Heritage and Climate Action

Heritage conservation contributes to climate action. Retaining, reusing and retrofitting existing buildings, including heritage buildings, can reduce waste, energy use and carbon emissions. It can also help build climate resilience.
In October 2022, the City of New Westminster adopted the Community Energy and Emissions Plan 2050. The plan builds on the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action (2019) to further chart a path to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45% by 2030 (from 2010 level) and to achieve net-zero by 2050.  
Buildings contribute 43% of New Westminster’s GHG emissions (2016) and offer one of the largest opportunities to move towards net-zero emissions. 
All buildings, including heritage buildings, need to reduce carbon emissions and overall energy demand. Energy and emissions retrofits can substantially reduce energy needs, increase efficiency, and make use of low carbon energy sources. Key ways to do this are by minimizing air leakage, improving insulation and installing high efficiency low carbon energy systems for space heating, water heating and cooking. Preserving the heritage value of buildings and their character-defining elements is also important so retrofits should be carefully planned to protect original materials and heritage features.
Sustainability and Heritage Conservation
Heritage conservation is a key contributor to sustainable communities, connecting to each of the environmental, cultural, social and economic pillars of sustainable development. In New Westminster, heritage buildings and homes are valued for their contribution to unique, characterful neighbourhoods, connections to community histories, and opportunities for economic development. Retaining and retrofitting heritage buildings and homes also reduces deconstruction waste sent to landfills, avoids the need to create new energy-intensive materials, and instead, makes use of valuable, existing resources while lowering energy demands.
Increasing Resilience
Climate resilience includes both mitigation and adaptation – strategies to reduce emissions as well as to ensure the ability to live, and thrive, within a changing climate. Retrofits in heritage buildings and homes can increase their climate resiliency by making it easier to sustain a safe and comfortable living environment. For example, improving insulation and air sealing reduces the overall need for space heating and cooling. Installing low carbon fuel energy systems can improve indoor air quality and, in the case of electric heat pumps, offer the dual service of heating and air conditioning. 

Planning a Retrofit for a Heritage Home or Building

Though there are many retrofit options to consider with a variety of products and solutions promoted, some may not be suitable for heritage buildings or other older buildings. To help in prioritizing the best retrofits, it is important to gain information about the building along with advice from Energy Save New West program support, knowledgeable energy advisors and contractors.

Guidance for retrofits in heritage buildings includes the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in CanadaBuilding Resilience: Practical Guidelines for the Sustainable Rehabilitation of Buildings in Canada, and the Design Guidelines for the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area – Section D: Sustainability Considerations. See below for further resources.
To assist in planning energy retrofits for heritage houses, the City of New Westminster has published a guide:



    Some key considerations to have in mind when planning energy and emissions retrofits include:
    • Start with an energy evaluation that looks at the whole building. Working with an energy advisor familiar with historic construction and heritage buildings can help identify the most effective and compatible retrofits. It may be appropriate to consult a heritage professional too. 
    • Understand the building and make the most of any inherently sustainable features such as operable windows for ventilation control, and porches and landscaping that can provide shade in summer.
    • Consider both environmental and heritage impacts, and the lifespan of materials. Use traditional or well-tested materials that are compatible in performance and lifespan with the historic construction. Keep retrofits reversible where possible so as technology changes in future, added elements can be removed and further updates made.
    • Less invasive solutions can make a big difference without altering exterior or interior finishes, such as adding attic and basement insulation, reducing air leakage, and installing low carbon heating and cooling.

    Original windows and doors are typically a key feature of a heritage building.
    Improving their performance is often possible through repair, weatherstripping and the addition of interior or exterior storm windows or inserts, instead of window replacement. Such measures can achieve a significant reduction in heat and sound transfer, with comparable results to new units. Seek providers with expertise in historic window and door repair and rehabilitation. 

    Installing photovoltaic solar panels can generate electricity for use in the home or building.

    They can even contribute excess power to the electric grid, reducing energy bills and contributing to clean energy generation.

    Due to the visual impact on the exterior of the building and streetscape, consideration should be given to the type, location and layout of the installation. Homes in the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area, and protected heritage properties such as those with a Heritage Designation bylaw may need to meet specific design guidelines.


    For all properties, a Development Permit and/or Building Permit may be required. For protected heritage properties, a Heritage Alteration Permit may be required.
    Heritage Alteration Permit may be required for retrofits that affect the exterior appearance of the property, structures or any protected interior features. If you are planning retrofits for a building listed on the Heritage Register, located in the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area or protected by a Heritage Designation bylaw or a covenant, contact the Planning Division to confirm review and permit requirements.

    An application for redevelopment under a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) should consider energy-efficiency upgrades compatible with the heritage conservation goals.
    Proposed measures should be reviewed by the project’s Heritage Professional and integrated into the Heritage Conservation Plan for the heritage building, as appropriate. Other proposed renovations to heritage buildings should consider opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and energy needs while retaining and protecting heritage values and character-defining elements.