Incorporating energy efficiency and emissions reduction measures into new buildings is a practical measure because new buildings can be designed to be higher-performing from the outset, according to a November 16, 2018 report from the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. However, doing the same for existing buildings is another matter. Investments are costly and the payback in the form of lowered energy costs can be long.
The Senate committee’s report, its fifth on the transition to a low-carbon economy, examines greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which account for 17% of Canada’s total. Previous reports have considered emissions from the electricity sector, transportation, heavy industry, and oil and gas.
According to federal and provincial plans, emissions from homes and buildings will have to be cut by 20 million tonnes by 2030 if Canada is to meet its target. The Senate committee says that will require improved energy use and emissions performance from new buildings and existing buildings, which will make up three-quarters of the building stock in 2030.
Dealing with existing buildings will be a challenge. The federal government is considering a retrofit code that will be ready in 2022 and that the provinces and territories are expected to adopt by 2030, according to the Senate committee’s report. The retrofit code may require efficiency upgrades at major milestones in the lifecycle of a building, such as at sale or during a major renovation, and may prove particularly burdensome to low-income Canadians and residents of the North.
Several measures were discussed during the Senate committee hearings that may soften the blow to homeowners. Federal government officials noted that details of how the retrofit code will work have not yet been determined.