New TAF research estimates smart thermostat retrofits in multi-unit residential buildings can provide 8.8-11.8 per cent energy savings while also providing tenants with comfort and control.
Closing the carbon emissions gap with smart thermostats
Space heating in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) (such as apartment buildings and condos) accounts for an estimated 3.5 megatonnes of annual emissions in Ontario. While high-efficiency heating equipment, such as condensing boilers, can reduce this substantially, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Smart thermostats, which provide in-suite heating control, also have a key role to play in decarbonizing the MURB sector.
As part of a three-year study on energy efficiency retrofits and indoor environmental quality, TAF evaluated the energy savings and associated carbon emission reductions from installing in-suite smart thermostats in four apartment buildings in Toronto. The project saw an emissions reduction of 105 tonnes CO2eq, and identified a host of co-benefits through monitoring and resident surveys.
Not just energy savings – comfort improvements too
In-suite temperature controls better align heating output with a resident’s heating demand. Pre-retrofit, residents identified over-heating as a prevalent issue. Smart thermostats helped decrease overheating by 35-54 per cent. But that’s not all; when residents are able to control suite temperatures their thermal comfort improves, and counter-productive behaviours (such as opening windows in winter in order to cool their space) are reduced.
Smart thermostats show great scale-up potential as carbon reduction strategy
The majority of MURBs in Ontario share similar challenges as these pilot sites — old mechanical equipment with no turn-down capability, overheating, and lack of in-suite controls. Smart thermostats could potentially save between 164-220 million m3 of natural gas across Ontario, per heating season. This is equivalent to taking as many as 87,473 passenger vehicles off the road annually.
In-suite smart thermostats have the potential for rapid adoption, as has already been seen in the single-family homes sector. Industry stakeholders can do a number of things to facilitate this adoption within the multi-family sector as well:
- Utilities: provide incentives for MURB owners and operators, and promote the benefits of in-suite smart thermostats, particularly as part of larger energy efficiency retrofits featuring boiler and/or heat pump upgrades
- Smart thermostat manufacturers: provide centralized control through online portals for building operators, ability to wirelessly connect to radiator control valves, and control of multiple zones through one thermostat
- Building Owners/Operators: approach retrofits holistically by considering smart thermostats as part of larger HVAC retrofit projects. Resident engagement can also offer important insight to help inform retrofit plans, and build resident support