Reframing Retrofits to Meet Canada’s Climate Targets and Improve Existing Buildings

Written by Lauren White

June 15, 2021

A part of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) National Housing Strategy is to create greater access to the tools and resources available to develop housing solutions across Canada. To share this knowledge, CMHC created the Expert Community on Housing (ECOH), a virtual community of housing experts and individuals with a wide range of experience in housing and related fields. ECOH hosts regular webinars and forums through Microsoft Teams on a variety of housing topics primarily related to the National Housing Strategy’s priority areas and groups.

The Reframed Lab

I recently attended an ECOH webinar, titled “The Reframed Initiative: Partnering on Delivery of Deep Retrofits at Scale”. The webinar, hosted by Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, Director of Buildings and Urban Solutions at the Pembina Institute, highlighted the ways in which retrofitting buildings can help Canada meet its climate targets while preserving existing affordable housing stock, reducing construction costs, and minimizing impacts on residents during the development process.

To increase the number of retrofits in Canada, the Pembina Institute in partnership with the City of Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) Housing, and the BC Non-Profit Housing Association issued a Request for Proposal for design teams to participate in a collaborative retrofit design initiative, called the Reframed Lab. The Reframed Lab aims to retrofit six multi-unit residential buildings in the greater BC area and is looking to explore creative approaches to deep retrofits for the existing buildings that could be replicated across the country.

The Reframed Lab is inspired by a Dutch initiative called Energiesprong, which takes an ecosystem approach to retrofits. Rather than working in silos, the Reframed Lab aims to collaborate with regulators, financiers, industry and housing providers, and building residents to triple the rate of retrofits in Canada. The main technology behind the Energiesprong approach includes prefabricated development, new heating and cooling installations, and insulated rooftops equipped with solar panels.

Retrofits in Canada

In Canada, buildings account for approximately 13% of the country’s emissions and therefore play a critical role in realizing Canada’s low carbon future. Even with new developments ramping up, existing buildings will account for roughly two-thirds of the building stock in 2030 and roughly half by 2050. To achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (relative to 2007 levels), most buildings will need to be “fuel-switched”. In other words, buildings will need to be electrified or connected to a renewable district energy system or undergo a retrofit to become energy efficient if fuel switching is not possible or feasible.

Retrofits involve modifying existing buildings by adding new technologies to improve their energy efficiency, decrease energy demand, and improve indoor living conditions. Retrofits can help alleviate humidity, mold, and drafts by improving ventilation and air filtration and can extend a buildings’ useful life by more than 50 years. There are three types of retrofits: Minor, major, and deep retrofits.

Minor Retrofits

Modifications are low-cost and easy to implement, and can include:

  • Sealing with caulking or spray foam.
  • Adding insulation.
  • Upgrading lighting systems.

Major Retrofits

A more holistic approach that is still minimally disruptive to building occupants. This can include:

  • Replacing window glazing and doors.
  • Updating inefficient heating and cooling systems.
  • Installing low-flow faucets with sensors and automatic shutoffs.
  • Installing sub-metering.

Deep Retrofits

An extensive overhaul of the building’s systems that can save up to 60% in energy costs. Deep retrofits may be more disruptive to building occupants. This can include:

  • Significantly reconfiguring the interior.
  • Replacing the roof.
  • Adding or rearranging windows to increase daylight.
  • Replacing heating, ventilation, and cooling systems with renewable technology.

Instead of tearing down older inefficient buildings, the Reframed Lab proposes aggregating buildings together that need to be retrofitted. This can remove regulatory, financial, and technological barriers and spur innovation to reduce costs, minimize disturbances, and increase value to residents. In the Netherlands, the Energiesprong program has already retrofitted 2,000 dwellings to net-zero energy as of 2017 with 9,000 more contracted out. Combining the retrofits together has resulted in reduced installation times from two weeks to a few days and a reduction of costs by 50% over three years.

New Funding for Retrofits

At Cahdco, we recognize the benefits of sustainable and energy efficient development, which is why we have numerous buildings designed to Passive House standards, including CCOC Arlington and MHI Veterans House. Additionally, many of our funding partners require energy efficiency measures as part of their eligibility, such as CMHC’s Co-Investment fund.

Another funding source on Cahdco’s radar is the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Green Municipal Fund for Sustainable Affordable Housing (SAH) projects. Funding opportunities for SAH projects were launched in 2020 to enable energy efficient retrofit programs and new builds in the affordable housing sector. FCM currently offers funding for retrofit capital projects and retrofit pilot projects through a combination of loans and grants.

Cahdco is committed to providing energy efficient and comfortable housing for its tenants. Not only does Cahdco assist non-profits and co-ops to develop new affordable housing, but we can assist with capital repairs and applications to FCM’s Green Municipal Fund to retrofit existing housing. With new funding opportunities that prioritize retrofits, Cahdco will continue to embrace and explore the various ways we can deliver affordable and sustainable housing for those who need it most.

If your organization is interested in developing affordable and sustainable housing, you can reach out to Cahdco President, Graeme Hussey, at

Lauren White

Development Intern

June 15, 2021