Retrofitting Canada for sustainability may require 57,000 more construction workers

Categories: Canada

April 25, 2024 – Retrofitting Canada’s residential, commercial, and institutional building stock to incorporate sustainable fuel sources, technologies, and materials could require as many as 57,000 additional construction workers and generate more than $81 billion in new construction investments by 2032.

A new report prepared by BuildForce Canada—“Building a greener future”—considers the implications of retrofitting existing buildings to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprints in support of Ottawa’s goal to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

The report models a scenario in which two types of green building activities are performed: converting space and water heating equipment from fossil fuels to electric power sources, and retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency and minimize heat loss.

It finds that as many as 16,300 new jobs relating to fuel-switching could be created in the residential sector alone, while a further 40,600 may be created to perform energy efficiency retrofits.

(More labour will be required to accommodate the conversion of, and renovations to, Canada’s stock of commercial and institutional buildings, although data to support modelling the impact of these conversions was not available for this iteration of this report, says BuildForce.)

Data from Natural Resources Canada show that buildings account for 13% of total GHG emissions in the country. More than 3/4 of those emissions come from the fuel sources used to power space and water heating equipment. BuildForce says retrofitting these buildings to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint is, therefore, an important component of Canada’s strategy to mitigate climate change.

“The challenge for the construction sector is that this transition is being considered at a time when non-residential construction demands are already reporting peak or near-peak levels in many provinces, and when the residential construction sector is confronted with the additional challenge of building millions of new housing units to address Canada’s housing crisis,” said Tania Johnston, CEO, Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada.

Across the country

Building a Greener Future” also models the implications of the green-building transition across the provinces. It finds that the impacts of fuel-switching could be comparatively lower in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, where a large proportion of homes are already equipped with electric-powered heating equipment.

(However, many homes in the Atlantic provinces may require extensive retrofits to bolster energy efficiency.)

In Ontario and the Prairie provinces, a high percentage of homes rely on space and water heaters powered by fossil fuels. As such, the demand for skilled workers to perform fuel-switching will be high in many of these provinces. This is in addition to the requirements for additional workers to carry out energy efficiency retrofits on many older homes to reduce heat loss.

“Fuel-switching is the quickest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada’s building stock,” said Victor Hyman, executive director, ClimateCare Canada. “And with approximately 60% of homes in the country heated by fossil fuels, this transition creates a significant opportunity for change.”

Challenges ahead

“While retrofitting Canada’s buildings is a top priority for achieving a greener future, it will not be without challenges,” said Kevin Lee, CEO, Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “Achieving the targets set by the Government of Canada will require a significant increase in both consumer incentives and support programs, the cost competitiveness of these alternative solutions and then, on top of that, the additional workforce required to carry out these transition projects.”

“The scenario also necessarily assumes that there would be sufficient power generation and grid capacity to heat Canada’s housing stock, which there currently is not, and which would require significant investment to create,” Lee added. “This study still gives a sense of the magnitude of the challenge and points to important hurdles to be overcome in pursuit of these goals.”

The report was produced with the support and input of a variety of stakeholders from across the construction sector, and was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.

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