Eh Sayers Season 3 Episode 3 - Green Houses, Not Gases

Release date: November 22, 2022

Catalogue number: 45200003
ISSN: 2022007

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Canada is facing both a climate crisis and a housing crisis, and they are interconnected.

Choices we make about our homes impact the environment: their location and how much we need to use a car to get around, the heat source that they use, the materials used in their construction.

At the same time, the climate impacts our homes: when severe weather strikes and causes damage to our homes, we have no choice but to rebuild, and even if we escape unscathed, we still have to decide how much to change our lifestyles to adapt to a changing climate.

Andrew DeFazio, CMHC Climate Change Advisor, joins us to explore how we can climate-proof our housing strategy and home-proof our climate strategy.


Tegan Bridge


Andrew DeFazio

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Eh Sayers Season 3 Episode 3 - Green Houses, Not Gases - Transcript

Tegan: Welcome to Eh Sayers, a podcast from Statistics Canada, where we meet the people behind the data and explore the stories behind the numbers. I'm your host, Tegan Bridge.

It's fall: the season of knitted sweaters and pumpkin spice. Where we must ask ourselves the question, how much giant scarf is too much giant scarf? As the leaves turn and fall and the temperature drops, my household's battle over the thermostat begins. My husband is a walking furnace and I am not. So, one of us wants the temperature to be just a smidge higher than the other. We weigh arguments for different temperatures: mornings are harder if you have to get out of a warm bed into a freezing cold room versus this is why we own giant sweaters and extra-thick socks.

But with our choices, to raise the thermostat or to do some DIY window insulation or to invest in some energy-friendly renovations, it's not just our wallets that are impacted. It's also the climate. We're just one household, so our choices may seem small, but there are millions like us across the country—there were over 10 million families counted in the 2021 census. What impact do we and our homes have on the environment?

Let's ask an expert, shall we?

Andrew: Hi, I'm Andrew DeFazio and I work for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as an advisor in CMHC's Climate Change Office.

Tegan: How long has CMHC had a climate change office and what kind of work do you do?

Andrew: The Climate change office was fully staffed up in 2020, and it was some deliberate actions taken by our management to realize the importance of climate on housing and to recognize that CMHC has a role to play in the housing system.

It's our aspiration that by 2030 everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and that meets their needs. And with climate change this becomes even more of a focus. The Climate Change Office, what we're trying to do here is we're trying to have an outcome on the housing system so that the housing system will support sustainability and stability.

Tegan: According to the 2021 census, 1 in 10 households were in core housing need, meaning that they live in an unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable dwelling and cannot afford alternative housing in their community.

Andrew, you just mentioned CMHC's goal to have everyone in Canada in housing that they can afford by 2030. Could you talk about the difference between available housing and affordable housing?

Andrew: Sure. When we want look at affordability, you need to take a look at the existing stock and what type of impact does it have on people's incomes to live in the existing stock.

The other element is the stock that we need. And there's been a lot of focus on that we don't have the stock needed to reach levels of affordability that we would've seen in the past. So, in thinking of that, one of the main challenges that the housing system is facing is how do we get units into the market, find places for people to live that meets their needs.

We've done some research on that and used a lot of data to come up with what we feel is the number of units that will bring housing markets back into what we would view as affordable. When you think and when you look at the system and what's going on, if we think about from now until 2030, we project out that there'll be 2.3 million units that are created. So that would take the housing stock to 19 million units. That won't be enough. There will need to be more. There will need to be another 3.5 million added on to bring the total stock up to 22 million.

And another element that's important there around affordability: there'll be a range of housing that's needed from single detached all the way to rental. And that's, I think, an area that's important to focus on is rental. Because rental brings in a lot of interesting factors that help with affordability. But it also helps with being climate friendly because you can get density. So, for us it's a matter of how can the supply start to increase in Canada so that you can have more balance and more affordability for individuals living in Canada.

Tegan: The 2021 Census found that 17% of people living in Canada were in a household that spent 30% or more of its income on shelter costs, or said another way, they lived in unaffordable housing.

How do the climate crisis and the housing crisis affect each other?

Andrew: I think it's first important to understand that we know that housing emits greenhouse gases which creates pollution. This happens through a few ways. It happens through the appliances, the heat source that you use in your home, your everyday living. It also contributes to when you think about it, the materials that go into producing your home. So, when you're building that home, that in itself, those materials, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

The other side of the equation is thinking about how climate impacts the home. So, you'll have severe weather events that will create challenges and issues for your home that will create damage. Which then in turn requires you to do renovations, to do adaptations, so that you can see how housing itself will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate will then impact housing. And it's just a circle that, that keeps going.

Tegan: I think that for a long time, we've imagined climate change as something's going to happen in the future. It's a future problem. It's a problem for our kids, for our grandkids. But that's not necessarily the case now, is it? What aspects of climate change would people in Canada have seen in their own lives so far?

Andrew: When we talk about climate change and the impact on housing there's two key concepts here. There's physical risk and there's transition risk.

It's easier to see the physical risk. So, we know with a warming planet that we're seeing a greater intensity of storms. We're seeing higher wind levels. We're experiencing drier dry seasons, which lead to wildfires. We're experiencing rapid snow melt, heavy rain, precipitation, that results in flooding. So, you can see the physical risk, you can see how that impacts and can damage housing.

The other component of it, that is not as easy to see, that we are starting to experience and that we will experience just as much in the future, is around what's called transition risk. So that's looking at the changes to the economy and the changes to lifestyles that'll be brought on by trying to have a lower carbon imprint. So, think of that as industries that are carbon intensive are going to have to adapt. What type of economic impact will that have? Think about where people want to live in seeing that there are areas in the country that are more susceptible to weather risks and decisions that'll be made to migrate to areas that still pose a risk because we're not immune from anywhere in the country to the risk. But that the likelihood and the intensity of those weather events will have a lesser impact.

So those two things together, you can see the transition we're starting to face, but it is something that just kind of creeps up on you. But in the future, that's what it's going to be about, the transition risk to a lower carbon footprint.

Tegan: Who's most vulnerable in this conversation?All Canadians aren't going to experience this the same way. You already brought up geography. What else is there to consider?

Andrew: When we talk about vulnerability, an area that often gets overlooked is the rental market. And when we think about who renters are, renters are more likely to be in core housing need than individual homeowners. Some stats that we have here would say that roughly 27% of renters are in core housing need. These individuals are in less in control of being able to make the changes to the dwellings that they live in. Those decisions are made by landlords and housing providers. But we can't lose sight of the fact that is a group that will be impacted more by climate change because the means to recover aren't there.

At CMHC last year we had an internal conference where we brought in some individuals in housing to speak about vulnerable groups and the impact on climate. And there was one of the speakers, her name was Estelle Le Roux Joky. And one of the things that she said that has stuck with me in my work and my thinking is that adapting to climate change can't be a luxury. We need to consider how vulnerable peoples will be impacted where they live. We can't allow energy efficiency and resiliency to become a luxury. Vulnerable groups can't afford it. But we have to find ways, through government, through the private sector, to ensure that that housing will be climate compatible in the future. Because the ability to recover… it's a lot harder.

Tegan: Renters are more likely than owners to be in core housing need. According to the 2021 census, 20% of renter households were in core housing need, compared to just 5% of owner households.

How does the existing housing stock rank in terms of resilience in the context of climate change?

Andrew: This is an area that needs to be further explored and understood. And this gets back to the, the reason why we have a mission on data. So, we've got housing data, you have climate data. But you don't have those two merging together.

Understanding how global warming will impact weather patterns is important. To do that, to build models, you need to have data on understanding what's the current stock. So, what's it made of? How resilient will it be? You then need to have data to understand the impact of water levels. And based on rainfall amounts, at what point will water levels breach rivers? Will they get to points where they'll impact, you know, a hundred meters from the shoreline? A kilometer? So that's an area where we feel that there is a gap. And that's where data needs to play that role to help educate all of the players in the system to what their risks are so that then they can make those decisions on how best do they adapt the housing that they live in to the risks that they face.

Tegan: How does the design of our built environment, the homes that we live in, our neighborhoods, the roads we drive on, how do these affect climate change?

Andrew: I like the way that you phrased that question because it brings out community. All those things together form a community and home is a part of that. So, when you think about what we need to do, we need to think about where we locate our homes to accommodate a lifestyle where we can be less carbon intensive. Meaning you're less reliant on cars, that you can walk to places, that you can… cycling, that you can use transit. You can also think about density into that equation. The denser the area, the less green space needs to be used. And then that in itself leads to better quality of life, better community living, mental health impacts. Think about as well to maintenance, for roads. All that gets reduced, and you create these communities where you can have affordability through density and housing that's climate compatible.

Tegan: Solving the climate crisis might require us to rethink some of what we take for granted. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to rethink many assumptions about work, and many people found themselves teleworking to keep themselves and each other safe.

A StatCan report from 2021 explored the environmental implications of telework, asking the question, if all Canadians who usually work outside the home in jobs that can be done from home started to telework, public transit use, traffic congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions would likely fall. But by how much? The authors found that the resulting decline in commuting and use of public transit could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 8.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or 11.0% of the direct emissions from transportation activities by households in 2015.If you're wondering how to visualize 8.6 megatonnes of carbon, it's the equivalent of the annual Co2 emissions from over 2.6 million passenger vehicles.

The climate crisis and the housing crisis are both obviously very complex. Is it possible to address both of these issues? Or do we have to choose to have either affordable housing or a viable climate, but you can't have both?

Andrew: You can have both. And this is where conventional thinking needs to be challenged. And I'm working off of a concept that our Chief Climate Officer, Steve Mennill, has been talking about. And it's this false dichotomy that they both oppose each other, that affordability and being climate compatible contradict each other.

First main point here is around density. So, when you have dense housing it can create affordability, but then also it has a positive impact on climate. You're getting people off of cars. They can have a lower carbon footprint because there's more amenities which you need to live… is all around you. So that's the first point around the false dichotomy, is that density is the key link to both.

The second key point here is around thinking about costs but at a point in time. We typically think about just what hits our wallet today. We're not thinking about the future. We tend to think about payback, like, how long will it take me to get my money back? But what we're not thinking about often is the life cycle cost. So, think of the cost to governments and to municipalities from climate change from not doing things that will have a positive impact on climate. Think about cost to healthcare for living in a world where you could have more health challenges as a result of a changing climate.

Think about the cost that you currently pay today for insurance without taking actions to either make your home more resilient or collectively as a society taking actions to stop with global warming and the impacts that that can have on catastrophic weather events. And thus, on damages to the place where you live.Think about as well lending rates and how that possibly could impact over time with climate change.

And then another element that I'm hoping is starting to develop is about the demand. And that as individuals become more educated and more aware, they will start to demand these types of products in their homes. And then that starts to get the ball rolling in what gets produced. So, what we may think is valuable today, to the next generation may not be. And that generation being focused more on climate and being understanding of it and having more tools and resources to comprehend what that will do to their lives, they will require a change in the type of housing that that they live in.

Tegan: Could the next generation be more aware of their impact on the environment? A 2022 release from StatCan revealed that 5% of people 15 to 30 donated to environmental organizations in 2018, more than any other age group.

I don't know if it's true, but I think that climate change sometimes feels like an issue that's too big for one person to do anything about, to have any kind of impact. What are some of are of the ways that listeners, whether they live in houses or apartments or condos or wherever they live, what are some of the ways that they can make a positive difference?

Andrew: You're right. It seems daunting and where to start is difficult. I think the first thing to do is to start to become aware about your environment. And this is being educated on what types of risks… Let's talk about first the physical risks. So, with where you live, understanding what type of weather will impact your housing, looking at the condition of your home.When you're planning and contemplating upgrades, talk to professionals about energy efficiency, the types of materials that you can use to put in your home.

Last point would be to use tools that can help educate you on what your carbon footprint is so that then you can see how you contribute to climate change. And that you can then use that information to help guide you in taking decisions on how you can contribute towards lessening the impact on climate change.

Tegan: A report by StatCan found that in 2018 about 40% of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to Canadian household consumption and use of goods and services.

How do you get started thinking about adapting your home to climate change?

Andrew: That is a big question but there is a path to be able to do this. The first thing is to recognize that each home is different. Age, the technologies in it… Also, where we're located in the country, climate impacts different areas of the country in different ways.So, to get started, one of the things that I can suggest is to do some research on groups that are putting out publications on how you can find energy efficiency and climate resiliency.

One organization that has some interesting materials is the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation. So, if you're looking for ways to reduce flood risk, reduce wildfire risk, they have publications that you can use to see what you could do to your individual home.

Another place where you can go to get started to thinking about energy efficiency and resiliency is the NRCan Canada Greener Homes grant. There you go through the process of getting an NR Guide inspection that can help guide you through adaptations to your home. There's also a source of funding associated with that called the Canada Greener Homes Loans Program that can help guide you in the decisions and help you with financing.

Other products and places where you could go to find information is through our mortgage loan insurance products. We have an Eco Plus program that's designed for homeowners. We have a product for multi-unit residential owners called MLI Select. And we also have the NHS co-investment fund. So those are all places where you can go to get started to think about decisions and choices that you can make to make your house, your home, more climate compatible.

Tegan: StatCan found that in 2018, over 101,000 kilotonnes of CO2-equivalents were attributable to the production and use of motor fuels and lubricants consumed by households. Another almost 60,000 kilotonnes were attributable to the production and use of natural gas and other fuels consumed by households for heating and other stationary uses.

We've talked a bit about the role and importance of research and good data in the fight against both the climate change crisis and also the housing crisis. What data are we missing? And why does good data… why do they matter here?

Andrew: Good data matter for everyone in the housing system. And to give a few examples, it matters to the consumer who's looking to purchase that home. Think of first-time home buyers wanting to understand what is the flood risk to this major investment that they're going to make. Where can they go to find information on that flood risk?

It starts with producers and builders on understanding the technologies that are out there and what's the benefit? It's a benefit to players on the financial side of it to understand, you know, when they are either going to issue insurance premiums or lend to understand what's an additional risk that's now brought into the system to help them make effective decisions.

And also for governments as well. To help design public policy, you need data. You need to understand as much as you can about the current stock, about the new technologies to develop those strategies to achieve a lesser carbon footprint.

Tegan: Do you have any publications that are coming out that you'd like to direct our audience's attention to?

Andrew: Yes, there's two pieces of research produced that they're really interesting.

One is about insurance solutions. So, taking a look at how countries are developing strong insurance programs and products. We know that when there is a catastrophic event that it has an impact and a devastating impact to housing and that insurance plays a key role. So, this study will help show what other countries are doing to manage those risks.

Another piece of really interesting work is the work we've done with industry to try and understand climate risk to housing. And that's about the players in the system, looking at climate risk in the same way and coming to the realization that there's one common point that joins all of the players in the system. And that's data and the need for reliable data to help make decisions to manage climate change today and for the future.

Tegan: When you're looking to make an informed decision, it does always come back to data.

StatCan has a ton of information available on its website,, including a housing statistics hub. Or you can get housing data from the 2021 census by visiting the census page of our website.

In terms of the thermostat war, I found some data on StatCan's website, laying out the different energy savings of various temperatures, so I think we'll be using that as our guide this winter, and maybe a programmable thermostat is in our future.

You've been listening to Eh Sayers. A special thank you to Andrew Defazio and the team at CMHC for their help with this episode.

You can subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts. There you can also find the French version of our show, called Hé-coutez bien. If you liked this show, please rate, review, and subscribe. Thanks for listening!

Psst! Hey! Hey you! What's up? You made it to the very end of the show. Congrats! And honestly, thank you! We work really hard to make this show, so we appreciate that you listen. As the newest member of our super secret Finishers Club that I just made up, I would like to ask you to do something. Every podcast you've ever listened to asks you to please rate, review, and subscribe, but hear me out.

We're a brand new show, we're just coming up on a year since we launched our very first episode, and we work incredibly hard on our content. We're trying to make a fun and easy way for Canadians to learn about the data StatCan produces. We're also trying to increase data literacy and help people understand the economic forces that shape our world. Today, for example, we explored the question, "How are the housing crisis and the climate crisis connected?" And we think that's a really important question for Canadians to think about. You made it to the end of the show, so we're hoping that you think our mission matters. If so, please share this episode with someone else, a friend, a colleague. Someone else who thinks that it's good to know just a little bit more about the world. We'd be really grateful.

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Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 2022. "Incorporating the Impact of Climate Change into Models Related to Housing and Housing Finance: A Review of the Literature."Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Housing Research. Incorporating the Impact of Climate Change
into Models Related to Housing and Housing. Finance: A Review of the Literature.

Insurance Bureau of Canada. 2022. "Designing the Path to Climate Compatibility: Climate Risk Disclosure and Action in the Canadian Housing Context."Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Statistics Canada. "Housing Indicators, 2021 Census." Statistics Canada, September 21, 2022. Housing indicators, 2021 Census.

A Look at the Potential Impact of Telework on Public Transit and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Using 2015 Data. April 22, 2021. Infographic.Statistics Canada. A look at the potential impact of telework on public transit and greenhouse gas emissions using 2015 data.

A Portrait of Canada's Families in 2021. July 13, 2022. Infographic.Statistics Canda. A portrait of Canada's families in 2021.

Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions Attributable to Households, 2018. March 28, 2022. Infographic.Statistics Canada. Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions Attributable to Households, 2018.

Core Housing Need in Canada. September 21, 2022. Infographic.Statistics Canada. Core housing need in Canada.

Portrait of Youth in Canada: Environment. April 7, 2022. Infographic.Statistics Canada. Portrait of youth in Canada: Environment.

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