The combustion of fossil fuels (mostly natural gas and some oil) for space and water heating is the biggest contributor of GHG emissions in buildings. A net-zero building sector requires a shift away from fossil fuel heating systems across all commercial, institutional, and residential buildings.

of Canada’s emissions

Priorities for Action

  1. Phase out oil and gas fired furnaces and water heaters in new residential and commercial construction
  2. Adopt progressively more stringent codes for new buildings and regulatory standards for the improvement of existing buildings (including phasing out fossil-fuel usage)
  3. Develop financial incentives to mobilize private capital and scale up retrofits
  4. Implement mandatory building emission reporting
  5. Support research & development for net-zero building technologies adapted to Canada’s climate (e.g. cold climate heat pumps)
  6. Support labor force training for low-carbon building design, construction, retrofit and maintenance

The Opportunity

Electrifying buildings is the most straightforward path to bring the sector to net zero. Millions of buildings are already heated by electricity in Canada, primarily with electric resistance furnaces or baseboard heaters. Newer technologies such as low temperature air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps can dramatically improve efficiency, saving money for occupants. Over time, renewable natural gas (RNG) and/or hydrogen may provide a way to repurpose building heating infrastructure, which may be particularly useful in colder regions of the country.

Energy efficiency gains (higher quality building envelopes, heat recovery, better control systems, etc.) are important for new builds, but also for the millions of existing structures which will require retrofit.

Fully decarbonizing the building sector also requires replacing climate-warming refrigerants like HFCs and eliminating emissions from construction and building materials like steel, concrete, and aluminum.

Today’s Challenges

Replacing natural gas and fuel oil for building heating; overcoming up-front capital costs for net-zero construction and renovation; addressing the trained workforce shortage

Future Challenges

Affordable net zero housing; extending the decarbonized electricity system (including supply, storage, distribution, demand management and other approaches to address peak loads)

Indicators of progress

Proportion of net-zero buildings; annual retrofit rate; lifecycle emission transparency for building materials

Our Net Zero Decision Support Tool envisions a transformational level of change across eight key pathways: