The City of Nelson and City of Castlegar have begun investigating ways to reduce the overall carbon emissions associated with new residential home construction in our region. Over the past three months, the Low Carbon Homes Pilot has led the region to understand better the carbon emissions produced from manufacturing the materials used in building a new home (i.e. upfront embodied carbon). The pilot established a benchmark amount of embodied carbon for a typical new residential home in Nelson and Castlegar.
The pilot identified that efforts to improve energy efficiency could lead to a higher overall amount of carbon emissions without considering the embodied carbon associated with building materials. The good news is that there are opportunities to build highly efficient homes with low carbon materials, a win/win. It found that a substantial reduction in embodied carbon could occur by using readily available alternative building products.
This pilot, made possible through funding from FortisBC, has already begun to establish our small Kootenay communities as municipal leaders in this area.
“This project shines a light on the role manufacturing of building materials plays in meeting carbon reduction targets, showing we need to rethink how we address those targets most effectively. The type of leadership shown by communities like Nelson and Castlegar is exactly the kind of bold thinking needed,” said Siraz Dalmir, key account manager, FortisBC. “Pilots like this will provide the information we need to meet the challenge, and we’re committed to being a meaningful partner in this work.”
All parties involved with this work want to see emissions associated with our building sector addressed more holistically without driving up costs.
Embodied carbon, also referred to as embodied emissions and material carbon emissions is a concept that can be defined in contrast to operational carbon.
Operational carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions produced through energy use associated with building use, such as heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting etc.
Embodied carbon refers to the emissions produced through the creation of building materials, construction processes, and material disposal throughout the whole lifecycle of a building.
Despite the attention paid to operational carbon, e.g., prominent energy efficiency programs and regulations like the BC Step Code, the emissions associated with embodied carbon have been left largely unaddressed. A new holistic approach to reducing carbon emissions is starting to gain momentum. Many prominent companies, organizations, and governments are investing significantly more in actions that work to reduce the total lifecycle impacts of our built form, e.g., accounting for emissions associated with material choices.
Addressing embodied carbon in our buildings is a key strategy in the City’s Nelson Next climate plan, adopted by Council earlier this year. Nelson is one of only a handful of cities in Canada that has collected primary data and identified strategies to move towards low embodied carbon residential construction. Nelson has also identified this as an excellent way to foster cross-jurisdictional and cross-country collaboration in implementing strategies that result in GHG emission reductions.
“I am particularly excited about this research and the opportunity to work with our local builders and suppliers to cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions produced from the construction of new homes,” says Mayor John Dooley of Nelson. “This transition will encourage the use of more locally sourced products such as mass timber.”
The next steps include engaging with the building community to identify barriers and opportunities to transition to low embodied building practices. Workshops and meetings are planned throughout October and November as part of this consultation phase. This phase of the pilot will be completed in December 2021.
If you work in any aspect of the building sector in Nelson or Castlegar it is important to hear from you, please reach out to the Pilot Coordinator Natalie Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Contact: Natalie Douglas, Embodied Carbon Pilot Coordinator – email@example.com
Photo: This laneway house is being built by Pacific West Builders (photo provided by Mike Coen). Through discussions with the Low Carbon Homes Pilot team, they were able to reduce the material carbon emissions associated with this home by 98%.