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FortisBC to examine impact of home retrofits with $50M study

Program to provide energy-use and GHG reduction data for 20 single-family homes, 4 apartment buildings

FortisBC will be studying the impact of retrofits on older housing, such as Manor House in North Vancouver, in a $50-million project. (Courtesy FortisBC)

FortisBC has launched a study of deep energy retrofit strategies for housing in B.C. to examine the impact on energy use and climate-warming pollution.

The $50-million initiative covers 20 single-family homes and four apartment buildings in Vancouver that have undergone deep-energy retrofits – a building modification aimed at reducing energy use by at least 50 per cent.

It will seek the “best pathway to reduce energy use in older homes and multifamily housing units,” toward meeting B.C.’s climate targets, according to a release issued by FortisBC, the province’s regulated utility.

"To our knowledge, this is the largest targeted, real-world study of deep energy-efficiency upgrades in B.C. homes and the information will be invaluable to us and others looking to transform energy use," Joe Mazza, vice-president of energy supply and resource development at FortisBC, said in the release.

"Determining the most effective path to greatly lower energy use in older homes is a critical way we can help lower emissions while helping customers save money on energy costs."

The purpose of the pilot

The multi-phase pilot will see FortisBC analyze the energy reductions, customer experiences and overall costs. Findings from the test are to be used to guide FortisBC, policymakers and industry figures on retrofits.

FortisBC said the pilot takes an envelope-first approach, examining ways to improve the building’s exterior by upgrading walls, windows, doors and insulation to minimize heat loss, thus reducing heating demand.

Addressing the interior is done by improving the energy efficiency of the space heating, domestic hot water and ventilation systems. This is achieved by installing dual-fuel hybrid systems that connect a heat pump to a high-efficiency gas furnace, or gas heat pumps that have exceeded 100 per cent efficiency, and determining if the results from manufacturer testing can be achieved.

The participating single-family homes have completed most of the upgrades, and construction is underway in the four apartment buildings, FortisBC said. Each of the housing units were subject to an energy assessment, modelling and design phase, and have shown “promising results.”

An example is Manor House, a three-storey, 50-unit apartment building in North Vancouver built in 1972. The retrofit will include adding more insulation to the roof assembly, replacing the exterior windows and doors with new energy-efficient products, and insulating the parkade ceiling to reduce thermal bridging and improve energy efficiency.

The retrofit at Manor House is expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 66 per cent and energy usage by 56 per cent, FortisBC said.

Once the pilot is complete, the housing will be tested for one year to determine the actual energy savings, the utility added.

"As we evolve our energy-efficiency programs, we'll be able to undertake deeper energy retrofit projects that are more complex, intensive and comprehensive than what's supported today through traditional energy conservation programs and rebates," Mazza said.

Meeting B.C.’s climate requirements

B.C. has set a target of lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the building and communities sector by 59 per cent to 64 per cent by 2030 (based on a 2007 baseline), so the push to address housing emissions is pertinent for FortisBC.

It is described by the utility as a “complex challenge” to tackle older homes and apartment buildings because many were built before energy efficiency was mandated in the National Energy Code for Buildings in 1997.

FortisBC is also investing almost $696 million over the next four years to help customers cut greenhouse gas emissions through pilot programs and rebates. Its goal is to lower customer emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, based on a 2007 baseline.

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