Positive impact: A strategic plan for building retrofit implementation

The objective of this article is to share a series of available resources addressing the biggest challenge facing our industry in mitigating the impacts of climate change—the retrofitting of existing buildings. The resources can be used in strategic planning by private and public entities on small- or large-scale projects. The often-cited target year 2050 may seem a long way off, but planning, programming and implementing retrofit projects takes much time. Building on past successes and lessons-learned by others can accelerate progress.

The constraints imposed by existing buildings make their façade retrofits and renovations a particularly unique challenge.

The recent FTI Forum theme of Simulation vs. Reality was selected given the critical role of early-stage design decision-making on performance outcomes with the ultimate goal of carbon reduction. The Forum emphasized that, with the emergence of more stringent energy and building codes, we have the opportunity to elevate the integral role of the façade system in building performance. Most discussion was in the context of new building construction, where we start with a clean slate, set objectives, goals, and budget, then resolve the often-competing demands of cost and performance. Buildings currently in design and under construction will influence the outcome of 2050 carbon goals, making our current decisions and practices of critical importance. A much bigger opportunity is embodied in the existing building stock, which is in need of extensive façade renovations. The constraints imposed by existing buildings make their façade retrofits and renovations a particularly unique challenge.

The Governments of Canada and the United States (Links 1 & 2) recognize and acknowledge that the 2050 goals require major infrastructure investment including building energy retrofits. What makes such initiatives challenging are considerations of scale, funding, constraints, design and delivery strategy, logistics, as well as demand on the industry. However, the pursuit of net-zero carbon can drive innovation and job creation yielding many benefits along the way toward realization of these ambitious goals. Having a road map and tactical plan to proceed with implementation requires alignment, understanding, and support from key stakeholders. Building façade renewal is not new, but the convergence on best practices for this important work has not occurred, largely owing to the one-off nature of buildings. Information on this antecedent work has been documented and organized in a database (Link 3) through initiatives of our own strategic leader at FTI, Dr. Mic Patterson.

In 2009, Dr. Ted Kesik, Professor at the University of Toronto Daniels Faculty of Architecture, published the Tower Renewal Guidelines for the comprehensive retrofit of multi-unit residential buildings in cold climates (Link 4). This established the basis of Toronto’s Tower Renewal, focused on revitalizing communities, and further initiated the Tower Renewal Partnership, a nonprofit organization, with focus on research, advocacy, and action to make positive change (Link 5). In 2017 and 2018, the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) published two complementary documents, outlining the Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada (Links 6 & 7). The first document identified recommissioning, deep retrofit, and switching to low fuel sources (i.e. (electrification) as necessary to meet 30% carbon emission target reductions. The second document focused on public policy, structured financing, standards of business, and information transparency as market-based solutions to stimulate deep retrofit in large class B and C commercial, institutional and residential buildings. Aligned with such market needs, in 2017, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), a Crown corporation, was established to assist with and invest in infrastructure projects that are in the public interest. CIB provides their advisory and investment expertise to plan for priority initiatives and fill the financing gaps through a combination of public / private funds (Link 8). CIB acknowledges that lack of funding can be a hurdle for project launch and has developed a process to assess financial and technical needs and manage risk and progress throughout project duration. A recent publication by Rockwool (Link 9) illustrates the achievements of several global retrofit projects. The sharing of data, methods and experience can provide both inspiration and information to stakeholders, encouraging a commitment to deep carbon retrofits that necessarily integrate the façade system.

FTI members are all versed in delivering what needs to be done to address the much-needed retrofit of existing buildings to meet carbon emission reduction targets. Our job is to promote the need for such vital interventions and then to collaborate in the implementation, thereby contributing to the transformation of the built environment toward evolving goals of resilience and sustainability.

Link 1 – The Canada Infrastructure Bank announces a plan to create jobs and grow the economy - Canada Infrastructure Bank - Banque de l'infrastructure du Canada (cib-bic.ca)

Link 2 – The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future | Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website

Link 3 – www.Facareretrofit.org (beta)

Link 4 – Tower Renewal Guidelines promote green housing preservation | Daniels (utoronto.ca)

Link 5 – www.towerrenewal.com/research-reports/

Link 6 - https://www.cagbc.org/CAGBC/Advocacy/A_Roadmap_for_Retrofits_in_Canada.aspx

Link 7 -https://www.cagbc.org/CAGBC/Advocacy/A_Roadmap_for_Retrofits_in_Canada_II.aspx

Link 8 - https://cib-bic.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Retrofit-Program-Summary.pdf

Link 9 - renovation-inspiration.pdf (rockwool.com)

Photo of Hamid Vossoughi

Hamid Vossoughi

Senior Principal

WSP Canada

Thanks to Hamid Vossoughi and Stéphane Hoffman for editing the July 2021 issue of SKINS and for organizing the May Forum: Simulation vs. Reality!

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