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From the Winter 2021 Issue

Getting to Net-Zero: Improving Your Building With Support From the City of Toronto

Your Condo: Energy Efficiency

Your Condo || Duncan MacLellan

The City of Toronto’s Net-Zero Existing Buildings Strategy has set the stage for all existing buildings in Toronto to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by 2050. To reach this important goal, all existing buildings will have to be significantly transformed and retrofitted.

The strategy supports Toronto’s TransformTO climate targets, creating performance targets to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings and create a pathway to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.

A number of programs and supports are available from the city to help building owners undertake deep retrofits that maximize carbon reduction and community benefits. Condo boards can access low-interest financing, technical expertise and support through these programs, including the Tower Renewal program, Navigation & Support Services, and Energy Retrofit Loans.

Buildings generate approximately 55 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Toronto today and represent the greatest opportunity for meeting our climate targets. All three levels of government have reaffirmed their commitments and investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating Canada’s climate change response.

Building owners are encouraged to take proactive action to improve energy efficiency to ensure they meet future energy performance targets. 

The Tower Renewal STEP Program for Multi-residential Buildings
The Sustainable Towers Engaging People (STEP) Program is recommended as the first step for any multi-unit residential organization looking to begin its retrofit journey. Since the program started, staff have helped almost 400 residential buildings reduce operating costs, improve building performance and resilience and enhance tenant comfort, satisfaction and retention. The free program is open to condominium corporations located in Toronto, built prior to 1985, and eight stories or taller.

STEP encompasses six key areas: energy, water, waste, operations, safety and community. To identify opportunities for improvement, city staff offer benchmarking of building performance on energy, water and waste, an on-site holistic assessment, and a customized action report, all free of charge. The detailed, customized report shows specific areas with the greatest room for improvement and potential savings. Staff engage with the participating organization to support continued action on improvements and provide an updated benchmark report within three years of the original assessment date to show the progress achieved.

Positive Outcomes: Building Finds Additional Savings
Recently, Tower Renewal staff worked with a 20-storey condominium, located in the GTA, built in 1973. The condo board approached the city to address concerns with unusually high demand for electricity linked to cooling needs. While the STEP benchmarking program confirmed that the condo was performing in the top 10 percent range in the energy, water and waste categories of our benchmark, it verified that savings were still possible in many areas. Based on the benchmark, there was a 38 percent savings potential in cooling electricity, representing about $25,000 of annual utility savings. An opportunity to reduce water consumption by 23 percent, representing savings of more than $38,000 per year, was also identified.

City staff also met with the property and energy managers for a virtual walkthrough assessment – a comprehensive process of understanding how the building operates to provide recommendations for improvements. The assessment revealed that the building’s electric baseboards and packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) units make the building an ideal candidate for a heat pump retrofit. The building management plans to replace their single-pane windows with low-energy high-performance ones and integrate them into their capital planning. Other recommendations included super-insulating the original roof to a minimum of R-60, resulting in reduced sizing of HVAC equipment and improved resilience in the event of power outages.

The recommendations report outlined multiple measures that could be implemented in all six STEP areas, from strengthening tenant engagement through welcome packs, regular communications with residents to enhanced waste diversion practices and building staff training. Program staff also connected the board to financial incentives, such as the City’s Eco-Roof Incentive Program, which supports the installation of green roofs and cool roofs on all types of buildings in Toronto.

City Financing
Working with the board, the city identified a financing solution that could preserve the building’s reserve fund and enable the board to select higher efficiency retrofit options. The City’s Energy Retrofit Loan Fund (ERL) would support up to 100 percent of the energy efficiency retrofit costs. The ERL loan fund offers low, fixed-rate financing for up to 20 years, no penalty for early repayment, and a payment-free construction period. Once the board confirms their interest in the ERL program, City staff will assist in preparing the applications and answer any program questions.

Additional City Supports
What other City programs can help to guide your building through the retrofit process? The City’s Navigation and Support Services program can help you take a deeper dive into the energy consumption and emissions reduction possibilities present at your building.

Through detailed engineering analysis, recommendations are provided on prioritized next steps for reducing building energy consumption and emissions. Program staff also help building owners in accessing and applying for applicable project incentives.

Getting Started
To take advantage of the City of Toronto programs and financing that can help you be proactive in reducing emissions and improving the resilience of your building, contact City staff at BBP@toronto.ca or Tower@toronto.ca with the details of your building, and staff will direct you to the right program for support. 


Duncan MacLellan is a Project Manager in the City of Toronto’s Environment and Energy Division. He is responsible for outreach and intake for all existing building programs. Previously, Duncan has worked in the conservation departments at Toronto Hydro and other utilities across the GTA.

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