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The Engineer: The codes they are a-changin’

June 14, 2022  By David Heska, P.Eng.

What an excellent time we had at Top Glass live and in person back in April. It was great to connect with so many of you and to meet a few new industry colleagues. In this column I’m going to recap my presentation on new and upcoming changes to building and energy codes in Canada.

To start, it’s important to remember why the federal government created the National Energy Code. Did you know that most buildings across Canada since 1920 have varied in energy use intensity between 200 and 300 kilowatt hours per square meter per year? Sadly 100 years of construction has demonstrated very little energy efficiency improvements. This data alone pushed the federal government to write the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB). Codes Canada now publishes the National Building Code (NBC) and NECB approximately every five years. The 2020 version of the NECB is actually version five of this document. The first version was published in 1997 with subsequent updates in 2011, 2015 and 2017. The 2017 version was largely driven by the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change when the government stated that it would “work with the provinces and territories to … develop a net-zero energy ready model building code, with the goal that provinces and territories adopt it by 2030.” But, you might ask, why are we talking about a 2017 code in 2022? And didn’t the 2020 code just come out?

Yes, the 2020 codes did just come out but the national codes are just documents until they are enacted by the province. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia in 2019 and 2020 adopted the 2017 version of the National Energy Code but most provinces have not yet adopted it. New Brunswick, P.E.I and Newfoundland are looking to adopt the NECB 2017 shortly, whereas British Columbia has its own Step Code introduced in 2017.

Since other provinces and territories have not even implemented the 2017 version of the National Energy Code, where are we at on our path towards harmonization? In December 2021, provinces and territories were provided with advance copies of the latest code changes and on March 28, 2022, the new 2020 version of the National Building Code, Plumbing Code, Fire Code and Energy Code were published.

So, for the fenestration industry what’s new in NECB 2020? Table is one place to look. The overall thermal transmittance for Zones 4 through 8 have changed. They used to be between 1.4 and 2.1 and are now between 1.44 and 1.90. NECB 2020 has also introduced an entirely new Chapter 10 on energy performance tiers in which your building can be zero to 24 percent, or 25 to 49 percent, or 50 to 59 percent, or more than 60 percent better than a reference building.

Closer to home for me, the upcoming 2022 Ontario Building Code changes are currently being discussed as the province moves to generally adopt the NBC 2020 and the NECB 2020. A modified version of NECB will replace Ontario’s Supplemental Bulletin 10 for non-Part 9 buildings and NBC Section 9.36 will replace SB-12 as the energy code for Part 9 buildings. The updated Ontario code release is planned for 2023 and will most likely come into effect in early 2024. Another change we will see in Ontario is harmonization with the climate zones shown in National Building Code. Ontario will move from two climate zones to five.

Finally, in the city of Toronto, version four of it’s Toronto Green Standard just came into force in May with maximum energy use intensities of 130 to 135 kWh per square meter per year for all multi-unit residential and commercial office buildings. Those are the mandatory values for Tier one. Tier two gets down to 100 and Tier three down to 75. Quite the improvement from our laissez-faire attitude from the past century when we hovered around 200 to 300.

David Heska, P.Eng. is a director with WSP’s building sciences team in southwestern Ontario. 

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