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Older apartment building retrofits reducing GHGs: FortisBC

More than 847 older B.C. apartment buildings have received simple, energy-saving upgrades since t...

IMAGE: Tapping into basic energy savings in older apartment buildings via the Rental Apartment Program is lowering emissions, costs and demands on public infrastructure. (Courtesy FortisBC)

Tapping into basic energy savings in older apartment buildings via the Rental Apartment Program is lowering emissions, costs and demands on public infrastructure. (Courtesy FortisBC)

More than 847 older B.C. apartment buildings have received simple, energy-saving upgrades since the Rental Apartment Program (RAP) was launched by FortisBC in 2015, a number that “goes up every day” according to program manager Jim Kobialko.

Half of the province’s older rentals are in Vancouver, he said, adding properties in Victoria, Burnaby and Kelowna are also taking part in the RAP.

“To date, we’ve invested about $4.65 million in driving energy efficiency upgrades,” said Kobialko, the organization’s program manager of innovative technology and projects.

Funding comes via utility-funded rebates, or demand-side management (DSM).

These simple energy-saving measures could reduce B.C. emissions by 200,000 tonnes annually — the equivalent of removing 43,000 gasoline-powered cars from the roads. The estimate is contained in newly released emissions and energy-use data from FortisBC.

Rental Apartment Program details

Estimates peg the number of older rental apartment buildings providing affordable housing in B.C. at more than 11,000 — many of which were built at least 35 years ago. In its release updating the program’s progress, director of conservation and energy management Danielle Wensink called the reductions “critical”.

“Building owners already face so many maintenance concerns that we worked to simplify what can be a complex and overwhelming process,” she said.

It doesn’t take much effort to make a dent. The free program focuses on installing energy-saving measures directly into suites and common areas on behalf of building owners.

“We basically conduct in-suite installs of water-efficient devices, these are low-flow shower heads, bathroom aerators and kitchen aerators,” said Kobialko.

Building owners also receive a no-cost energy assessment.

“We go around the building and we identify ‘what are the energy efficiency upgrades that need to be done? What (are) each of the four pillars for their end of life, is it operating? And what are the opportunities to improve the efficiency of the building as a whole?’ ” he said.

This includes upgrades such as energy-efficient taps and faucets which reduce water consumption and energy usage.

Basic upgrades, big results

Owners have also received hands-on support to identify and make deeper retrofits such as upgrades to heating and mechanical systems.

The basic upgrades alone reduce domestic hot water energy use by an average of about 12 per cent per year, according to FortisBC.

As of 2019, water savings were equivalent to filling nearly 110 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or running a garden hose non-stop for over 20 years.

This has also lowered carbon emissions by almost 15,000 tonnes, equivalent to the natural gas use of about 3,200 single-family homes.

The program also has the backing of LandlordBC, which represents more than 3,300 owners and managers of rental housing in B.C.

“Building owners who invest in energy-saving upgrades show a real commitment to keeping these important rental buildings on the market and operating them more sustainably,” said LandlordBC CEO David Hutniak. “Support like this is critical given the significant cost pressures building owners face, and it pays off for tenants, owners and communities by making these homes more comfortable and sustainable, more affordable to operate and less impactful on community water systems.”

Free support for owners

Kobialko has been leading RAP since the pilot phase in 2015. There was a “slow uptake” at first, he said, with the largest barriers being cost and time since there are typically limited funds to deal with maintenance.

The program offers free support throughout the process Kobialko said. “I’ve looked at a lot of other rental apartment efficiency programs across North America — this is one piece (the support) that’s unique.”

Building owners are granted access to an engineer and other experienced professionals “to assist them with not just identifying the upgrade, but actually implementing it.”

For example, experts can identify that a boiler needs to be replaced with an energy-efficient version, conduct the RFP, write the scope, and then get quotes. “They present it to the building owner and assist with implementing that upgrade, all the way from start to finish,” said Kobialko.

This facet is integral to RAP’s success.

“[Building owners] just don’t have the time to deal with the RFP process and identifying contractors to install equipment they’re not necessarily familiar with,” he said.

Once upgrades have been made, the relationship continues. After replacing a boiler, for example, “there could be other things they want to do to improve the building” such as insulation, said Kobialko.

The most effective upgrades happen to be the simplest. In addition to energy savings from using less hot water, water-efficient devices also reduce the building’s overall water usage by up to 12 per cent.

“Just taking out the inefficient high-flow devices and putting in water-efficient devices — that one thing can immediately reduce the building’s overall consumption significantly,” he said.

Large, small building owners involved

On a larger scale, Kobialko said replacing older boilers with newer condensing models can increase efficiency by 20 per cent or more.

Kobialko’s team has aimed to “target at least 200 buildings per year to drive energy efficiency upgrades for rental apartment buildings,” he said.

They’re looking at multi-family apartment buildings with at least nine units. The average building that has participated in RAP has 46 units.

Most participating buildings are operated by larger property management companies because it is easier for them to scale the upgrades, but Kobialko said “mom-and-pop” operators are also taking part.

“It’s geared to multiple types of building owners, whether they’re small or large.”

FortisBC wants to lower GHG emissions associated with customers’ energy use by 30 per cent by the year 2030.

About FortisBC Energy Inc.

FortisBC Energy Inc. is a regulated utility focused on providing safe and reliable energy, including natural gas, propane and thermal energy solutions. It employs more than 1,800 British Columbians and serves approximately one million customers in 135 B.C. communities.

Fortis BC owns and operates approximately 49,000 kilometres of natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines.

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