Energy-savings retrofits: Opportunities and challenges abound in multi-billion dollar marketplace

Ontario Construction News staff writer

New technologies, government incentives and rising energy costs are spurring building owners to explore energy-saving retrofits, but there are challenges including labour shortages and the uniqueness of each building.

Several speakers at a conference, Improving the Energy Efficiency of Buildings, in Ottawa on Nov. 16 explored aspects of the multi-billion dollar building energy retrofit market.

Engineering consultants, architects, building products representatives and local government officials explained the commercial retrofit marketplace, in a program co-ordinated by the Building Envelope Council Ottawa Region (BECOR) and BOMA Ottawa.

Aaron Thornell, outreach and communications co-ordinator: Building Retrofits for the City of Ottawa said “there’s a range of financial opportunities on the market today” but the most valuable for developers and builders is probably funding available from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB)’s Building Retrofits Initiative.

While the CIB requires each application to be $25 million or more, it allows organizations to serve as aggregators and fund smaller projects and Thornell says the city is reviewing whether it will join a number of other public and private sector organizations tapping into the CIB funding in 2023.

The city also is inviting participation in a  building energy benchmaking program and is starting a thermal imaging initiative to get a better idea of where there can be greater savings and opportunities.

Initiatives that link development charges to energy retrofits however are likely not go go forward following recent provincial government legislation that limits these regulatory approaches.

Architect Stephen Pope of CSV Architects described the challenges of developing a retrofit for a building that had originally been a school, was then converted to an office building and is now going through a third conversion to be a supportive housing structure.

He explained the challenges of developing energy models before the work is done; each building is unique and circumstances that apply to one structure may be different for another.  There are trade-offs and choices; for example, the building has large buildings that are part of its heritage; but big windows are especially challenging to manage for energy savings.

Solutions include focusing on the actual living areas rather than the mechanical and non-resident spaces of the structure, allowing for more temperature variation in these non-essential areas to put the climate control resources where they can do the most good.

George Turok of Morrisson Hershfield focused on windows. The challenge is you can’t just replace windows with new energy-saving options without considering the conductivity, condensation and heat loss issues where the window connects with the rest of the building. Each situation is different and so there are difficult choices to make, he said.

Jean-Francois Cote from Soprema outlined how thermally-isolated clips and shelf angles in building new exterior insulation cladding systems can provide significant energy efficiency gains; while overcoming fire risk and other challenges.

All of these options and initiatives, however, need to take into account the shortage of qualified labour to do the actual work.

One speaker observed that the federal government’s own program for energy retrofits of its Ottawa buildings is “soaking up a lot of the workforce.”

“We’re all going to need to share that very small workforce that understands (retrofits), but at the same time, figuring out how to grow it . . . whether it’s the city’s role or other levels of government, or non-governmental solutions.”


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