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Moving Forward on Energy Efficiency in Canada: A Foundation for Action

The Built Environment


The Built Environment addresses all buildings, housing, infrastructures, fixed equipment and communities.


Residential Sector18

Despite strong growth in the number of houses, Canadians’ appetites for larger houses and an increase in overall energy use, the energy use per household actually decreased by 12% over the last decade or so19. There are more than 12 million dwellings in Canada, representing a total annual energy bill of about $6 billion. Efficiency gains in building practices, heating systems and equipment since 1990 are responsible for energy savings of more than $4 billion for this sector in 200420.

Energy End-Use in Canada’s Built Environment 1990 to 2004 Figure 7: From 1990 to 2004, the number of households in Canada increased and house sizes rose. The total energy consumption of the housing sector rose, but because of effciency gains, the energy use per household actually dropped by 12%. In the Buildings sector, floor space grew between 1990 to 2004, and the energy consumption by area also rose, resulting in an energy demand growth of 35% in the sector.

There have also been significant gains in efficiency in the major appliance stock over 1990-2004, so that absolute energy use dropped even though there are 33% more appliances than there were in 199021. However, these gains have been overshadowed by a 75% increase in the number of small and, generally unregulated, pieces of equipment that populate modern Canadian homes such as DVDs, high definition televisions and video cameras.

Commercial and Institutional Sector22

Unlike the residential sector, the energy intensity of about 450,000 commercial and institutional facilities across Canada increased over 1990-2004, meaning that the energy efficiency investments that took place were not robust enough to counter the overall increase in energy use. Energy demand in this sector grew by over 35% over the last decade or so with the growth driven by increases in floor space and in the use of auxiliary equipment like computers and printers.

Looking forward to 2020, the expected growth in the Canadian economy, as well as continued growth in commercial floor space (39%) and in the number of households (20%), will continue to put upwards pressure on the demand for energy.

Progress in Energy Efficiency

The number of high efficiency new homes labelled in Canada increased fourfold from 2002 to 2006. These homes use 25-30% less energy on average than typical new homes – and are more comfortable for their occupants.


The approach for the Built Environment is based on a strategy to transform the way Canadians build, buy and use homes, buildings and communities with respect to energy use – a process called market transformation. Actions aimed at alleviating barriers to energy efficiency outlined in Chapter 1 need to be introduced or expanded, and partnerships between jurisdictions, utilities, industries and non-government organizations will be vital. Success is achievable using:

  1. energy efficiency technologies and practices that are available for adoption today,
  2. emerging technologies that will be ready in the near future,
  3. continued Research, Development and Demonstration (R, D&D) for appropriate technologies to achieve substantial energy efficiency gains, and
  4. a menu of tools and technologies that jurisdictions can select for implementation.

Key Tools, Technologies and Practices

Upgrade – Model National Energy Codes for Buildings

At the initiation of the Council of Energy Ministers, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes decided in 2007 to upgrade the Model National Energy Code for Buildings (1997) to a higher level of energy efficiency by 2012. If an energy code were updated to 25% above current levels and if it were adopted by all provinces and territories, it could result in significant energy and pollution savings and these would persevere over buildings’ lives which can be 40 years or more. This is an excellent example of the power of intergovernmental collaboration on one of the most effective tools to improve building energy efficiency.

Within the built environment, provincial and territorial governments and municipal administrations can play the important role of incorporating energy efficiency into provincial and territorial policy statements, municipal plans, and community energy plans. Federal government integration of efforts into existing federal programs, such as Infrastructure Canada’s Integrated Community Sustainable Plans, can increase the market penetration of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies within Canadian communities. From the regulatory perspective, the federal government can expand its equipment and appliances standards, research, development and demonstration, as well as integrating greater levels of energy efficiency in model energy codes for buildings to support provincial and territorial efforts .

Jurisdictions can prioritize and choose from the following tools (among others) to achieve their short and long term objectives. The tools listed in each section could be used in combination for maximum effectiveness, as illustrated by the B.C. example provided in Section 1.

Tools to Support Improvements In Energy Efficiency for the Built Environment

Periodically enhance the Model National Energy Code for Buildings, regulatory instruments for houses, and energy efficiency standards for equipment to conform to best practices.

Mandate minimum energy efficiency requirements for buildings and houses.

Develop and implement energy performance rating and labeling for equipment, houses and buildings.

Mandate commissioning and re-commissioning standards for buildings, supported by training and certification of building managers and operators.

Encourage municipalities to implement policies to improve urban form design, density and integrated planning.

Research, Development and Deployment

Conduct R, D&D for leading edge ‘market-ready’ and ‘pre-market’ technologies and practices that could lead to significant energy consumption reduction and a shorter commercialization time. Create a network of university and college researchers in energy efficiency. Address barriers (technical, financial, regulatory, risk) to accelerate technology transfer and support adoption.

Integrate systems and develop tools to ensure energy is used optimally by equipment, houses, buildings, neighbourhoods and entire communities, including renewable technology integration.

Capacity Building

Strengthen the capacity of the building industry and building managers to understand, adopt and deliver energy-efficient best practices.

Develop energy efficiency and renewable energy curriculum programs for universities, colleges and technical schools.


Demonstrate government leadership through procurement policies and best practices for the adoption and implementation of energy efficient and renewable energy products and buildings.

Encourage municipalities to adopt policies to limit urban sprawl.


Increase knowledge of stakeholders and consumers through information and awareness-raising campaigns, consultation and development of decision-making tools for industry professionals.

Market Stimulation Encourage and reward the accelerated adoption of energy efficient best practices and equipment, buildings, houses, and renewable energy technologies using fiscal and tax incentives, and other financial and economic instruments.

By 2030, communities could meet energy demand through the integration of energy systems, making the best use of local on-site renewable sources interconnected with the public energy distribution systems. Community energy plans could enhance the capacity of municipalities to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy at the community level, and support smart growth principles to reduce and limit urban sprawl, lower infrastructure costs, make transit more viable, increase walkability and green spaces, and improve overall quality of life. Neighbourhoods could be designed and developed following sustainable neighbourhood principles, capitalizing on energy opportunities and synergies available at the neighbourhood level (e.g. energy cascading where waste energy can be used for such needs as district systems, solar optimization, and seasonal storage for use throughout the year as needed).

New buildings and houses could incorporate the most energy efficient insulation and air tightness systems; windows and doors; new buildings system integration through commissioning; lighting and daylighting technologies; heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, and high performance metering, monitoring and control systems. The energy performance of these new buildings and houses could also be improved through on-site generation using a combination of conventional and renewable energy, e.g., using combined heat and power systems and solar photovoltaic technology. Ground source heat pumps, solar thermal energy and/or micro-cogeneration systems, including fuel cells, would be used as the primary source of space heat and hot water needs, with buildings and houses being interconnected within a community to share electricity and heat in an optimum way. In order to accomplish this, individual homes, buildings and communities could be designed in an integrated fashion both at the outset and during major upgrade or retrofit opportunities.

Energy efficiency of existing buildings and houses could be improved by incorporating a high degree of new technologies when refurbishing, with design tools available to optimize technology selection. Building system integration includes re-commissioning of all equipment to reap savings, from optimizing energy systems, metering and control systems, automated building diagnostics systems, fault detection software, and highly trained building operators. Existing houses could be retrofitted with the best in class ENERGY STAR® qualified furnace/air conditioning systems, heat pumps, advanced wall insulation, exterior insulated sheeting, fully insulated basements and attics, and high efficient windows, doors and lighting. Where feasible, buildings and houses would also use renewable energy technologies, incorporate on-site generation and be interconnected with other buildings and houses within the community.

Increasing the energy efficiency levels of regulated equipment through support for technology development and deployment, and eliminating the least efficient models through performance-based regulations, could also contribute to overall energy efficient improvements within the building and housing stock.

18 Single detached homes, single attached homes, apartments and mobile homes.

19 Energy Use Data Handbook, 1990 and 1998 to 2004, Natural Resources Canada (August 2006)

20 Energy Effciency Trends in Canada, Natural Resources Canada (August 2006)

21 The State of Energy Effciency in Canada, Report 2006, Natural Resources Canada

22 Trade, finance, real estate, public administration, education, health care and commercial services.