BuildForce report forecasts labour shortages as Canada aims to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Eliminating carbon emissions in Canada’s residential, commercial, and institutional buildings could place further pressures on already-tight construction labour markets, according to a new report from BuildForce.

Retrofitting building stock to incorporate sustainable fuel sources, technologies, and materials could require up to 57,000 additional construction workers and generate more than $81 billion in new construction investments by 2032.

The report: Building a Greener Future: Estimating the impact on construction labour demands from transitioning buildings in Canada away from fossil fuels, considers implications of retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprints at a time when construction labour markets have been operating at, or near, full capacity in many regions of the country.

“The challenge for the construction sector is that this transition is being considered at a time when non-residential construction demands are already reporting peak or near-peak levels in many provinces, and when the residential construction sector is confronted with the additional challenge of building millions of new housing units to address Canada’s housing crisis,” said Tania Johnston, CEO of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada.

The report was developed with input from an industry Steering Committee consisting of representatives from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, ClimateCare, the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada, and Reliance Home Comfort.

It models a scenario in which two types of green-building activities are performed: converting space and water heating equipment from fossil fuels to electric power sources, and retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency and minimize heat loss.

Data from Natural Resources Canada show that buildings account for 13% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the country. More than three-quarters of those emissions come from the fuel sources used to power space and water heating equipment. Retrofitting these buildings to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint has therefore become an important component of Canada’s strategy to mitigate climate change.

Building a Greener Future also found the impacts of fuel-switching could be comparatively lower in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, while in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, a high percentage of homes rely on space and water heaters that are powered by fossil fuels such as natural gas, heating oil, coal, and propane. Demand for skilled workers to perform fuel switching will therefore be high in many of these provinces. This is in addition to the requirements for additional workers to carry out energy-efficiency retrofits on many older homes to reduce heat loss and therefore minimize the draw on electricity infrastructure.

“Fuel switching is the quickest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada’s building stock,” says Victor Hyman, Executive Director of ClimateCare Canada. “And with approximately 60% of homes in the country heated by fossil-fuels, this transition creates a significant opportunity for change.”

While retrofitting Canada’s buildings is a top priority for achieving a greener future, it will not be without challenges.

“Achieving the targets set by the Government of Canada will require a significant increase in both consumer incentives and support programs, the cost competitiveness of these alternative solutions, and then on top of that, the additional workforce required to carry out these transition projects,” said says Kevin Lee, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “The scenario also necessarily assumes that there would be sufficient power generation and grid capacity to heat Canada’s housing stock, which there currently is not, and which would require significant investment to create.

“This study still gives a sense of the magnitude of the challenge and points to important hurdles to be overcome in pursuit of these goals.”


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