Building codes aren’t as exciting as the latest clean tech, or as controversial as carbon pricing. Let’s face it, they’re boring. But they are globally recognized as one of the most effective policy tools for addressing climate change. That’s why it’s so disappointing that Ontario’s proposed building code update does not include any meaningful changes to reduce carbon emissions or improve energy efficiency and long-term affordability.
Energy used in homes and buildings is the largest source of carbon emissions in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. While thousands of homes and buildings are retrofitted every year to improve efficiency, building sector emissions aren’t going down. Why? Because for every building retrofitted, two new buildings are constructed. And the vast majority of these new buildings are built to run on fossil fuels, locking in climate destabilizing carbon emissions and high energy bills for decades to come.
This is a huge problem, because buildings last a long time and are difficult to decarbonize after they are built. The average building in Canada lasts for a hundred years, so you’d think we’d want to design them for a net-zero future, right? Instead, we are designing them to burn fossil gas on-site, sinking hundreds of millions of dollars annually into long-lived fossil gas infrastructure like distribution lines, meters, furnaces, and boilers. While building net zero-ready buildings has a cost premium (in the range of 1-5%), it costs about five times more to retrofit later to the same standard. And who wants to invest that kind of money in renovating a building that is only five or ten years old?
Strong building codes are critical to consumer protection and long-term affordability. Developers and builders aren’t the ones who pay energy bills, so they rarely build better than minimum code standards. Homeowners and tenants pay the energy bills, but don’t get any say in how buildings are designed. With carbon prices set to triple by 2030 and volatile fossil fuel markets globally whose interests are served by building inefficient fossil-powered buildings?
Some will argue that weak building codes will help address the housing crisis by reducing construction costs, but this is a myth. The cost of new (and existing) housing is determined by the laws of supply and demand. With demand consistently exceeding supply, how likely are developers to pass on any minor construction cost savings to home-buyers? Based on the current market, developers will sell their product for as much as they think buyers are willing to pay. Home-buyers and tenants would both benefit most from efficient, healthy, high-quality buildings.
Consultation on Ontario’s next building code closes on March 13th, so it’s not too late to make your voice heard. Below are TAF’s recommendations to shake up the lagging building code and align it with an affordable, net zero future:
1.SStrengthen energy efficiency standards for new buildings by:
- Aligning standards for Part 9 buildings (small buildings) with the forthcoming 2020 National Building Code Tier 4 standards;
- Aligning standards for Part 3 buildings (large buildings) with the forthcoming 2020 National Energy Code for Buildings Tier 2 standards;
- Reference the higher tiers of the national codes, and allow municipalities to opt-in to them within their jurisdictions.
2. Provide a clear market signal to industry by publishing a provisional schedule for future code updates and a clear timeline for requiring all new buildings to be net-zero ready.
3. Re-introduce electric vehicle ready requirements to ensure new buildings are designed to allow for the cost-effective installation of EV charging infrastructure as needed.
Ontario’s building code is only updated every five to seven years, so we can’t afford to miss this opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by building better buildings that are cleaner and more affordable to operate. A net zero future won’t happen on its own, we have to build it.
Klas Bockasten says
Your point are well taken, I fully agree to push for a responsible revision of the building code to aggressively construct all new buildings in step with climate change goals.
Michael Lio says
The NBC 9.36 has only published Tier 1 and Tier 2. There is no Tier 4. Harmonizing with the NBC today is a likely step backwards for Ontario as Tier 1 and Tier 2 both appear lower energy efficiency standards than the current OBC!
Bryan Purcell says
Thank you for noting this Michael. Tier 1 or 2 of the new National Building Code would definitely be a step backward for Ontario. While Tier 3 and 4 of the national code aren’t included in the prescriptive pathways, they are in the performance pathways, and Ontario could develop its own prescriptive option for Tier 4 (as it has proposed for tier 3), and make that the minimum requirement. Alternatively Ontario could go its own route – the key point is that we need a significant step forward in performance requirements.
Mike Jones says
I could not agree more. When I remember how we were constructing buildings in the Arctic in the ’70s to R100, and today seeing the the higher standards in other countries (mainly European and Scandinavian) with more moderate climates than Canada, I sometimes despair.