Retrofitting buildings for healthy, green and just communities
There has never been a better time for Canadians to reap the benefits of making our homes, schools and community buildings more energy efficient, more comfortable, and healthier.
As part of the post-COVID-19 economy recovery, the federal government will make significant investments to kick-start the economy and get people back to work. This is an excellent opportunity to tackle the health and environmental threats related to climate change, promote a transition away from fossil fuels, and build more resilient and inclusive communities.
Few programs can exceed the multiple benefits of a major push to retrofit Canada’s buildings. Energy experts, Torrie, Bak and Heaps, estimate that a major program of loans and grants with federal investments of $21 billion over 10 years could create three million person-years of work, save homeowners about $12.5 billion each year in energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 58 million tonnes (Mt) per year by 2030.
A building retrofit program can also produce many health benefits. Extreme heat, cold, mould and dampness in indoor environments are associated with increases in cardiovascular disease, strokes, asthma and other respiratory diseases, and early deaths. Studies have found that interventions that improve the comfort and quality of indoor environments can improve overall health, respiratory health, and mental health, with particular benefits for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Building retrofits (such as improved insulation, energy efficient windows, modern heating and cooling systems, and better ventilation) can keep occupants warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and improve indoor air quality. By utilizing heat pumps and renewable energies (as well as insulation and energy efficient products), fossil fuel consumption can be reduced while improving indoor environments for people.
Building retrofits can also include upgrades to better protect people against extreme weather events. Backflow valves can be installed in basement drains to prevent flooded basements, and fire resistant roofing materials can be used to help protect people and property from wildfires. These measures strengthen climate resilience as they can help avert the health impacts, costs, disruption and mental health stresses that can result from property damage.
By prioritizing housing for lower-income populations, a building retrofit program can reduce health risks for people who may not have the resources to prepare for, or recover from, climate-related events. By reducing energy costs, building retrofits may leave people living on lower incomes with more money to spend on healthy food, clothing and other necessities.
Use your voice to call for greater investments in building retrofits to create healthy, green and just communities.
The Canadian Health Association for Sustainability and Equity (CHASE), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) have collaborated on a series of factsheets and backgrounders on federal investments that have the potential to improve public health, decrease health inequities, and promote climate action. This is the fourth in that series.
Additional information on this topic is available in a Backgrounder on the health, social and climate benefits associated with building retrofits (with references), and a Factsheet that provides a high-level summary of those benefits for the public.
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