing in retrofits that make your building more energy efficient, you will lower your energy costs, reduce your maintenance requirements, create a more pleasant interior environment for your occupants, increase the value and productivity of your building, and reduce your environmental footprint.”

Major Energy Retrofit Guidelines: help for your retrofit project

“Looking for some guidance on how to carry out a major energy retrofit project at your facility? Natural Resources Canada’s Major Energy Retrofit Guidelines are designed to help you understand when, why and how to undertake major energy retrofits and are divided into individual modules to help you identify the best opportunities for your building type.”

The Guidelines are currently in development, and modules will be posted here as they become available. Check back for the following modules:

How Do Provinces Measure Up?

British Columbia is leading the way in building efficiencies with the government implementing more stringent building codes. Second is Quebec where you see the government using carbon pricing revenue to support programs. Third is Ontario where the government requires all buildings to report their energy usage, always a good place to start when making changes. Nova Scotia, in 4th place, is offering the best rebates and incentives for citizens such as audits for houses and incentives for upgrades for things like insulation as well as free LED light bulbs. Efficiency Nova Scotia is providing the Bright Building awards to businesses and commercial buildings to proudly display which is a way to attract new building tenants and and impress current ones, while ensuring one’s building operates more smoothly – saving money and time. FYI Alberta ranks 6th. From this list it seems that government leadership it a big help towards energy efficiencies. From our reading there seems to be a lot of awareness and preliminarey work going into planning how to get our older buildings more efficient, but we have a long way to go towards taking sufficient action.

Financial Incentives To Be More Energy Efficient, By Province

Natural Resources Canada has created a long list of what incentives for building efficiencies each province is offering to businesses and citizens. We were happy to come across this web site, as it seems incentives come and go and are hard to keep track of and, as well, we obviously are all in need of encouragement to be efficient beyond seeing our energy and water bills go down. Check out the attached link

Wood High Rises and New Building Codes

CBC What On Earth, February 2020 explains how we can now build taller buildings of wood in Canada.

“Tall towers have defined cities as ‘jungles’ of concrete and glass. But what if we built highrises out of wood instead?”

“Proponents say that could have two benefits:

  • The wood stores carbon for the lifetime of the building, which (temporarily) prevents it from entering the atmosphere.
  • It would reduce emissions linked to steel and cement production. The latter is the second-largest industrial emitter in the world, after the fossil fuel industry, generating seven per cent of global emissions.”

“A five-storey residential building built with wood can store up to 180 kilograms of carbon per square metre — three times more than a high-density forest with the same footprint, according to a new study from U.S. and German researchers.”

“Right now, just 0.5 per cent of new buildings are constructed with timber. But if we pushed that up to 10 per cent, those buildings could store 10 million tonnes of carbon per year. And if 50 per cent of buildings were built with wood, they could store up to 700 million tonnes of carbon a year, the researchers estimate. “

“Not only that, but building with timber would cut emissions from steel and cement manufacturing by half.”

So why haven’t we been doing it?

“One problem is that the most common wood product used in modern construction until now — the two-by-four — doesn’t have the strength or versatility needed for constructing tall buildings, said Anne Koven, director of the Mass Timber Institute, which is based at the University of Toronto.”

“But in the 1990s, researchers in Austria and Germany invented cross-laminated timber (CLT), which uses adhesives to bind smaller pieces of wood into sturdy, fire-resistant panels and beams. ‘It’s an engineered wood product for building on the scale of cement and steel,’ Koven said.”

“Designers, engineers and architects, including Russell Acton of Acton Ostry Architects in Vancouver, saw that and similar new products as an opportunity. ‘It was kind of like, now that we have engineered wood and we have an environmental interest, why not explore mass timber to get it back in use?’ Acton said.”

“There was also another barrier: the maximum height for most wood buildings allowed by building codes in Canada was six storeys. Until now.”

“Acton and his team got a special exemption to build Brock Commons Tallwood House, an 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia and the tallest wood building in the world when it opened in 2017.”

“Since then, some provinces — most recently Alberta — have changed their building codes to allow high rises of up to 12 storeys. When it’s revised later this year, the federal building code will also allow that height.”
“Across Canada, there are plans to build more wood highrises, from 12-storey condo projects in Victoria and Esquimalt on Vancouver Island to 30-storey wood towers in Toronto proposed by Google as part of its Sidewalk Labs development. Acton’s firm is working on the Arbour, a 10-storey building slated for George Brown College in downtown Toronto (see photo below).”

“Despite the budding interest, Acton warns that builders haven’t yet worked out the “most economical” configurations for towers made of wood. For example, Brock Commons in Vancouver cost about seven per cent more than a similar building of steel and concrete.”

” ‘Everybody’s doing it for the first time,’ Acton said. ‘It’s in its infancy.’ “

— Emily Chung, CBC What on Earth

In-Pipe Power-Generate Electricity when You Turn on the Tap

In CBC What on Earth, March 5, 2020 we read “Halifax is the first city in Canada to exploit in-pipe power. In a 2014 pilot project, it installed a turbine — basically a water pump that runs in reverse — in a single pipe in a Halifax suburb. Since then, the 31-kilowatt turbine has been generating roughly enough electricity annually to power 25 homes and selling that back to the grid for about $30,000 a year.”

“The energy comes from the fact that water is under high pressure when it flows downhill from a water treatment plant. That pressure has to be reduced as it moves through the system, ‘or else it would just be blowing the taps into people’s homes,’ Campbell said.”

“Typically, the system relies on pressure-reducing valves that use friction to release the extra energy as heat. Capturing the energy is a matter of running the water through a turbine instead. The turbine, which is made by U.S.-based Rentricity, has an estimated 40-year lifespan and has required little maintenance so far.”

CBC What On Earth:

Thoughts About Our Own Home Efficiencies

This is what the David Suzuki Foundation emailed on February 12, 2020

“Canada is one of the top per-capita energy consumers in the world. How we use energy matters a great deal. And, by becoming more energy-efficient, you pollute less AND save money.”

“Consider making some or all of these small changes that, together, can really add up:

  • Change to energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • Install a heat pump in your home. Heat pumps work by extracting heat from one location and transferring it to another.
  • Unplug computers, TVs and other electronics when you’re not using them.
  • Wash clothes in cold or warm water (not hot).
  • Hang-dry your clothes when you can and use dryer balls when you can’t.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Look for the Energy Star label when buying new appliances.
  • Winterize your home  to prevent heat from escaping and try to  keep it cool in the summer without an air conditioner.
  • Get a  home energy audit to identify where you can save the most.”

Voluntary Carbon Off-Setting

We found this BBC article by Sarah Reid offers further insight into what the future might hold for more sustainable travel through new carbon-offsetting platforms that let “consumers (travellers) remove carbon emissions instantly and permanently”. 

Climeworks is a “Swiss start-up that pioneered a technology that sucks carbon out of the air and turns it into stone, effectively removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere instantly, safely and permanently.”  The CO2 removal efficiencies are indeed noteworthy, if true, as is the fact that the removal is permanent.

“In terms of efficiency, one tree removes approximately 25kg of CO2 per year, making one Climeworks CO2 collector 2,000 times more efficient per area than a tree,” said Jan Wurzbacher, co-founder and co-director of Climeworks, which in June was named among 100 Technology Pioneers of 2020 by the World Economic Forum.”

Mobilising travellers

In June 2019, Climeworks became the first company in the world to launch a personal carbon removal via DAC (direct air capture) service to the public, with a subscription of €7 per month funding 85kg of carbon per year being turned into stone.”

“Now a new permanent carbon removal platform, aimed at travellers and launched in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), has joined the movement to help offset the whopping 8% of global emissions that the international travel industry is responsible for…Tomorrow’s Air launched its own online carbon-removal service (June, 2020) in partnership with Climeworks.”

To read the full BBC article, including how the Climeworks technology works:

Climeworks home page:

Tomorrow’s Air home page:

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