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Toronto Launches Deep Retrofit Challenge

To advance building energy efficiency, the City of Toronto has launched the Deep Retrofit Challenge (DRC), a competition-style program that will support the deep retrofitting of 10 to 16 buildings in Toronto. The program is expected to launch soon.

Supported by a grant from Natural Resources Canada, the DRC is open to Ontario Building Code Part 3 buildings (greater than 600 m2 or greater than three stories) including multi-unit residential buildings, commercial office buildings, and mixed-use buildings.

The DRC is intended to catalyze an acceleration in deep retrofits to support reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040, as part of Toronto’s Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy as well as the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy.

As a minimum, retrofits must target a 50% reduction in total energy use intensity and greenhouse gas emissions, but the City is aiming for 80% or greater. Furthermore, the savings reductions must achieve a payback period of 20 years or better. Selected applicants will receive an incentive equal to 25% of their total project costs up to a maximum of $500,000 (depending on gross floor area and emissions reduction) to offset the incremental design and construction costs required to maximize emission reduction.

In an interview, Devon Stopps (Senior Engineer) and Sarah Rodrigues (Project Manager) with the City of Toronto’s Public Energy Initiatives - Existing Buildings group in the Environment and Energy Division spoke more about the DRC.

“The goal of the Deep Retrofit Challenge is to build up market confidence in deep retrofits, encourage voluntary compliance with existing building policies, and inform future energy codes. […] Designs, budgets, and energy data from the projects will be made public and will help provide data for research, case studies, and provide clear examples of the financial and technical pathways needed for mass adoption of deep retrofits.”

Green buildings have been a growing priority in the City of Toronto. This May, the latest (and fourth) version of the Toronto Green Standard came into effect, with phase-in of the highest tier requirement accelerated from 2030 to 2028. And in 2021, the City of Toronto adopted the Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy as well as the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy.

Stopps and Rodrigues emphasized the importance of creating case studies and publicly available data on financial and technical pathways to deep retrofits: “Through the DRC, we hope to demonstrate replicable, cost-effective pathways for achieving significant energy and greenhouse gas reductions across several different buildings.” With case studies and model buildings in place, the City will be able to more effectively showcase to building owners the benefits and feasibility of deep retrofits and high performance buildings with their associated costs.

Advocates have been calling for a “renovation wave” to support the mass deep retrofitting of all buildings in Canada to mitigate climate change and achieve net zero by 2050; Stopps and Rodrigues see the City of Toronto as aligned with this goal. Assuredly, the City of Toronto is aiming to be net zero by 2040.

Buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto (57%), mostly from burning natural gas for heating indoor spaces and water. As Stopps and Rodrigues say, if Toronto is to meet its goal of net zero by 2040, “the two most critical actions are converting every single building heating system from gas to electric (heat pumps, low carbon heating) and keeping a clean electricity system.”

The program performance calculations will focus on operating emissions – emissions that are located within city boundaries and that occur as a consequence of buildings using grid-supplied electricity or burning fossil fuels for heat. Participants will still be asked to quantify their embodied emissions and present a reduction plan as part of the design phase.

For more information about the Deep Retrofit Challenge, check out the City of Toronto’s website or submit questions to

Disclosure: PBC is a volunteer partner on this project.

Articles on the PBC website reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of PBC.

Raidin Blue is a summer technical writer for PBC. He earned his MES at York University and B.Sc.Hon. from the University of Saskatchewan.

Cover photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash