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Reframed Lab looking to future of B.C. building retrofit solutions

Russell Hixson
Reframed Lab looking to future of B.C. building retrofit solutions
PEMBINA INSTITUTE — Leaders in social housing and retrofits attend an Affordable Housing Renewal workshop hosted by the Pembina Institute.

The Province of B.C. is looking for a next-generation solution to speed up and improve building retrofits that are crucial for meeting climate change goals and improving the safety and comfort of occupants.

The province, through BC Housing, the City of Vancouver, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and the Pembina Institute have joined together to launch Reframed Lab. The pilot project will plan a handful of experimental retrofit projects for multi-unit residential buildings.

Officials explained the goal is to make homes safer, more energy-efficient and less polluting, while reducing costs for residents.

“The research is about bringing multiple sectors together – construction, builders, policy-makers, the financial sector, owners and others,” said Ghazal Ebrahimi, a senior analyst with the buildings and urban solutions program at the Pembina Institute. “We are trying to look for an integrated solution that could bring all these different aspects of building retrofits together in a meaningful way.”

Ebrahimi explained BC Housing will issue a request for proposals for partners from all parts of the construction sector to join the project. These teams will be tasked with brainstorming innovative and integrated ways to retrofit existing buildings. Selected teams will then be invited to join a six-month exploration lab to learn and share ideas.

Teams will prepare designs for a specific building, with support from experts on climate change, energy and health. Their goal will be to demonstrate next-generation solutions that integrate seismic and fire safety, energy efficiency and climate-adaptation upgrades, while reducing carbon pollution.

“We are trying to find that integrated way of doing building retrofits, but at the same time we are trying to find solutions that make it easy and less costly,” said Ebrahimi, noting this can be a barrier to retrofit projects. “What we see now is that upgrading buildings and housing is complex and costly.”

She added other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands, have shown industrialization techniques like prefabrication could have a huge impact on bringing down costs, minimizing community disruption, reducing required labour and allowing for high precision.

“Things have been done in a traditional way,” she said, “but industrialization is key to scaling up building retrofits.”

In addition to climate goals, Ebrahimi explained it is important to think about the future of buildings with the safety, comfort and health of occupants in mind.

“It is important to make sure the environmental quality of residential spaces in B.C. is good, especially considering rising summer heat, wildfire smoke or low air quality,” she said. “If we are going to put occupant health in the centre, we need to make sure retrofits don’t just adjust to environmental and carbon concerns. This is a unique part of this initiative.”

BC Housing will support the retrofit of the selected buildings with funding from the Capital Renewal Fund, a 10-year, $1.1-billion investment to preserve and improve B.C.’s 51,000 units of social housing.

This initiative received $250,000 from the province’s CleanBC Building Innovation Fund.

The City of Vancouver will be providing technical and regulatory guidance for the project.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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