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Krome has ‘common sense approach’ to building retrofits

Since founding Krome Services Inc. in 2016, Sandrine Tremblay’s green retrofitting company has wo...

IMAGE: Krome Services CEO Sandrine Tremblay

Krome Services CEO and founder Sandrine Tremblay. (Courtesy Krome Services Inc.)

Since founding Krome Services Inc. in 2016, Sandrine Tremblay’s green retrofitting company has worked on over 60 buildings — with 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) reductions to show for it.

That’s the equivalent of taking 10,300 cars off the road. It also works out to a total savings of $2,950,000 per year.

“I was a firm believer, and I needed to do something to save the planet, basically,” said Tremblay, the company’s CEO.

Having completed a mechanical engineering degree at the Université de Laval, Tremblay had spent 12 years at Ecosystem Energy Services Inc. in various roles. Her last position with the company was as an energy infrastructure specialist.

Now, Krome is the exclusive supplier of deep energy retrofits to major commercial real estate developers and owners including Groupe Mach Inc., Gestion SIDEV and the Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust (CAPREIT). It also counts BentallGreenOak among its clients.

She describes the company as agnostic when it comes to building certifications or the kind of technologies it employs in its retrofits. What matters most is a “common sense approach” to each project.

Today, Krome has about 20 employees in its Montreal and Mississauga offices.

Part of the company’s service is to ensure these retrofits are financially viable for their clients. In Quebec, that can be assisted by a decarbonization subsidy of up to 45 per cent of the cost for projects which meet certain qualifications.

CAPREIT apartment building Thomas, a case study

“We need to present in a way that they can actually afford it and they can do it in the project, that has been the first approach” Tremblay said. The second aspect of the approach is to reuse as much as possible “and to be as clean as possible.”

One interesting deep retrofit case study, Tremblay said, is the Thomas, a 250-unit apartment building at 355 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto. The century-old building was originally known as Tower Hill, but in December, 2019 was renamed in honour of Thomas Schwartz, the founder of building owner CAPREIT — Canada’s largest publicly traded provider of rental housing.

Krome started retrofitting the Thomas in 2021 and will finish by October of this year.

During its inspections, Krome discovered the boilers had about 20 years of life remaining. The chiller, however, a machine that removes heat from a liquid coolant, wasn’t in the best shape. So, a decision was made to replace the chiller along with the cooling towers, which had become a potential health hazard.

The building was outfitted with an air source heat pump which is also used as a chiller in winter. This allowed CAPREIT to reduce the number of hours the boilers are running.

Now the fresh air is heated entirely by a heat recovery system from the main exhausts. Another new heat pump produces cooling in the summer and domestic hot water with the recovered heat.

With these measures, the building has already achieved a 56 per cent reduction in GHG emissions, or 560 tonnes of CO2 each year.

Tremblay said Krome aims even higher.

“The only vision is, if we move forward (on a project), is it an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases within a project or 75?” she asked. “You better have a 75 per cent reduction right now and then 80 in five years.”

Krome’s future is in client portfolios

In October, Tremblay was one of 27 women founders and one of seven Canadians selected for EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women North America class of 2021. The program highlights the accomplishments of these founders — with companies ranging in value from $2.5 million to around $103 million.

For now, Krome is focused on building up private-sector clients in every Canadian province and territory — although going public and/or expanding to the U.S. aren’t out of the realm of possibility at some future date.

“This is my goal, is to basically retrofit anything that is in Canada (around) 100 units and more,” Tremblay said. “I wouldn’t say carbon-free, but I would say they get a 75 per cent reduction.”

She sees Krome’s future being built around client portfolios instead of an individual building project. Part of this is because of what she describes as “a race to decarbonization” over the past four years, particularly in Quebec.

However, the portfolio approach and getting in front of emissions issues are also critical to reaching Canada’s net-zero goals in 2030 and 2050.

“In the past, it was always, ‘Oh, we have a project (involving) boiler software, let’s make it a sustainable project,’ ” Tremblay said. “It’s not sufficient anymore, and we’re not going to reach any target with that approach of, ‘fix it when it happens.’ “

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