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4. Healthy Zero-Carbon Buildings

Vision for 2050

All buildings across Surrey are healthy, energy efficient, and zero-carbon in operational emissions. They are constructed to minimize lifecycle emissions, are comfortable year-round, and help protect occupants from the impacts of climate change.

Most buildings in Surrey are heated by burning natural gas in furnaces and boilers. As a result, about 42% of the community’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, nearly as much as transportation. As shown in Figure D.6, electric homes pollute less than gas-heated buildings. We also need to prepare buildings for heat waves and smokey air, events that are becoming more common due to climate change.

Surrey is growing fast. Over the past five years, around 4,500 new homes were added each year. This presents opportunities for standards that lead to healthy, zero-carbon buildings at the outset. In 2018, the City adopted the BC Energy Step Code for new buildings, which requires higher energy efficiency. However, most new buildings still rely on gas for space heating, hot water and cooking.

The best time to reduce a building’s carbon footprint and increase its climate resilience is when it’s being designed. The Province recently introduced a Zero Carbon Step Code that local governments can enact through their bylaws. This will allow the City to update the Step Code policy to phase out gas usage in new buildings.

We must also aim to decrease the embodied carbon emissions from buildings — those that come from the production, shipping and disposal of building materials. This can be achieved by opting for sustainably sourced wood over standard concrete and steel, and by designing buildings that require fewer of these materials.

The bigger challenge is reducing emissions from existing buildings. But this change has significant benefits, including lower energy bills, improved comfort, and cleaner air. Federal, provincial and BC Hydro programs already offer rebates to help offset costs, but more needs to be done.

The practices and technologies for these changes are well known and do not necessarily cost more in the long-term but require changes to the industry and markets.

Figure D.6. GHG emissions from residential buildings by type and energy source

Our homes and buildings provide us with refuge from the elements. Since buildings can last for 50 years or more, we need to make sure they are designed not just for today’s weather but also for the future climate. In the coming years, we can expect more intense heat waves, temperature extremes, rainfall, and wildfire smoke. A first step requires incorporating future weather predictions (e.g., for 2050) in building models and designs. A climate-resilient building might include some of the following specific characteristics:

  • Building envelopes — including insulation, air sealing and windows — that conserve energy and maintain more comfortable indoor temperatures.
  • Windows that are carefully sized and placed to avoid overheating and with better insulation values.
  • Cooling systems such as electric heat pumps, which provide air conditioning in summer and heating in winter, in one highly efficient and zero-carbon system.
  • Ventilation and air filtration systems that are efficient, maintain healthy indoor air quality and filter out pollution, including wildfire smoke. Some systems can also capture and reuse waste heat.
  • Trees and landscaping that require minimal irrigation and contribute to healthy ecosystems, while providing shade and cooling.
  • Rainwater systems — such as rain gardens, permeable pavement and planted roofs — that capture rainwater from hard surfaces, reducing runoff and protecting waterways.
  • Emergency preparedness, including features such as backup energy systems (e.g., batteries or generators), safe places to take shelter, and storage areas for emergency supplies.
  • Cool roofs and landscapes that reduce the urban-heat-island effect, for example by using lighter colours, reflective materials, water features, and vegetation.

We expect some of these features to be delivered in new buildings as an outcome of energy and GHG requirements for new construction, or through future provincial regulations, while others could be encouraged with incentives. As for existing buildings, senior levels of government will need to explore new policies and programs to encourage these systems.

The goals, shifts and supporting actions have the potential to significantly cut GHG emissions, reduce energy costs, and protect residents from climate impacts such as extreme heat. Replacing gas-burning appliances with highly efficient electric equivalents eliminates a source of indoor air pollution, protecting health. Ensuring that new housing is energy efficient and supporting retrofits for low-income residents can help to avoid energy poverty and improve equity.

  • By 2050, all operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing buildings are to be eliminated.
  • By 2030, all new buildings are to be designed to avoid operational GHG emissions.