Reaching Net-Zero in Existing Buildings

Buildings account for approximately 18% of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Most buildings standing today will continue to be in service in 2050. That means that Canada needs to retrofit nearly every building currently in use to reach its climate commitments.

To retrofit every building currently in use, Canada needs a practical regulatory framework to encourage faster and deeper energy and emissions reductions in its existing building stock. Beyond climate commitments, renewing our building stock will meet the needs of those who live, work, play, and gather in them for decades to come.

Regulating emissions in existing buildings

New buildings regulated under provincial and territorial building and energy codes are expected to reach net zero energy-ready standards by 2030. As of now, there is no national building code to advance the energy and emissions performance of Canada’s existing building stock. Mandatory Building Performance Standards (MBPS) offer a tool Canadian policymakers can use to regulate retrofit activity in existing buildings.

MBPS set performance limits for existing buildings that are required to be met by a specified date or upon the occurrence of a triggering event, such as during major renovations or building transactions. They are legally binding with the risk of liability and financial penalties for non-compliance.

An essential policy tool for achieving energy, emissions, and water reduction goals in our worst performing buildings, MBPS set performance targets that increase over time, a necessary complement to the Alteration to Existing Building code (AEB), which is triggered by the voluntary actions of the building owner.

The power of Mandatory Building Performance Standards

MBPS build on voluntary measures and programs, such as benchmarking, labeling, financing, subsidizing, and incentivizing energy efficiency. These voluntary measures have been effective in raising awareness about building energy use and emissions but have been largely ineffective in triggering the scale of retrofit activity required to meet our climate commitments in a way that MBPS can.

MBPS can be effective at triggering retrofit activity in Canada’s existing buildings. Given that MBPS typically apply to commercial buildings, topics including the application of MBPS to single-family homes, specific technologies such as heat pumps to drive decarbonization, and life-cycle perspectives including embodied carbon are not covered.

Canadian Mandatory Building Performance Standards

Your municipality can become a leader in reducing emissions in existing buildings, take it from the following cities:

  • The City of Vancouver is the only municipality that has adopted an MBPS program by implementing carbon pollution limits for commercial and retail buildings, starting in 2027.
  • Toronto and Montreal have signaled plans to implement an energy and emissions-based MBPS in upcoming years based on current enabling precursor activities. These cases draw on the experience of other US-based MBPS programs due to similarities in jurisdictional authority, climate, and building types and codes.

Regulating Energy and Emissions in Existing Buildings: A Primer for Canadian Municipalities

What Municipalities Need to Know about Canada's Net-Zero Emissions Building Codes

This guide offers municipalities and policymakers insights into the role existing buildings are expected to play in meeting Canada’s decarbonization goals. It highlights two unique tools to regulate retrofit activity in existing buildings: the Alterations to Existing Buildings code (AEB) and Mandatory Building Performance Standards (MBPS).

Read our blogs on Mandatory Building Performance Standards

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