UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Renovation permits and the challenge of reducing emissions from legacy buildings Neuberger, Michaela


Vancouver is among a growing number of cities that have set an 80 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target by mid-century. Building use represents the largest single source of emissions and roughly half of the existing building stock will still be in use by 2050. To meet the City of Vancouver’s GHG targets, a mechanism will be required to improve the energy efficiency and carbon content of the fuels used in these buildings. Since 2015, the City has introduced energy efficiency upgrade requirements when existing buildings seek renovation permits. Given that this policy pathway was chosen, compliance with renovation permitting requirements is paramount to achieving the City’s building targets. This thesis examines residential building retrofits and permitting processes in Vancouver from the perspectives of those administering the program and stakeholders who have to respond to it. It does not analyse energy efficiency outcomes. Stakeholder interviews, augmented by an online survey, showed that the new energy efficiency requirements led to significant challenges for both stakeholder groups, particularly in terms of training and staff resources, permit delays, and the transparency and consistency of the permitting process. The results further revealed that estimated levels of unpermitted residential renovations are high, particularly in single family homes. Reasons for non-compliance are largely linked to the permitting challenges. Moreover, there appears to be a potential for increased unpermitted retrofit activity to avoid code compliance in the future should energy efficiency requirements become more stringent. These findings, combined with low residential renovation rates over the past decade, demonstrate the importance of streamlining permitting processes and of creating a supportive environment to make compliance desirable. The results paint a clear picture of challenges in reducing GHG emissions from legacy buildings through permits and potential steps to ameliorate these.

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