Canada needs a radically new building code process to reach net-zero emissions: Report

According to a new Efficiency Canada report, the country needs a new building code process to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. Photo courtesy Jake White Photography
According to a new Efficiency Canada report, the country needs a new building code process to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.
Photo courtesy Jake White Photography

Building codes can reduce energy waste and emissions over the next decade, if we play our cards right. The federal-provincial Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth Climate Change (PCF) calls for all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready (NZEr) by 2030. According to a new report, however, the current system that develops new building codes falls short of that goal.

The report, published by Efficiency Canada, an energy efficiency research and advocacy organization at Carleton University, outlines the disconnect between the climate commitments and new “stretch” model building codes. The report tracked the latest building code development and found that the 2020 national model codes, in some instances, reject the more energy-efficient option. A lack of mandatory airtightness testing, an ineffective approach to measuring energy code compliance, and less stringent best-practice standards for large buildings, for example, stymie progress toward NZEr buildings.

“We need our building standards to reflect our expectations of a net-zero emissions future,” said Kevin Lockhart, the study’s lead author. “That big change—from a minimum standards mentality toward showing where we need to go—requires a new policy framework.”

The authors have two key recommendations: clearer federal direction for building codes to reach national net-zero emissions goals, and a policy “champion” to integrate building codes into a broader climate policy mix.

“The community that develops our building codes needs confidence the government will move the market toward the net-zero standards,” Lockhart said. “The government can do this by strengthening the codes development process as well as supporting building code adoption and enforcement.”

The tension between minimum acceptable standards and transformative building codes is not surprising, Efficiency Canada said in a press release, adding that policymakers can learn from these challenges as they turn their attention toward the provincial adoption of the 2020 codes, and the development of future national model codes.

“We cannot get stuck with inefficient buildings if Canada is going to achieve net-zero emissions,” notes co-author Brendan Haley. “This report reflects on lessons learned from Canada’s first tiered model energy codes and presents a forward path to safe, comfortable, and zero-carbon buildings.”

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