Building for climate change

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The World Bank forecasts earth’s urban population will grow by 150 per cent by 2045. In some cities, buildings are the biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

In Canada, buildings are the third largest source of GHG emissions, after oil and gas and transportation (Environment and Climate Change Canada). Nearly two-thirds of energy use in buildings is for heating and cooling.

The European Union “green buildings pact” requires public and residential buildings to be more climate friendly by improving insulation and energy efficiency, with plans to double renovation rates by 2030. In November 2022, the UK announced £6 billion of funding to insulate homes and reduce energy used for summer cooling and winter heating. Investment in energy efficiency measures, such as heat pumps and insulation, increased 16 per cent in 2022.

In Sweden, nearly every home is now equipped with a heat pump.

Canada is developing a model retrofit code for 2024. The Pembina Institute will be working on Canada’s Regulatory Solutions project to accelerate the electrification of buildings and achieve a net-zero grid by 2035. The project will provide the Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) to decarbonize and advance electrification in Canada’s highest emitting sectors (buildings, transport and gas production). Canada’s federal government plans to cut building emissions by 37 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Currently, about half of Canadian homes are heated with fossil fuels.

In 2021, British Columbia updated its building code to make all new buildings zero carbon by 2030, and all new heating equipment sold and installed greater than 100 per cent efficient (heat pumps use less energy than they produce).

For builders, new technologies must be included as new building codes are enforced. Solar panels, improved insulation and heat pumps are rapidly gaining ground, while other technologies are still in development.

Ubiquitous Energy makes a transparent film that layers over window glass. Made from organic salts that absorb a non-visible portion of the solar spectrum, they have potential to turn every building into a solar generator.

MEER’s Urban Cooling uses passive reflective cooling by installing solar reflectors on rooftops in countries where people are suffering thermal intolerance and have no means to regulate indoor temperatures.

Researchers at the University of Maryland have turned ordinary sheets of wood into transparent material that is stronger and lighter than glass with better insulating properties.

Passivhaus offers airtight designs that heat with energy produced by the humans and appliances inside.

The World Economic Forum recommends a tiered carbon reduction strategy: 1. build nothing (refurbish and repurpose old buildings); 2. build less (build only to meet community needs and maximize use of buildings); 3. build clever (reuse materials and use low carbon materials); 4. build efficiently (minimize design loads, maximize material use); 5. minimize waste (prefabricate, reuse, recycle).

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  • Consider the federal government’s home retrofit rebates: Canada’s Greener Homes Grant covers $5,000 on a heat pump, and Canada Greener Homes Loan incentives.
  • Review the Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program and EnerGuide home energy audits designed to protect homeowners from the effects of climate change.
  • Check out: reThink Green (Sudbury) Northern Home Energy Rebates; Canada Green Building Council Zero Carbon Building Standards (2022); Endeavour – the Sustainable Building School (Peterborough); local Passivhaus builders (e.gs. Quantum, Above Board).
    Analyzing Canadian household energy use shows most homes will be 12 per cent lower after transitioning from fossil fuels. The Canadian Climate Institute shows that even after investments into heat pumps, household equipment and electricity grid expansion, clean and sustainable electricity is cheaper than oil and gas. Benefits come from efficient passive forms of heating and cooling, insulating, and heat pumps, which, used for both heating and cooling, have a return of energy at least three to one.