The new Zero Carbon Building Design Standard: Slashing carbon emissions

The new Zero Carbon Building Design Standard
The Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) recently disclosed the latest version of its Zero Carbon Building – Design Standard. ZCB-Design v3 evaluates a building’s emissions across all phases of its lifecycle, prioritizing carbon emissions and embodied carbon reductions.  As a testament to its continued commitment to getting more buildings to zero faster, the CAGBC assessed two years of market and project feedback to better understand changing expectations of operational and embodied carbon emissions.  “Our research shows that the industry needs flexibility in achieving zero carbon. That’s what our standard provides without compromising our target to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings,” said Thomas Mueller, President and CEO of CAGBC. The goal of this standard is to provide a more reasonable means for projects to certifiably achieve a zero-carbon balance with a certification that can be pursued by new buildings and deep retrofit projects of existing buildings. A notable change to the ZCB-Design Standard is its focus on specifically targeting embodied carbon and combustion. 

Putting an end to embodied carbon and combustion

Directly targeting embodied carbon reductions exemplifies the built environment’s acknowledgement of the impact it has on climate change. The CAGBC calculated that 93 per cent of a new building’s cumulative emissions is likely to be embodied carbon in 2050. The standard implements a requirement for embodied carbon reductions, with the flexibility to choose between absolute embodied carbon targets or relative improvements over a baseline.  Another focal point of the standard is operational combustion. Globally, heat accounts for nearly half of all energy consumption and 40 per cent of energy-related carbon emissions. ZCB-Design v3 incentivizes projects to move away from combustion by offering additional thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI) flexibility. Projects that eliminate combustion for space heating are no longer required to meet a TEDI target. Consequently, a limit on combustion has been employed permitting its use only when the outdoor air temperature is below -10 C. This change ensures electrification of heating is the new default, only stopping at the point of system limitation.

Zero carbon through thermal metering 

Multi-unit residential projects and smaller buildings will particularly benefit from these updated changes. With a direct focus on embodied carbon reductions through decreased thermal energy demand, there is a growing importance to accurately measure and monitor thermal consumption within buildings. A resource that offers increased energy efficiency while decarbonizing heating and creating comfortable, healthy indoor spaces is thermal energy metering. These meters are used to measure energy consumption in a hydronic system for either heating or cooling. Once integrated, they can:
  • Allow building owners to accurately track energy usage with specific costs allocated to each unit
  • Identify potential system malfunctions and establish optimized temperature settings
  • Reduce waste/excess thermal energy consumption
  • Provide transparent thermal heat transfer energy data, allowing users to view and document system performance

 A zero carbon future

Heating efficiency can be applied in innovative ways to maximize sustainability, one of which being thermal energy metering. To determine areas in need thermal energy conservation, measuring and understanding consumption levels is crucial. Accelerating the adoption of these technologies and scaling them globally will more confidently move us towards achieving the CAGBC’s updated zero carbon building standard by 2050.  Read more: