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The Recipe for ReCovery: How the ReCover Initiative is Tackling Nova Scotia's Carbon Footprint

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

The Problem

Nova Scotia has outlined one of the most aggressive energy reduction goals in the country, designating 2050 as the year they hope to achieve net zero emissions. The major challenge here is that 75% of homes in the province predate 1996 and the average pre-1996 home uses twice as much energy as those built after. Currently, 17% of Nova Scotia’s energy consumption is used to heat existing residential buildings and although ensuring that all future residential construction is built to low-energy, low-emission standards, an efficient and effective retrofit strategy for existing building stock, is crucial to lowering this figure.

The Solution

The very idea of retrofitting virtually every building built before 1996, when the building code started focusing on energy efficiency, is a lofty one, but the ReCover Initiative is adapting an innovative retrofit method called EnergieSprong that might make that goal more attainable. EnergieSprong (meaning “energy leap”) is the Dutch method of large-scale retrofitting of buildings based on the prefabrication and offsite assemblage of insulation panels, siding and windows—everything needed to make passive upgrades to older buildings and significantly reduce their energy usage. The strategy is to upgrade the building envelope to Passive House level performance first, adding a balanced ventilation system with heat recovery, then adding solar panels to offset the remaining energy consumption. If a conventional onsite retrofit would take about nine months to complete, the EnergieSprong method would take about three months, with the onsite work taking as little as three weeks. The prefabrication of these materials means less disruption to building tenants, and fewer delays caused by weather.

Lorrie Rand, PBC board member and Co-Founder of Habit Studio, a building design firm in Halifax, had been hearing about EnergieSprong since its inception at various conferences and presentations and always thought someone should do it in Nova Scotia but never thought it would be her. In late 2019, together with ReCover Initiative Co-Founder, Nick Rudnicki of RSI Projects, they started pitching the idea. The Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines was interested, and funded a feasibility study, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was looming. Despite the pandemic, they already knew a building owner looking to do a renovation and that helped move the process along.

Using the EnergieSprong method, they have begun working on converting their first project, a 40-year-old multi-unit residential building in Halifax. When the lock down began, the team couldn’t get into the building, but was able to keep the design and analysis moving at a decent pace. They knew what the building assemblies were made of and the building owners helped by sending them images of whatever they needed including the nameplate data of mechanical equipment. Precise laser measurements were used to produce a 3D scan of the building in collaboration with Smarter Spaces as well as drawings and technical designs, all completed during quarantine. ReCover Initiative also prioritizes the use of low embodied carbon insulation materials like cellulose and softwood lumber, as opposed to high embodied carbon building materials like Styrofoam.

ReCover Initiative’s first project; a 40-year-old multi-unit building in Halifax.

The 3D scan took just 3 hours to complete. Image Courtesy of ReCover Initiative.

The Nova Scotia Context

Nova Scotia isn’t the Netherlands and adapting the EnergieSprong approach for the Nova Scotian context definitely comes with many considerations. In the Netherlands, the process is mostly applied to townhouses, whereas in Nova Scotia, it is easiest to start with low rise, multifamily buildings, because of their prevalence, simple structures and uniform window sizes. And of course, it's colder in Nova Scotia than the Netherlands, requiring increased insulation levels. Most buildings in Nova Scotia are wood-framed even the brick clad ones, but in the Netherlands, buildings are typically solid masonry. This presents a difference in how new panels are fastened to the structure. The Canadian Maritime winter exposes buildings to freeze-thaw cycles which can cause damage to masonry facades. When applying the EnergieSprong method, there needs to be a real awareness that buildings in bad health aren’t simply being covered up.

Another fundamental part of EnergieSprong in the Netherlands is the funding approach that goes with it, something not yet existing in Nova Scotia. That’s one of the main things that really concerns Lorrie. “If there isn’t a funding model to accompany EnergieSprong in Nova Scotia, a third party funder or financial institution who realizes the need to prioritize this, and understands that it can’t be financed the way they would traditionally fund projects, it simply isn’t going to fly” says Lorrie.

Streamlining, Funding and Financing

Presenting itself as a vital part of the solution to the current climate crisis makes the ReCover Initiative a great business opportunity, but Lorrie and Nick aren’t doing this to monopolize a market. There wouldn’t be enough time for them to do it alone. On the contrary, ReCover Initiative is a non-profit and really sees itself more as pioneering a recipe. “We hope that if we can streamline a process and remove all the kinks, a lot of contractors in Nova Scotia will want to do it, because the risk has been minimized” says Lorrie, “Retrofits can cost more than building something new, contractors are exposed to more risk and can lose money that way, but if we can show replicable results, builders will have more confidence.” They plan to roll out a methodology and share it. To ensure repeatable results and limit risk to builders and property owners when the project is expanded, detailed monitoring to ensure performance is accurate will be handled by The Nova Scotia Community College’s Applied Energy Research Department.

Social Outcomes

As the project continues to take off, the ReCover Initiative is mindful to acknowledge that environmental and social issues are two sides of the same coin. Approximately 37% of Nova Scotians struggle with energy poverty and Lorrie knows ReCover can help combat that too. Emma Norton, who works as a part of the ReCover team, as well as QUEST, an energy efficiency organization, works particularly hard on the prevention of social issues like renovictions. “Our first project is a market rate apartment building, but we also want to focus on marginalized communities. We have feelers out right now exploring what our second building will be. We aren’t just focused on Halifax, energy poverty is prevalent across Nova Scotia. If a traditional retrofit takes about nine months and our onsite work does not require the residents to leave their homes, vulnerable people are not displaced in order to have upgrades completed. We also want to ensure that our work isn’t promoting rent hikes and we are working to establish guidelines with other organizations to make sure that doesn’t happen.” With its great social and environmental outcomes, ReCover Initiative’s use of EnergieSprong is sure to take off across the province, and hopefully across the country as well.

To learn more about EnergieSprong, check out our PBC – EnergieSprong in the Canadian Context Playlist here.