How construction performance standards could help green the sector

Buildings may not spew pollution from exhaust pipes or chimneys, but they do produce 18 per cent of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. While efforts are underway to reduce them, new research says mandatory construction performance standards present an untapped opportunity to green the sector.

TO new report published by Efficiency Canada notes that existing voluntary measures used by individuals and some municipalities to reduce emissions from buildings in Canada have not been successful. Emissions from buildings have increased about three percent since 2005. The report suggests that a more effective approach would involve implementing mandatory building performance standards in combination with support from the federal government.

Unlike incentives for homeowners to install heat pumps in residential homes, mandatory standards are designed to gradually reduce emissions in buildings of a specific size and carry penalties if they are not met. They typically include emissions or energy use targets.

The standards are aimed at large buildings, explains report author Sharane Simon, who notes that some Canadian jurisdictions have indicated their intention to implement performance standards. So far, only Vancouver has adopted a building performance standards program, which requires commercial office and retail buildings larger than 100,000 square feet to meet carbon emissions limits starting in 2026.

Sharane Simon, author of the report and research associate at Efficiency Canada. Photo sent

What’s missing, Simon explained, is a federal push to implement performance standards across Canada and government support to help jurisdictions make the goals feasible. His report points to other places that have successfully followed this model. In the United States, for example, there is significant support from high levels of government for states and municipalities to implement performance standards tailored to their specific region.

Building standards are more than just a set of rules, Simon explained, and should include studies on the current state of building emissions, broad stakeholder participation, technical support to manage and support the standards once they are are implemented, and more.

Canada has approximately 550,000 commercial buildings, which account for about half of the construction sector’s emissions, compared to almost 16 million residential buildings. Simon points out that from a numerical perspective, “it’s actually strategic to have a plan that targets commercial buildings because they contribute so much [emissions] like residential buildings,” but there are far fewer.

United States and construction performance standards

While the United States has not imposed performance standards programs for all states or cities, the federal government has measures to encourage other jurisdictions to sign them. As a result, 14 programs have been adopted in cities across the country since 2018. Simon notes that the federal government has invested “heavily in technical studies” and funds to support state and local governments, especially those that “may lack resources.” ”.

A new report from @EfficiencyCAN sets out how federally-backed mandatory building performance standards could lead to significant emissions reductions in the sector.

Canada’s federal government is well positioned to do the same, Simon said. While the U.S. programs have only been running for a few years, they are intended to significantly reduce emissions. In cities, buildings are often the largest source of emissions. Boston’s building performance standards program will account for emissions reductions that comprise about 30 percent of its climate reduction goal. The report notes that without federal support, performance standards programs “may have been limited to a few large, well-funded coastal cities.”

In Canada, the federal government publishes model building codes, the most recent of which lays out a path for all new buildings to be built to net-zero energy standards and ready by 2030. Simon notes that they are a good example of how the The federal government takes jurisdictional responsibility and works together with the provinces to decarbonize their construction sectors.

The federal government could do something similar with construction performance standards, Simon notes, while also taking advantage of tax credits and other financial incentives to encourage them. Long-term financing is essential, he explains, because programs must be implemented over the long term to be effective.

The report notes that Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) will publish a toolkit on construction performance standards this year – a good resource, but insufficient to address the barriers jurisdictions face, Simon said. Meanwhile, the federal government is receiving backlash for prematurely stopping funding for the Canada Greener Homes Grant, which reimbursed people for retrofits like heat pumps and solar panels.

In response to Canadian National Observer, NRCan said decarbonizing the construction sector is essential to meeting climate goals, and that mandatory building performance standards “can achieve significant savings in existing buildings.” While the department said it does not administer a standard performance program, it “develops and provides tools and resources to support jurisdictions in implementing policies that increase energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions in the building sector.”

The department highlighted the management of the Energy Star portfolio. toolthat more than a third of commercial buildings use to measure and compare energy use, as a “cornerstone of energy reporting initiatives in Canada” and its Code Acceleration Fund. NRCan said it will “soon publish its first building performance standards toolkit, which will provide guidance on the implementation of [mandatory building performance] initiatives in Canada.”

The big takeaway for Simon is that mandatory building performance standards would have an impact far beyond reducing emissions. They would make buildings healthier and more comfortable and extend the life of the most polluting buildings, reducing the need for new buildings and, in turn, more emissions. The standard would boost modernization rates and, therefore, jobs.

“Our buildings… are the places where we live, the places where we play, the places where we work, and improving them is proven to really have a positive impact on the people who occupy these buildings,” he said.

“I think everyone should start having this conversation at all levels of government and within the industry about how to really support a program like this.”

Leave a Comment