‘Wrapping these buildings in a nice, warm sweater’: Edmonton retrofit first of its kind

The project is based on energy-saving techniques from the Netherlands

Liam Harrap · CBC News · Posted: Aug 05, 2021 8:00 AM MT | Last Updated: August 9, 2021

The Sundance Housing Cooperative in Edmonton is an affordable housing community dating from the 1970s. (Liam Harrap/CBC Edmonton )

Bees buzz between tomato plants, rows of Swiss chard and flowering zucchinis. Defend Alberta Parks signs dapple the Sundance Cooperative Housing property, between porches with lines of pegged drying laundry. Scaffolding surrounds one faded colourful townhouse and construction workers compare measurements. 

“I’ve been in construction for 50 years and this is my hardest project,” according to Peter Amerongen, managing partner at Butterwick Projects Ltd.

The project in Edmonton’s Riverdale neighbourhood is based on Energiesprong, a program from the Netherlands that retrofits buildings to net-zero standards with a minimum amount of construction waste.

Peter Amerongen (left), managing partner at Butterwick Projects Ltd. said the retrofit is one of the hardest projects he has worked on during his 50 years in construction. (Liam Harrap/CBC Edmonton)

The co-op’s 59 townhouse units will be encased in dense-pack cellulose and the existing structures covered with panels that have been pre-fabricated with new windows and doors. Insulation made from recycled newspapers is then blown into spaces between the new panels and the old building. 

The homes will also be powered by solar power and other green energy.

“We’re basically wrapping these buildings in a nice, warm sweater,” Amerongen told CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active in a recent interview. 

Residents continue living in their homes throughout the construction, expected to be complete in 2022.

Amerongen said a similar project was done in Ontario in the last few years but Edmonton’s is bigger and more ambitious.

Radio Active6:32Carbon zero co-operative housingThere’s a new housing project in Edmonton trying to tackle climate change. We speak to Peter Amerongen about the green retrofit that’s said to be the first of its kind in Canada

Almost 30 per cent of global carbon emissions come from the energy used to heat, cool and light buildings, according to World Green Building Council. In addition, construction, renovation and demolition waste in Canada makes up about 12 per cent of the solid waste stream.

The housing complex, built in 1978, is a mixed-income affordable community that provides homes to 150 people. 

According to the co-op’s website and its residents, the deep energy retrofit made sense. 

“If we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there will not be a livable future,” said Sandy Susut, who has lived in the building for over 40 years. 

She hopes this project will become a blueprint for others. 

“We can act collectively for future sustainability.” 

Pre-construction panels are slipped over the existing housing structure, resulting in little construction waste. (Suppled by Sandy Susut )

The federal government has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

According to Amerongen, up to 80 per cent of buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built today. That means retrofits must become common across Canada to meet emission reduction targets. 

“If we don’t get started and take every opportunity to grow as fast as we can, how are we going to look our kids in the eye?”

He said there are more than 14 million dwellings in Canada that need similar retrofits. 

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Amerongen. 

“That’s a massive new industry waiting to be had. We’ll never have an employment problem again if we do this right.”

Michael Singleton, executive director of Sustainable Buildings Canada, said while green construction projects are taking root in Canada, most of the focus is on new builds. 

“But it’s the existing buildings that are really affecting the energy use and greenhouse gases.” 

One of the newly retrofitted Sundance Housing Cooperative buildings. (Liam Harrap/CBC Edmonton )

Singleton said Canadian buildings tend to be poorly insulated because utility costs are cheap, especially compared to Europe. 

“The way to offset a single-pane window is to put a radiator below it and just have this heat barrier.” 

Electricity in Germany is more than twice as expensive as it is in Canada, according to market data company Statista. 

The Sundance retrofit project is estimated to cost approximately $10 million, of which $2.5 million is covered by a federal government grant.


  • An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the buildings were being encased in high-density foam.Aug 09, 2021 9:53 AM MT

Natalia Ortiz Moreno

Natalia Ortiz, student of Project Management Environmental (PME) program in Seneca Polytechnic, has an Environmental Engineering background completed at Universidad El Bosque in Colombia. She has always been involved in sustainability roles and projects that included Environmental Management Systems implementation, Water Treatment Systems’ design and operation, Hazardous and Conventional Waste management and minimization practices, as well as Ecosystem’s Conservation and Energy
Efficiency programs.

For the PME – Applied Project Management Course, Natalia developed a Green Roof Assessment Tool for Seneca Polytechnic’s Office of Sustainability, with the aim to provide green roof technology recommendations best suited to a particular scenario, taking into consideration multiple aspects of green roofs and buildings; infrastructure, design, materials, environmental factors, and costs, as well as the Toronto Municipal Code – Green Roof bylaw. Natalia also has a scientific journal publication as the main author of the project “Selection and sizing of industrial wastewater treatment units required at the
new maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) aircraft facility owned by Avianca S.A. in Rionegro Antioquia” in the El Bosque University Journal of Technology.

Natalia strongly believes there are several research topics left to be developed, and the importance of
working towards Sustainability from different backgrounds, knowledge, and cultures to build strong, productive, and resilient communities.
With the vision of growing cities and infrastructure along with nature, always preserving and respecting the ecosystems’ attributes and services, Natalia would like to keep researching and acquiring more experience in Sustainability roles.

Emily Smit

Emily is a second-year PhD student in Geography at the University of Toronto, and a co-operator of a small home renovation company, Magnus Home Improvements. Her research seeks to determine how single-family homes can quickly and best be retrofit to achieve Toronto’s emissions reductions targets – including net-zero by 2040 – as part of the TransformTO climate action plan. Specifically, she will assess the impact of municipal home energy reporting and disclosure programs, as well as produce recommendations for growing the retrofit labour force in ways that attend to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Further, her research seeks to understand how home retrofit activities can be regenerative and produce net-positive impacts for humans and the environment towards transformative, place-based sustainability. When not at her computer, Emily can be found cycling with her kids to and from school or making funky sounds on her analog synthesizer.

Bofa Udisi

Bofa is a sustainability professional with over seven years in the energy and environment industry. He has a Bachelor of Science in Energy and Petroleum Studies from Novena University in Nigeria and graduate certificates in Energy Management and Environmental Project Management from Seneca College in Toronto. In 2020, he graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Master of Environment and Business degree. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Building Science program at Toronto Metropolitan University, researching whole-life carbon reduction in new construction and building renovations.

Bofa‘s work experience is primarily in the built environment, working in the private and public sectors in roles that involve structural and environmental assessment of building structures, HVAC engineering design and sales, and facilities management. Bofa is a member of several industry associations, such as the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), the American Society for Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the Project Management Institute (PMI). SBC’s bursary will go a long way in supporting Bofa‘s research and his desire to learn.