Calgary Construction Association raises concerns over retrofit goals in city’s climate strategy

via Global News by Adam MacVicar

Calgary’s proposed Pathways to 2050 climate strategy sets out a goal of all new and existing buildings in the city to be net-zero in the next 30 years, but some members of the city’s construction industry are concerned about the scale of retrofitting every existing home and commercial building by 2050.

According to the climate strategy, 57 per cent of Calgary’s overall emissions come from energy used to heat, cool and power residential, commercial and industrial buildings in the city.

To reduce those emissions, the plan calls for the retrofitting of 19,000 homes and 317 commercial buildings to net-zero every year.

The Calgary Construction Association said that would require 52 home retrofits every day, seven days per week and about one commercial building per day — for the next 30 years.

It’s a concern construction industry representatives brought forward to city officials earlier this year.

“We were concerned the volume of retrofits that they were quoting was insurmountable,” Calgary Construction Association president and COO Bill Black told Global News. “Financially, for sure, but issuing permits at that rate, finding the resources, the labour, the materials, nevermind convincing 19,000 homeowners per year to be able to do that.”

Black said the Calgary Construction Association is overall supportive of having a climate strategy in place to send a signal to potential investors and talent that the city is moving in the right direction.

Retrofitting a home to meet net-zero standards is referred to as a “deep energy retrofit,” and is something 4 Elements Integrated Designs Ltd. helps homeowners and contractors achieve.

According to Tyler Hermanson, 4 Elements’ director of innovation, it can be done starting on the outside of the home with siding and insulation, as well as solar panels.

“It is a major renovation. You’re changing the whole envelope of the house,” Hermanson said. “You’re changing mechanical systems and the windows, and you’re adding a large solar array to the roof.

“These are big ticket items that are needed to go all the way to a deep energy retrofit.”.

According to the climate strategy, the City of Calgary will need to eventually move to a net-zero emissions building standard, including increasing the use of low-carbon building materials so all new builds are built with zero emissions.

The city estimates that around 50 per cent of the buildings standing in Calgary today will still be in use in 2050 and the strategy notes converting them to net-zero will be “one of the largest and most complex opportunities” to reduce emissions.

Pathways to 2050 outlines several ideas to increase deep energy retrofits on existing buildings, including public education, capacity building, incentives, financing and eventually through regulation.

The Calgary Construction Association has urged the city to look into best practices across Canada and to use public education and demonstration buildings to spur private investment in the retrofits.

“It needs to be phased. You need to allow people time to learn and engage,” Black said. “Once the private investors see that it can be valuable, it will begin to develop momentum all on its own.”

Ward 9 councillor Gian-Carlo Carra agrees the scale of applying deep energy retrofits to all existing buildings is “daunting,” but noted there will be work to address those concerns and to determine how the goal can be achieved while also taking advantage of new practices and technologies.

“That’s with today’s permitting systems, today’s technologies and today’s construction industry,” Carra told Global News.

“The reality is when you identify what needs to happen, in order for us to survive and thrive long into an uncertain future, once you set that destination, things start to happen.”

But retrofitting an entire home to be net-zero can be expensive.

According to Hermanson, it can cost between $100,000 and $200,000 without factoring in inflationary challenges seen in the last six months.

Despite that lack of capital funding to do a net-zero renovation, Hermanson said the goal is attainable with phased renovation projects over the years to get to the zero-emission goal.

“The majority of us are going to break it into two or three steps, along the way to 2050,” he said. “That’s pretty doable.

“That’s a renovation every seven to 10 years, and that’s kind of the pace we renovate homes now.”

The city’s climate plan will be back in front of city council on July 5.

Article by Lena Hogarth
June 16, 2022

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