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Fenestration Forum: December 2010

Canada compares well, but we can still improve


December 30, 2010
By Brian Burton

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On Nov. 29 the National Research Council (NRC) released updated
versions of Canada’s Model Building Codes that cover fire, plumbing and
buildings. At the same time, the government offered an updated version
of Canada’s Model Energy Code for Buildings for review.

On Nov. 29 the National Research Council (NRC) released updated versions of Canada’s Model Building Codes that cover fire, plumbing and buildings. At the same time, the government offered an updated version of Canada’s Model Energy Code for Buildings for review.

Canada has two model energy building codes. One deals with buildings of more than three storeys in height and the other with residential homes. In the case of the Model National Building Code for Homes, it has been decided to delay the release until 2012, when it will be incorporated into Part 9 of the National Building Code of Canada.

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Historically, building regulation has been a provincial and territorial responsibility and by utilizing the “model” building code method the provinces and territories are able to adopt and/or modify the codes to suit their particular needs – or in some cases they can choose to adopt certain sections.

To date, only two jurisdictions (Ontario and Vancouver) have referenced energy efficiency codes in their building regulations. None of the other provinces have incorporated them in their entirety, although some jurisdictions have referenced certain sections.

Energy efficiency was first addressed in the codes in 1997 and we are now seeing the first update in a cycle that typically involves revising codes every five years. The trend towards regulating energy efficiency can be traced back to 1992, when the federal government passed its first legislation that focused on performance and labelling of energy consuming products, including windows and doors.

It took considerable effort to incorporate any references to energy efficiency into the codes. Historically, this concept has not been included in the mandate of the agencies that write the documents.

This is somewhat surprising, considering the fact that buildings are the largest consumers of energy in Canada, accounting for one-third of all energy demand. Space and water heating account for almost 80 per cent of that. One of the challenges in updating the code involved determining exactly how much energy we wanted to save in relation to what it would cost. This was not an easy task.

In this case, they operated on the assumption that a 20 to 25 per cent improvement in energy efficiency would be appropriate, and decided that where the energy came from was not an issue. They also decided after consultation that how the building was being used or occupied would not be considered in the overall discussion in the development of the code.

The updated energy code specifically references “fenestration to wall ratio,” which apparently will be set at 40 per cent, or 0.40. We’ll have to wait and see if any provincial governments adopt the model code.

When it comes to building codes and energy efficiency, Canada compares quite favourably with most urbanized countries. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, though, especially when we consider that space and water heating is consuming a considerable portion of our energy.

This is offset to a certain degree by the fact that we have a well-established testing, accreditation and certification sector that supports the industry and encompasses many aspects of energy efficiency.

When I did a survey, I found that nations like Australia had nationally mandated energy codes that included “across-the-board” legislation requiring “evidence of compliance” to established energy standards. Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries also have mandatory systems in place.

In general terms, in addition to promoting energy efficiency, energy codes help establish a level playing field for evaluation of building performance and building materials. They also support decision-making and encourage innovation. This translates into the development of new products and job opportunities.

The cost of incorporating energy efficiency improvements in a residential home totals about $1,600 and saves about $530 a year in energy costs. Amortized over 20 years, like a mortgage, this represents an excellent investment.

As a result, we should almost certainly be much more proactive in encouraging provinces and
territories to adopt and enforce these model energy codes. •


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