Time to reinvest in aging municipal buildings

According to the 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card (CIRC), one third of existing municipal infrastructure in Canada is at risk of rapid deterioration, and requires repair and accelerated renewal. The report found that seven out of eight infrastructure categories were in declining condition based on the reported level of maintenance costs. In the buildings category, 17 per cent (representing $12 billion in replacement value) of municipal buildings were in poor to very poor condition, and another 28 per cent ($20 billion) were in only fair condition.

The CIRC indicates that more than 50 per cent of municipal buildings are more than 31 years old; 23 per cent are more than 50 years old. The average age of municipally owned buildings is 37 years. Paramedic and police stations had the lowest average age, with around 50 per cent built within the last 20 years. Health care facilities and shelters had the highest average age, with almost 50 per cent built more than 50 years ago. The report card also pointed out that only 14 per cent of municipalities used formal policies or documented practices to factor climate change adaptation strategies into decision making.

Reinvestment in municipal infrastructure is advisable not only to ensure a sound return on building investment, but also to prepare for climate change impacts on buildings. A number of municipalities are in the forefront of developing and implementing climate change adaptation strategies that include buildings:

  • The City of Vancouver has developed a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which outlines potential changes in the regional climate, the impacts on infrastructure (including buildings), and possible adaptation actions. The strategy includes recommendations and opportunities, including energy efficiency measures, for the city’s aging building infrastructure that would ready it for current and future climate change.
  • The City of Toronto is also moving ahead with municipal (and other) building initiatives that will not only address climate change, but will also help improve buildings’ energy performance. The City is working with the Ontario Ministry of Energy on a proposed Energy and Water Reporting and Benchmarking (EWRB) regulation for large buildings. If the provincial regulation does not move forward, Toronto intends to pursue its own municipal regulation, a process it started in 2014, but put on hold pending the outcome of the provincial legislation. In this way, the City will maintain its commitment to a reporting requirement for large commercial and multi-residential buildings. This would also help the City meet its energy conservation and GHG emission reduction goals.
  • The City of Victoria is using the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP) to upgrade its municipal building portfolio and to mitigate for climate change. CARIP was developed by the Province of British Columbia to help offset the carbon tax paid on municipal purchases of fossil fuels. Victoria has implemented HVAC upgrades, replaced electric heating systems with heat pumps, retrofitted windows and doors with energy-efficient models, and installed destratification fans in a number of buildings. In addition, Victoria is also actively energy benchmarking and reporting on its own building portfolio. It benchmarked 32 of its properties from 2011 to 2014 using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The tool has enabled the City to identify poorly performing buildings and develop an energy efficiency strategy. The City plans to continue with its energy efficiency upgrades and energy benchmarking.

According to the CIRC, the current municipal building reinvestment level of 1.7 per cent could lead to an even further decline in the condition of municipal buildings. “The bottom line is that the longer we wait to act on these repairs, the more expensive it will get,” says Raymond Louie, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (one of the report card sponsors). “Canada needs to start planning for the future by reinvesting in our existing assets now.”

The preceding was originally published in Heads Up: Building Energy Efficiency – Volume 3, Issue 5

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