Ontario's Building Code Revamp: The Strive for Energy Efficiency Amidst Challenges
Building codes might sound like a dry topic for many, but their implications ripple through our society, touching on pressing issues like housing affordability and climate change. As Ontario undergoes a comprehensive update to its building code, stakeholders debate the benefits, potential complications, and long-term impacts.
Navigating a Changing Landscape
While regular updates to building and construction codes are par for the course, the inclusion of environmental concerns has made the process more intricate. The national ambition, established through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, is to progressively tighten energy efficiency requirements, aiming for a net-zero ready building code by 2030. This is driven by a pressing concern: in 2020, Canada's building sector ranked third in greenhouse gas emissions, just behind the oil and gas and transportation sectors.
However, such nationwide aspirations come face-to-face with provincial realities. The federal government's call for energy-efficient buildings needs to dovetail with provincial regulations, since construction and building regulation fall under provincial jurisdiction. The solution? A reconciliation agreement, binding Ottawa and the provinces to a consistent code. By 2030, Ontario, which currently aligns about 60% of its building code with the national one, will need full alignment.
Concerns in the Construction World
Not everyone views this alignment as a straightforward boon. Paul De Berardis, of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, voiced concerns that rapid changes leading up to 2030 might burden the industry, stating, "these technical changes will not make the delivery of new housing cheaper, simpler, or faster.” In addition, in a nation grappling with housing shortages, these concerns are particularly salient.
Meanwhile, some municipalities have instituted green building standards, which, though well intentioned, add another layer of complexity for builders who also have to adhere to provincial and federal energy mandates.
Yet, the drive for harmonization is not without its merits. By eliminating diverse rules across provinces, the reconciliation agreement projects a boost to the Canadian economy, estimating a contribution of between $750 million and $1 billion by 2028.
The Tightrope Walk
The struggle between immediate practical concerns and long-term goals can be seen in the feedback from experts. Kevin Lockart of Efficiency Canada highlighted the challenges Ontario faces in synchronizing its building code with federal standards, particularly given the province's seemingly hesitant steps toward robust energy efficiency measures.
With a deadline for the 2025 national code looming, and with the provinces given a mere 14 months to align, the pace has been brisk. Furthermore, there is ambiguity on whether the delay in releasing the 2020 code will push the 2030 net-zero target.
Seeking Stakeholder Input
To facilitate a smoother transition, Ontario's regulatory registry is directing stakeholders to the national code consultation website. This tactic aims to expedite the alignment process, given the tight timeline. "It is critical that Ontario's industry partners participate in these national consultations," the registry emphasizes, to ensure that the construction sector is prepared for future changes.
The Road Ahead
The ongoing consultation, one of seven planned sessions, covers key topics such as mass timber construction, fire safety, and drainage systems. These discussions will influence Ontario's next building code, tentatively labelled the 2026/27 code.
Ontario's journey towards a more sustainable and energy-efficient building landscape is fraught with challenges. However, with informed discussions and stakeholder involvement, the province has the opportunity to set a precedent, balancing construction feasibility with the imperatives of energy conservation and sustainability. As Canada marches towards a greener future, Ontario's evolving building code will play a pivotal role in shaping the nation's architectural and environmental landscape.