Net Neutral Building Guideline

1. Purpose

This guideline directs campus action and decision-making such that newly constructed buildings at the University of Waterloo meet the highest standards of efficiency, prioritize low-carbon development in support of institutional emissions reduction goals, deliver comfortable and high-quality environment for members of the University community, and optimize the life cycle cost and management of infrastructure.

2. Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines

  • Policy 53: Environmental Sustainability
  • Life cycle costing guideline

3. Scope

This guideline applies to all new building construction projects which are prior to the Construction Documentation phase as of January 1, 2021.

The requirements herein should be interpreted in parallel to any and all other technical and performance requirements as specified by the University of Waterloo, including but not limited to regulatory and code compliance. Should any discrepancy exist between this document and national, provincial, and municipal regulatory compliance, regulatory compliance shall have authority.

For clarity, major renovations to existing buildings will be guided by separate technical criteria, which shall be forthcoming as either a standalone guideline or as a clear amendment to scope within this guideline, but which shall follow the same principles.

4. Accountability

Plant Operations:

  • Oversee implementation of the guideline with project clients and track compliance on all new construction projects.
  • Integrate requirements into bid documents and other relevant documentation.
  • Review and update the guideline on a periodic basis or as required by regulatory changes, and at minimum on five-year intervals, liaising with relevant stakeholders as necessary.

Sustainability Office:

  • Support review of the guideline as necessary, including through research and data collection for benchmarking of indicators and approach.
  • Report on implementation.
  • Assist with project-specific decision-making if requested by Plant Operations.

Project Clients: Integrate requirements of the guideline into project planning.

Design and construction agents: Abide by requirements as specified in bid and contract documentation.

5. General Principles

All new building projects shall integrate the following design principles throughout the lifecycle of the project, through design development, construction, and use of the building, with further information provided in the Performance Criteria:

5.1 Passive design: Architectural approach for buildings should utilize passive design principles to achieve energy targets, including but not limited to building orientation, high-performance building enclosures, airtightness, appropriate thermal massing, optimization of daylight, minimization of thermal bridging, and heat/energy recovery ventilation. Wherever possible, these principles should be prioritized over intensive mechanical and electrical systems to minimize long-term maintenance and maximize carbon reductions.

5.2 Life cycle assessment: Pursuant to Policy 53, all newly constructed buildings will complete life cycle assessments of greenhouse gas
emissions and total cost of ownership at multiple stages of the design process.

5.3 Net zero carbon: In support of the University’s carbon reduction goals, all new construction will target net-zero carbon, as defined in the        technical criteria below. Reliance on natural gas and steam should be minimized or eliminated wherever possible, with preference for
electric powered heat pumps wherever possible. Where zero-carbon performance is not immediately possible, emphasis should still be placed on    net-zero-ready design to be bridged with the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Balance formula as defined in Section 6.5.

5.4 High-quality spaces: In the pursuit of energy efficiency and carbon performance, buildings should also emphasize functional viability for        Waterloo’s academic mission, and high-quality spaces that support community wellbeing, including mental health and wellness promotion,              accessible and inclusive design, thermal comfort, noise, indoor air quality, and natural lighting.

5.5 Holism: Waterloo will continue to integrate multi-attribute dimensions of environmental impact of buildings into design, for example waste      reduction, sustainable transportation, water use reduction, recycled and low-impact materials, and protection of ecosystems.

5.6 Flexibility: Except where ensuring compatibility with existing systems and processes, Waterloo will leave flexibility in prescriptive technical      standards to enable innovation in design and respond to changing technologies and market conditions. Similarly, the performance criteria should    provide pathways for all building types to meet this standard.

5.7 Resiliency: Waterloo will support building resiliency, maintaining some functionality during utility disruption and minimizing impact of outdoor temperature extremes on indoor thermal comfort, which are expected to increase over time.

6. Performance Criteria

All metrics listed are per-year except 6.6

Class/ academic

Office/ admin

Wet Lab

Dry Lab


Services/ retail


6.1 Energy Use Intensity (EUI)








6.2 Thermal Energy Demand Intensity- heat (TEDIh)








6.3 Thermal Energy Demand Intensity –cool (TEDIc)








6.4 Greenhouse Gas Intensity (GHGI)








6.5 Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Net zero carbon, as defined by:
NetCO2e=Scope 1 CO2e+Scope 2 CO2e-offsetCO2e-exportedgreenenergy

6.6 Air tightness**

1.0 lps/m2 @75 Pa


*Note that this is calculated on an annualized basis, while effort should be made to align demand and minimize peaks. It should only include energy-based carbon and excludes embodied carbon.
** Based on blower-door test to be modelled in early stages and confirmed on as-built with mechanical systems off
NOTE: For mixed-use buildings, aggregate building specification may be averaged proportionately according to NASM profiles mapped to the above building archetypes

7. Specifications

In addition to the above, the following specifications shall be met:

7.1 Embodied carbon: Embodied carbon will be calculated for major architectural and structural components of buildings, including at minimum  foundations, interior and exterior walls, roof, glazing, flooring and structural support. This calculation is not included in the Greenhouse Gas            Emissions Balance formula unless CaGBC Zero Carbon certification is pursued. Decisions over materials and construction methods should attempt   to reduce embodied carbon wherever possible (for example mass timber construction, recycled materials, more efficient steel processing, etc.).

7.2 Certification: As per above, new buildings should follow passive design principles. Certification to Passive House, CaGBC Zero Carbon, or other relevant standard can be considered at the request of the internal project client, but are not mandatory. Pursuit of certifications should be      determined prior to or during the Schematic Design phase.

7.3 District energy: Buildings should prioritize electric heat pumps in design, and those constructed on the South Campus will be designed with    backup connection to the Central Plant district energy system. Hot water, 40°C, should be used as the main heating medium for backup or peak      connected supply, converted from steam supplied by the Central Plant near the building entry.
Where hat pumps are not feasible, the design team will work with Plant Operations to use assumptions for future Central Plant efficiencies and  carbon intensities in meeting the performance targets set out in Section 6, to become “net neutral ready”. This will be navigated on a
case-by-case basis but should remain consistent with the general principles and performance targets included above.

7.4 Energy Recovery: Energy recovery systems, including heat pumps, will be included in the design of all newly constructed buildings.

7.5 Energy modelling: Energy modelling as defined in Supplementary Bulletin 10 (SB-10) of the Ontario Building Code is not an accepted            compliance path. Thermal bridging should be accounted for in conformance with NECB 2017 clause Thermal bridging should be modelled    and calculated to determine effective R-value, not nominal, and the whole-building enclosure R-value should not be lower than R12.5 inclusive of   thermal bridging. Energy models should be integrated at the Schematic Design (SD), Design Development (DD), Construction Documentation         (CD), and As-Built stages to ensure consistent approach and account for project changes. These should include, at minimum, and in addition to     any information required for code compliance:

  • Core metrics pursuant to the above performance criteria: EUI, TEDI heat/cool, GHGI.
  • Table of end-use energy consumption and fuel sources
  • Effective performance of building enclosure elements accounting for thermal bridging
  • Hourly thermal demand, including identification of peak demand and annual demand
  • Output and performance specifications for on-site renewable energy
  • Air tightness
  • Completion of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Balance formula as defined in 6.5

Modelling is to be inclusive of all building loads, including lab equipment in designated laboratory spaces. Assumptions for energy consumption of all equipment should be clearly stated. Highly specialized equipment may be discounted from the performance criteria only with written approval of Plant Operations on a case-by-case basis, while maintaining the purpose and principles of this guideline.

7.6 Life cycle costs: Life cycle cost (LCC) will be evaluated for full building construction, maintenance, utilities, renewal, and replacement over a 25 year life-span. For example, utilizing the ISO 15686-5 as well as CAN-CSA S478 guideline. The LCC should be established and tracked at all      stages of the design process alongside the building energy model, including SD, DD, CD, and As-Built stages, or as specified further by Plant          Operations depending on the nature of procurement.

7.7 Life cycle impact: Life cycle assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas emissions will be evaluated over a 25 year lifespan, including embodied and operational carbon using emission factors and forecasts provided by the University of Waterloo, unless otherwise specified.

7.8 Utility metering: All new buildings should be metered with ability to collect, at least, hourly interval data for domestic water, steam/hot water, chilled water, natural gas, and electrical power. At minimum, the whole-building is to be metered by connection to the University’s energy      management information system. Wherever practical, major building subsystems, meaningful zone areas, or heavy laboratories should be sub-      metered.

7.9 Maintenance and capital plan: A maintenance and infrastructure renewal plan will be developed by a specialized consultant with strong        expertise in the area. The plan is to be consistent with the life cycle costing exercise utilized during design and include annual cost estimates for    maintenance and renewal of the building for the first 25 years of its life. The plan should include replacement schedules of major building              equipment and components, as well as recommended maintenance schedules & strategies.

7.10 Commissioning: All buildings will integrate commissioning throughout the design process and through early operation of the building to        strengthen quality assurance, identify deficiencies, ensure performance matches design intent (including a minimum year 1 vs design                  comparison), and properly train operators on building systems. The commissioning agent (for mechanical, electrical, and envelope systems)           shall be independent of the design and construction agent.

7.11 Indoor Air Quality Monitoring: Sensors for the monitoring of indoor air quality should be included for all new buildings and connected where appropriate to ventilation systems to ensure safe, fresh air while maintaining efficiency.

8. Process

The following generalized process should be followed throughout the design life cycle to ensure compliance with the above requirements. Flexibility should be followed at the discretion of Plant Operations and with consideration for each project’s unique circumstances, but with clear outputs at each phase:

Design Phase



Project Initiation

  • Needs assessment
  • Development of NASM estimates and calculation of weighted performance targets
  • Project charter and building-specific performance targets

Schematic Design

  • Decision on pursuit of third-party certification*
  • Preliminary building design and confirmation of key criteria and specifications, including thermal bridging analysis to feed into energy model
  • Initiate commissioning plan
  • Preliminary energy model with required outputs
  • Preliminary LCC/LCA with required outputs
  • Commissioning plan

Design Development

  • Refine building design to address performance gaps and account for any scope changes or modifications from SD stage
  • Commissioning agent to continue design review
  • Develop long term maintenance and renewal plan along with funding identification
  • Refined energy model
  • Refined LCC/LCA
  • Updated commissioning plan
  • Determine if sufficient resources are available to maintain new building designs at optimum condition

Construction Documentation

  • Ensure all performance requirements are integrated into construction drawings and specifications
  • Continue commissioning plan
  • Finalized energy model
  • Finalized LCC/LCA


  • Tracking any changes throughout construction project and monitoring compliance with design intent
  • Commissioning agent to continue monitoring of project progress
  • Air tightness test
  • High quality construction
  • Delivery on time and on budget

Handover and occupancy

  • Training operating staff
  • Finalization of all performance specifications
  • Hand-over commissioning
  • As-built energy model
  • As-built LCC/LCA
  • Maintenance and capital plan
  • Ability to monitor operation of the building during warranty period
  • Ability to utilize all energy saving elements in the project


  • Implementation of maintenance plan and capital plan
  • Procurement of voluntary offsets/RECs as necessary (TBC)
  • Utilize maintenance and infrastructure renewal plan & funding to maintain building at optimum condition
  • One-year comparison to performance specifications and design intent
  • Offset/REC credits integrated into annual carbon inventory (TBC)
  • Support long term resiliency of UW infrastructure and reliable support to teaching and research

 *If third-party certification is intended, supplementary requirements and specifications should be integrated as required by the third-party certification body.

9. Continuous Improvement

Waterloo shall review this guideline on a regular basis to enable continuous improvement of the framework, calibrations of the targets, identification of gaps or inconsistencies, and clarification and streamlining of process.

This shall occur after each new building has been completed to iteratively incorporate lessons learned, and at minimum every 2 years to account for code and other regulatory, market, and technology changes.

10. Terms & Definitions

ASHRAE 90.1 – Prescriptive compliance standard for energy in buildings except for low-rise residential buildings

CAN-CSA S478 Durability in buildings is a guideline of the Canadian Standards Association which provides criteria and requirements for construction of a durable building and for quality management program.

CO2e – “Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a standardized metric for calculation of greenhouse gas emissions normalized to carbon dioxide

EUI – “Energy Use Intensity” is a metric of how much energy is consumed in a given building per year, normalized by area (for example 100 kilowatt hours per square metre per year)

GHG – “Greenhouse gas” are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and are identified as the main cause of climate change, in this report primarily referring to carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) from combustion, but may also refer to refrigerants and other process emissions

GHGi – “greenhouse gas intensity” refers to the GHG footprint of a building, measured in kg per square metre per year

ISO 15686-5 - Building and constructed assets – Service life planning: Life Cycle Costs is a standard compiled by the International Standard Association to guide the calculation of life cycle costing for buildings.

LCC/LCA – “Life cycle costing”/ “life cycle assessment” refers to the process of identifying costs and environmental impacts over the full life of a physical product or piece of infrastructure, from harvesting raw materials through manufacturing, use, and disposal. LCC herein references the total cost of ownership to Waterloo over a defined timeframe, and LCA focuses primarily on greenhouse gas emissions.

LEED – “Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design” is a prominent standard for green buildings developed by the Canada Green Building Council

Offsets/RECs – Refers to carbon credits and renewable energy credits purchased through a voluntary market mechanism from a registered and credible third-party to “net” the GHG balance equation in Section 6 to zero or less. Guidance on specifications for this will be defined in the Carbon Offsets Guideline.

Scope 1/2/3 emissions – Refers to direct, indirect energy, and indirect other/upstream/downstream emission sources respectively as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

TEDI – “Thermal Energy Demand Intensity” is a measurement of the amount of energy needed to heat a building appropriately over the course of the year, normalized by floor area