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Study highlights environmental cost of tearing down Vancouver’s single-family homes

By Lou Corpuz-Bosshart for The University of British Columbia

Rising property values in Vancouver have resulted in the demolition of an unprecedented number of single-family homes in recent years, many of which were replaced with the same type of structure. Despite the better energy performance of the new homes, this cycle is likely to increase overall greenhouse gas emissions, according to new analysis from researchers at the University of British Columbia and MountainMath Software.

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“The Zero Emissions Building Plan instituted by the City of Vancouver, which aims to eliminate emissions from the operations of new buildings by 2030, has already improved the energy efficiency of new homes,” said study author Joseph Dahmen, a professor of architecture and landscape architecture at UBC. “This is a significant accomplishment, but the teardown cycle is preventing many single-family homes from surviving long enough to ‘pay back’ the initial impacts caused by construction materials, which are not accounted for in the current plan.”

The study, which will be published in July in Energy and Buildings, finds that new single-family home construction in Vancouver will result in one to three million tonnes of added emissions between 2017-2050, even though the new homes will require less energy to heat and operate. It also reports that each percentage point increase in land value will result in an additional 130,000 tonnes of emissions in Vancouver during the same period.

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