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high performance building

The City of Vancouver net zero carbon initiative

By Patrick Enright

The City of Vancouver’s initiative to

monitor, regulate and ultimately codify the embodied carbon requirements for buildings is the first of its kind in Canada and provides an example for other authorities, whether municipal, provincial or federal, to follow.

The City of Vancouver’s interest in monitoring embodied carbon in new buildings dates back to 2016. As work was being done on the original Zero Emissions Buildings Plan (designed to bring operational emissions for all rezoning projects to near zero levels) it was pointed out that embodied carbon would then become by far the most important (if not the only) consideration in terms of life cycle carbon for new buildings.

This realization highlighted the need for City staff to develop a better understanding of embodied carbon, and its contribution to overall life cycle carbon emissions. To get started on understanding embodied carbon, a requirement to calculate and report embodied carbon was included with the new rezoning policy that went into effect in 2017. This laid the foundation for a more comprehensive approach to be introduced in the future.

In January 2019, the City of Vancouver declared a climate emergency (joining a global movement that now includes nearly 2300 municipalities worldwide) and commissioned a Climate Emergency Response report to guide future policy decisions. Approved by City Council in April 2019, this report set a target of a 50% reduction in carbon pollution in Vancouver by 2,300 and carbon neutrality by 2050; accelerating the City’s previous climate efforts.1

It also added six major new objectives (referred to as Big Moves) for the next decade. One of the big moves identified in the subsequent Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) was the phased introduction of embodied carbon standards for new buildings. This document enabled City staff to review the rezoning requirement and advise on process, enforcement, and outcomes. It also provided a better understanding of leading-edge practice for embodied carbon calculations, life cycle assessment protocols and related policies.

The data acquired through this reporting phase of the project enabled City staff to determine a realistic baseline against which future mandated embodied carbon reductions could be measured. The methodology for calculating embodied carbon was based on a standard LCA and a building service life of 60 years, with reporting covering the extraction, processing and fabrication of materials and products, construction, operating and deconstruction and disposal phases.

The Embodied Carbon Strategy lays out a 10-year road map; and is designed to achieve the City’s goal of a 40% reduction in the embodied carbon of new buildings by 2030. In May 2022, the City took major action under the CEAP, proposing regulatory changes to the Vancouver Building Bylaw. The first change is to require embodied carbon reporting for all Part 3 buildings starting in July 2023; the next step (approved in principle) is scheduled for implementation in January 2025, when project proponents will have to start demonstrating reductions in embodied carbon below the benchmark levels. The advance notice will provide them with an adjustment period in which to familiarize themselves with the new requirements. 

The implementation of embodied carbon reductions will be a staged process: the first stage will require reductions of 10% for most buildings (including buildings up to 12 storeys constructed under the Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction (EMTC) code adopted by British Columbia and the City of Vancouver in 2020.). For buildings that are of 1-6 storeys, and permitted outright to be of wood frame or mass timber construction, the required reduction will be 20%.

Both the new legislation and the underlying strategy are ‘material neutral’. Proponents will be required to complete the life cycle assessment and submit the results. Establishing a reasonable benchmark at the outset is critical to the success of the program, so the initial benchmark for high-rise buildings is based on concrete construction. This ‘initial benchmark’ will be a baseline that teams create for each project based on their proposed building (as they do currently for LEED projects). Guidance on how to create a baseline will be published as part of the upcoming City of Vancouver Embodied Carbon Guidelines, to be finalized and published in January 2023.

Patrick Enright, P.Eng., is Senior Green Building Engineer with the Sustainability Group at the City of Vancouver.


Interview with Graeme Stewart of ERA Architects

Graeme Stewart is a principal of ERA Architects which was the lead architect of the Ken Soble Tower transformation, one of the largest EnerPHit-certified projects in the world.

1. How did ERA Architects become involved in the Ken Soble Tower project?

ERA Architects had been working for over a decade on the Tower Renewal Project, a strategy for the revitalization of Canada’s aging postwar apartment neighbourhoods, through which we gained experience on tower retrofits. As part of the Hamilton City Housing portfolio of buildings, the Ken Soble Tower was in a distressed, abandoned condition. Based on our experience, we were brought in to do an assessment of what to do: tear it down or retrofit.

2. Deciding to do an EnerPHit transformation was a bold decision. How did you arrive there?

I am pleased to say that the decision was largely made for us by Hamilton City Housing CEO Tom Hunter. He came from the health care sector and said that we build world-class hospitals and need to do the same for our public housing. He understood the long-term benefits of doing an EnerPHit transformation, and the project moved ahead from there.

3. Once the project was a go, how did the process work of coordinating the various disciplines in the team?

When Hamilton City Housing decided on pursuing EnerPHit the intent from the start was to achieve certification. This kept everyone ‘honest’. It was crucial to have a fully co-ordinated team which we assembled based on our experience. The team included: Entuitive, JVM Consulting, Transsolar, Reinbold Engineers and the certifier from PHI in Germany among others. At every step – during design development, review of assemblies, costing reviews – the team always asked if we were meeting PHPP targets. We then worked with PCL on construction mock-ups that would meet the criteria of EnerPHit and serve as the standard should alternate details or products be suggested by the trades. Through this process we arrived at a tight ‘specs package’ such that the project met performance and was ultimately certified.

4. What did you learn from this first project about what worked and what could be improved?

As far as we know, this is the largest residential EnerPHit project in the world. The precedents for this type of work come from Europe but we realized that we need solutions that meet North American practices, products and trade familiarity. Our design made this its focus. The construction manager PCL was critical in the strength of their quality control regime, but some trades wondered early on if the PassiveHouse was overkill.  Yet as testing procedures became easier the consensus was these were key practices for use in future projects, Passive House or overwise.

There are two other observations. We would love to have trades more familiar with high-performance retrofits, and a supply chain that can provide more of the types of products for this type of work. But the evolution will happen. Since we went to tender three years ago, many more suitable products have become available.

5. Is the Ken Soble Tower transformation a practical template for the many similar towers in our building stock?

A resounding yes. The project gave us a lot of elbow room to try things because it was empty. We can apply the lessons learned to an occupied building. It was cheaper by half to renovate the Ken Soble Tower rather than tear it down and replace. The economics will improve further as the supply chain and trade skills improve. The incentive is an improved quality of life in revitalised buildings that are quiet, more comfortable, and more economic to operate in the long term. 

825 Pacific Street Artists Hub

New residential space provides public amenity and top performance

By Padraig McMorrow

With more than 2,000m² of affordable production spaces, independent studios, exhibition space and offices, 825 Pacific provides a vital injection of dedicated artist space into the City of Vancouver. The tallest Passive House building in Vancouver, 825 Pacific represents the Community Amenity Contribution made by the developer to the City of Vancouver, in exchange to permit the construction of rezoning an adjacent property for a high-rise residential tower. Because the City would take over the project, it was required to be constructed to the Passive House standard.

The seven-storey building stands next to the historic Leslie House, one of the oldest remaining single-family homes in Downtown Vancouver. To acknowledge the small scale and cultural importance of its neighbour, the ground floor of 825 Pacific, which will be a publicly accessible gallery, is set back to create a small entrance courtyard between the two buildings.

This is a core and shell project, with only the washroom and storage areas on each floor enclosed; the remainder awaiting subdivision by the tenants.The structure of the seven storey plus basement building comprises conventionally reinforced concrete walls, columns, floor slabs and roof slab. The stair cores located at the rear of the building provide the necessary lateral resistance.


The slab on grade and basement walls are insulated with 125mm expanded polystyrene (XPS) which provides an effective thermal resistance of R-27. The roof, with 230mm of XPS laid on the slab, provides an effective thermal resistance of R-43 for the green roof. The ground floor concrete walls are insulated with 203mm mineral wool, which provides an effective thermal resistance of R-32.

The walls of the upper floors are steel stud with 152mm mineral wool batt insulation between the studs; with an additional 203mm of continuous semi rigid mineral wool insulation, supported by the thermally broken stainless steel brackets used to secure the metal cladding.

This wall assembly provides an effective thermal resistance of R-44. To mitigate thermal bridging, heavy gauge studs were used to reduce the number of brackets required; together with non-metallic through wall flashings.

Project Credits

  • Developer   Grosvenor Group
  • Owner  City of Vancouver
  • General Contractor  Ledcor Group
  • Architects  ACDF Architecture and Arcadis IBI Group
  • Building Envelope Consultant and Energy Modeller  Morrison Hershfield
  • Structural Engineer  Dialog
  • Mechanical and Electrical Engineer  Integral Group

Three shades of metal panels create a dynamic exterior pattern, and staggered windows from one floor to another contribute to the rhythm of the facade. The overall effect is that of a pixelated beacon to attract the public. EJOT® CROSSFIX® stainless steel thermal clip brackets attach the facade to the building structure to maintain thermal performance.

Padraig McMorrow Architect (Ireland) MRIAI, CPHC, Associate – Manager, Architecture Arcadis IBI Group Vancouver Office.


Local 144 administrative office & training centre

Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC

Commercial/Industrial (Large) Award

Jury Comment: This project reflects the client’s remarkable commitment to exemplary building performance and the wellbeing of its employees. Low-carbon materials, a large photovoltaic array, and ultra low water consumption are combined with an attractive atrium, gardens and other social spaces.

This project arose from the desire of the plumbers’ union, the United Association – Local 144, to create a new head office and training facility for its members that would be warm, welcoming and at the same time, achieve the highest possible performance goals across a range of sustainable design criteria.

Located on an infill site in an industrial area at the east end of the Island of Montreal, the project offered both urban improvement and economic opportunities; restoring a former wasteland area and providing training facilities for local trades.

From the outset, the aim was to achieve LEED v4 Platinum certification (a first for an industrial building in Canada), with specific performance objectives including:  an 80% reduction in energy consumption, to be achieved in part by the installation of a 430-panel rooftop photovoltaic array; a reduction of 80% in potable water consumption; a partial wood structure to minimize embodied energy; passive design strategies to harvest daylight; and natural displacement ventilation for energy efficiency and occupant comfort.

The program is divided into two distinct pavilions joined by a footbridge. The differences in major occupancy, together with the required spans and spatial organization, led to the choice of a steel structure for the training centre and a mass timber structure for the administration building.

The central atrium of the Administrative building. Nordic Structures supplied FSC-certified cross-laminated timber slabs for the floor and roof, and glued-laminated timber posts and beams.

Large areas of translucent insulated panels by Kalwall on the south wall provide daylight to the workshop spaces and classrooms while maintaining a high-performance building envelope.

The heat for the radiant floors is produced by an optimized combination of geothermal and a Mitsubishi Electric Sales Canada VRF air source heat pump system.

Project Credits

  • Owner/Developer  United Association – Local 144
  • Architect  Blouin Tardif Architectes
  • General contractor  SIMDEV
  • Landscape Architect  Guillaume Henri Hurbain Civil Engineer  NCK
  • Electrical/mechanical engineer  Martin & Roy Associés
  • Structural engineer  NCK
  • LEED consultant  WSP
  • Building envelope  REMATEK
  • Photos  Claude Dagenais, twohumans
  • Project Performance
  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 133 KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under ASHRAE 90.1-2010 = 81%
  • Water consumption from municipal sources = 1,612 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in water consumption relative to reference building under LEED = 81%

Project Performance

  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 133 KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under ASHRAE 90.1-2010 = 81%
  • Water consumption from municipal sources = 1,612 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in water consumption relative to reference building under LEED = 81%

Integral Group Studio

Calgary, AB

Interior Design Award

Jury Comment: As we take on the challenge of circularity in the construction industry, this beautiful contemporary office interior shows what is achievable using reclaimed materials with a combination of commitment and creativity. The sources of materials are diverse, but the resulting design is cohesive and inspiring.

Even for an interior tenant fit out like this one, location is key. The Integral Group chose the location for their new offices in the Telus Sky Building based on walkability and proximity to transit; and in the Telus Sky Building, in particular, because it was designed to LEED Platinum standards, incorporated operable windows, natural light, and displacement ventilation.

The overall office design fosters a sense of community through a central kitchen and the inclusion of areas for social interaction, including a boardroom table that converts to a pool table. In addition, a lactation room welcomes working mothers and doubles as a quiet room for those in need of a minute alone. The goal was to create a fully inclusive working environment; and all spaces within the floor plan, including meeting rooms and offices, were designed to be fully accessible.

The main door to the office was shifted to be located equidistant from the stairs and elevator to encourage staff to take the stairs when possible. The building has a triple-glazed curtain wall system with low-emissivity coatings to allow daylight into the space while maintaining thermal comfort and reducing heating and cooling loads. Operable windows allow occupants to have fresh air, limiting the amount of mechanical ventilation required. A heat wheel reduces the heating and cooling load which reduces energy use.

The all-LED lighting is equipped with occupancy and daylight sensors located throughout the office to optimize occupant visual comfort and reduce energy use. The projected annual energy consumption for the office space is approximately 177 kWh/m2.

The project had a lofty goal to exceed 100% of waste diversion from landfill, which meant diverting waste not related to this project. Many of the materials selected were salvaged from other project sites or other uses and re-purposed for this project.

The all-LED lighting is equipped with occupancy and daylight sensors located throughout the office to optimize occupant visual comfort and reduce energy use. Fan coil units were supplied by Daikin Applied.

Project Credits

  • Owner/Developer  Integral Group
  • Architect LOLA Architecture
  • General Contractor  Eton-West Construction (Alta) Inc.
  • Electrical/mechanical  Integral Group
  • Commissioning Agent  Integral Group
  • Photos  Chris Amat

Project Performance 

  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 177 KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under NECB 2011 LEED ACP = 7.2%
  • Water consumption from municipal sources = 7,400 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in water consumption relative to reference building under LEED = 20%
  • Recycled material content by value = 20%
  • Construction waste diverted from landfill = 100%

Kitsilano Duplex Retrofit

Vancouver, BC

Residential (Small) Award

Jury Comment: Given the requirement to maintain the historic character of the neighbourhood, and the imperative to add density by creating a duplex, meeting Passive House performance at this scale is a remarkable achievement. This project should be an inspiration for others like it in Vancouver and elsewhere.

A rare Canadian example of a Passive House EnerPHit retrofit, this duplex was fashioned from a 1940s single-family home.  The original home had been in the same family since the 1950s and had recently been gifted down to the grandson and granddaughter of the original owner. They decided to convert the house into a duplex, keeping one half each, but also decided to upgrade it to meet Passive House standards.

Development in much of Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood is subject to character retention guidelines; and balancing the required upgrade to Passive House thermal performance with the need to maintain architectural heritage was very challenging. However, by choosing to renovate rather than demolish the house and build new, the owners were able to retain more than 60% of the original framing material.

This dramatically lowered the embodied carbon of the building. By adding new structure to the existing framing, it was possible to bring the house up to current structural and seismic standards, while using far less new material than would have been required in an all-new building. Less new material, also translated into less construction waste.

It was necessary to lift the house to install a new crawl space basement which acts as a mechanical room and storage space. To further reduce embodied carbon, a ‘concrete free’ basement slab was installed, constructed with two layers of 15mm plywood laid directly on rigid insulation and compacted gravel.

The completed duplex is fully electric, with both electric heating and hot water. Rough-ins for air-to-air heat pumps were also made for future space cooling if needed. As summers in Vancouver are getting warmer, space cooling may become necessary for comfort in many buildings. The duplex is expected to use approximately 14 kWh/m²/year and is Passive house certified. Triple pane PH-certified wood windows are used within a wall assembly that consists of 2×6 framing with 4” of exterior mineral wool insulation.

The house uses triple pane Passive House-certified windows and doors by VETTA Building Technologies Inc.

A Mitsubishi Electric Sales Canada ductless heat pump handles heating and cooling.

Project Credits

  • Architect  DLP Architecture
  • General Contractor  Geography Contracting
  • Photos  Michael Renaud


Gastown Child Care Centre

Vancouver, BC

Institutional (small) Award

Jury Comment: This simple and elegant project is an innovative response to the acute shortage of childcare spaces in a city experiencing rapid densification. It seems fitting that the expansive roof of an underused downtown parkade should be repurposed to serve the needs of urban families. 

The Gastown Child Care Centre is a creative response to an intriguing City of Vancouver initiative to develop child care centres on the roofs of under-utilized parkades located in the downtown core. This innovative solution features two 400m² prefabricated, 37-seat, Passive House and LEED Gold-certified child care facilities to serve the immediate needs of the local community.

The design solution focused on net-zero energy and low carbon fuel sources, as well as specifications that prioritized materials and products with Environmental Product Declarations, Healthy Building Declarations and transparent sourcing.

To optimize efficiency, economy, and repeatability, various elements of the two buildings, including the canopy, support plinth, enclosure, and outdoor play are virtually identical prefabricated components. A raised construction crane located in an alley between the two parkades allowed vehicles to pass below while prefabricated glulam structures, insulated wood cassettes, and outdoor play area components were lifted to the top of the parkades for assembly.

An elevated large-span steel platform allows surface rainwater to flow into the existing drainage system and the new structural loads are efficiently transferred to the parkade structure to avoid the need for costly seismic upgrades.

Oriented toward Burrard Inlet, with spectacular views of the North Shore Mountains, the rusty red-hued buildings, bright yellow storage sheds, bold and colourful outdoor play areas, and a multi-coloured tricycle court provide a variety of opportunities for imaginative play. An open-air bridge spans the alley between the parking structures, connecting the two child care buildings and making them one facility.

The north elevations of both child care buildings have triple-glazed windows and sliding doors by Cascadia Windows & Doors, offering large views, ample daylight and direct access to an outdoor play area, sheltered by a translucent glazed canopy.

Project Credits

  • Owner/Developer  City of Vancouver
  • Architect  Acton Ostry Architects Inc
  • General contractor  Heatherbrae Builders
  • Landscape Architect  Durante Kreuk
  • Electrical/mechanical engineer  The Integral Group
  • Structural engineer  Fast + Epp
  • Passive House Consultant  Ryder Architecture
  • Commissioning Agent  C.E.S. Engineering Ltd
  • Acoustic consultant  RWDI
  • LEED Consultant  Stantec LEED
  • Special Consultant  Environmental Solutions
  • Code Certified Professional  GHL Consultants
  • Photos  Michael Elkan Architectural Photography

Project Performance

  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 65.4 KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under NECB 2011 = 68%
  • Water consumption from municipal sources = 4,357 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in water consumption relative to reference building under LEED = 26%
  • Construction waste diverted from landfill = 65%


MEC Flagship Store

Vancouver, BC

Commercial-Industrial (large) Award

Jury Comment: As well as reflecting the client’s values in a refined and sophisticated way, this project also contributes positively to the public realm. Transparent facades, an elegant entrance canopy and a sidewalk level bioswale animate the street. The verdant living roof is visible from surrounding apartments.

This latest addition to the portfolio of Vancouver-based outdoor equipment retailer MEC uses architecture and interior design to embody the company’s ethos of environmental responsibility.

The store is located at the intersection of Second Avenue and Quebec Street, marking the southeast entrance to Vancouver’s Olympic village neighbourhood. Counter to the prevailing trend, the client and architect wanted to down-zone the site, so the store itself would be highly visible, rather than being integrated into the podium of a high-rise structure. The result is an elegant, eye-catching and transparent landmark as seen from street level, and a luxuriant living roof as seen from the surrounding high-rise apartments.

The building has three floors of exposed mass timber structure above grade, on top of a three-storey concrete parking garage. The building announces its environmental credentials with a cross laminated timber canopy running the full length of the entrance (south) elevation sheltering an extensive bicycle rack. The colourful interior retail spaces are clearly visible from the street through extensive storefront glazing; inverting the often-inward-looking typology of big box stores.

On the east elevation a broad Corten steel scupper discharges stormwater from the blue and green roofs, into a bioswale planter at street level. The bioswale provides additional filtration, before discharging the run off through the stormwater system into nearby False Creek. The elevational treatment continues around the corner of the building into the lane. Rather than a traditional ‘back of house’ treatment, this lane is lined with stepping Corten planters and a trellis for climbing plants; the continuous siding is broken by double height glazing that provides views into the interior atrium; and the entrance to the loading dock and parking garage is lined with murals.

Project Credits

  • Owner/Developer  Beedie Group
  • Architect  Proscenium Architecture + Interiors Inc.
  • General Contractor  Heatherbrae Builders Landscape Architect  G | ALA Gauthier + Associates
  • Electrical and mechanical engineer  Pageau Morel Structural engineer  Fast + Epp Commissioning Agent  SYSTÈMES ÉNERGIE TST INC
  • Interior Retail Designer  Aedifica Architecture + Design
  • Project Manager (previously for MEC)  Corin Flood LEED Consultant  Sebastien Garon Architecture + Design Photos  Michael Elkan Architectural Photography

Project Performance 

  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 82.8 KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under ASHRAE 90.1 – 2007 = 43%
  • Water consumption from municipal sources = 2,536 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in water consumption relative to reference building under LEED = 46.7%
  • Recycled material content by value = 15.2%
  • Regional materials (800km radius) by value = 39.7%
  • Construction waste diverted from landfill = 80.2%


Red Deer Polytechnic Student Residence

Red Deer, Alberta

Residential (Large) Award

Jury Comment: The project is notable for its use of sustainable features, such as the photovoltaic cladding panels, to create an architectural language.  Also notable are the multiple social spaces visible from the exterior and the exposed mass timber structure; both adding to the didactic quality of the building.

This 5,800 m², five-storey, 145-unit mass timber structure was first occupied by 300 athletes who attended the Canada Winter Games in 2019.  However, the long-term purpose of the building was always to house Red Deer Polytechnic’s growing student population. The building also functions as  a hotel, providing accommodation for short- and long-term guests, including faculty and external users. The Polytechnic’s vision was to create a building that would keep students on campus by providing recreational and social opportunities, rather than having them to drive to downtown Red Deer.  The result is a residence that offers a bright and airy interior environment with an unprecedented range of social spaces.

Although the client did not mandate the design team to achieve any green building certification, the project was designed to LEED Gold standards. With its R35 walls, R45 roof, R7 windows and Passive House Certified fibreglass curtainwall, it exceeds the prescriptive requirements of the National Energy Code for Buildings (NECB).

Special attention was also given to:

  • encouraging walking within the building and discouraging use of the elevator
  • passive solar heating in winter, and operable windows for ventilation in warmer months
  • leveraging the health benefits of natural daylight, views and indoor plants,
  • energy reduction through use of 100% LED lighting and a 90% efficient HVAC system.

Exposing the soffits of the mass timber floors eliminated the need for suspended ceilings All the wood was locally harvested, milled in an Edmonton shop to minimize transportation costs and GHG impacts.

The east, west and south facades of the building are covered with a 163 kW integrated photovoltaic array that offsets approximately 40% of the annual energy consumption of the building.

The successful implementation of these diverse sustainability goals was made possible through a collaborative design approach and an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) method using a multi-party contract.

The Polytechnic was well aware that isolation and lack of community support for students has a negative influence, not only on their ability to perform in the classroom, but also on their mental, physical and emotional well-being. In this context, the design team saw an opportunity to reconceptualize the typical student residence typology.

Duxton Windows and Doors supplied its high-performance fiberglass windows Series 328.

Western Archrib suppled the glulam columns and beams, and its Westdek floor panels.

The main HVAC components consists of fan coils for common areas, air handling units and chillers supplied by Daikin Applied; Mitsubishi Electric Sales Canada Mr. Slim P-Series ductless air conditioners; and CREST boilers by Lochinvar.

Project Credits

  • Owner/developer  Red Deer Polytechnic
  • Architect  Reimagine Architects Ltd
  • General Contractor  Clark Builders
  • Landscape Architect  Katharina Kafka Landscape Architect
  • Civil Engineer  Stantec
  • Electrical Engineer  Manasc Isaac Consulting
  • Mechanical Engineer  Smith + Andersen (Edmonton)
  • Structural engineer  RJC Engineers
  • Photos  Cooper + O’Hara

Project Performance

  • Energy intensity (building and process energy) = 70.68KWhr/m²/year
  • Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under MNECB 2011 = 50%