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Ontario's Climate Change Action Plan Profoundly Affects the Building Code

July 28, 2017

In Ontario, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is legislating new Building Code requirements in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. With a focus on creating a “low-carbon economy”, the aim is to reduce emissions dramatically by 2050 (80% below 1990 levels).

In partnership with builders, designers, and energy experts, changes to the Building Code will be instrumental in reaching “low carbon” targets. This is critical since energy consumed by buildings accounts for one-quarter of Ontario’s 
greenhouse gas pollution.

As it is, many buildings in Ontario are problematic with respect to emissions and pollution. This is because they were built in an era when energy efficiency and climate change were not issues.

Today, New Regulations and Legislation are Changing Everything

Going forward (every few years), new Building Code requirements will be implemented for residential housing and commercial buildings. While changes won’t require existing buildings to be retrofitted, new construction and renovations are included.

Ontario’s Building Code – Construction, Renovation, Demolition

Amongst a host of Building Code changes, there is particular focus on energy efficiency standards and greenhouse gas reduction. In Ontario, the emphasis for change will comprise building-science, construction materials, and new technologies to ensure “near-net-zero” buildings.

By way of example, a newly built house in 2017 will consume 50% less energy than the same house in 2005. Likewise, a new building will consume 35% less energy today than in 2005. All things considered, buildings still contribute to almost 25% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Importantly, Ontario’s Building Code is essential in implementing commitments to “climate change action”. This includes updating energy efficiency targets; striving for “net-zero” carbon emissions; and setting long-term green development standards for houses/buildings.

The Green Ontario Fund – for Homeowners and Businesses

The overall objective of the province’s Green Ontario Fund is to enable both homeowners and businesses to make homes and buildings more energy efficient, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Changes to the Building Code will ensure a wide range of determining initiatives.

  • Reducing emissions from existing heating sources, particularly old boilers/furnaces
  •  Increasing the use of solar systems, air-source heat pumps, energy storage systems
  •  Establishing new energy efficiency requirements and performance targets for homes
  • Moving towards “net-zero” efficiencies for residential homes and smaller buildings
  •  Improving the building envelope with insulation that will enhance energy efficiency
  •  Limiting heat transfer in a building, thus reducing heating and cooling energy loads
  • Reducing air intrusion to prevent less heat loss in winter, less heat gain in summer
  •  Initiating “blower door” tests to identify air leakage and ensure air-tightness targets

In striving for greater energy efficiency, emphasis is being placed on two fundamental aspects – an energy efficient building envelope AND energy efficient mechanical systems. Both require continuous improvement (and building codes changes) to meet Ontario’s long-term targets.

Long-term Energy Efficiency Requirements for Homes

With a view to the year 2022, Ontario’s aim is for homes to be using 60% less energy than in 2005. Here again, energy usage reductions would be achieved through Building Code changes.

  • New home builders who meet or exceed air-tightness requirements would receive credits
  • Continuous insulation would be required for above/below-grade walls and exposed floors
  • Energy efficient triple-pane windows will allow for energy efficiency and lower emissions
  • High efficiency mechanical systems (both heating and cooling) increase energy efficiency

Energy Efficient Renovations in Homes and Buildings

With renovation work, the current Building Code does not require energy efficiency upgrades. But going forward, changes to the code will definitely focus on improving energy efficiency (for both homes and buildings). In a renovation that involves the roof, floors, and walls, there may be new requirements to upgrade insulation, retrofit air barriers, or install vapour barriers.

By requiring energy efficiency upgrades during a renovation, property owners actually capitalize by doing the work while they renovate. Big picture, the benefits are significant:  annual energy consumption is reduced; greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lessened; and the property value of the home (or building) is increased. The benefits are economic and environmental.

Considering Building Code Amendments for the Future

Beyond the existing Building Code requirements, and the ongoing regulation changes, there is also an imperative need to consider how homes and buildings should be constructed in future.

In any building, there are an array of systems and assemblies that affect energy consumption – from heating, air conditioning, and ventilation, to plumbing, lighting and the building envelope. Peak performance on all fronts will ensure energy-use standards and emission reductions.

In many buildings, technology like adaptive thermostat systems will guarantee reduced energy consumption simply by regulating heating and cooling to suit usage. As for future Building Code amendments, government agencies are now considering the scope and extent of changes.

Sub-metering is also a sign of the future, allowing occupants, residents, and tenants to track and pay for energy use. It’s a motivation to reduce consumption, save on costs, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the Building Code may be amended to support sub-metering.

Changing Standards for Homes and Small Residential Buildings

The Building Code is every changing. Versions are constantly being revised, rewritten, and renamed. And as more and more energy efficiency requirements are introduced, builders, contractors and renovators will have to accommodate new regulations (and legislation).

Many energy efficiency requirements (whether air tightness or triple-pane windows) are already in effect, while others are being proposed and considered for the future. The long view, of course, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the nation, and create a “low-carbon economy”.

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