Buildings are a tremendous source of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. It is estimated that buildings contribute up to one third of global GHG emissions. Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates that the buildings sector accounts for 12 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in comparison with other economic sectors.
Given the impacts that buildings can have on GHG emissions, building codes, such as the Ontario Building Code (“OBC”) are playing an increasingly important role and becoming useful tools in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.
The OBC regulates the construction of new buildings, as well as the renovation, change of use of, and demolition of existing ones in the province.
From an environmental perspective, one of the most important functions of the OBC is its role in setting levels of efficiency for new buildings in the province. Changes introduced in the 2012 OBC—which is the version currently in effect—brought in efficiency standards exceeding most other Canadian jurisdictions. The new efficiency requirements came into effect on January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2017.
The changes are designed to see an increase in energy efficiency of 15 per cent for low-rise houses and 13 per cent for large buildings. The changes seek an improvement of the envelope of new buildings through, for example, higher standards for heat recovery ventilators and greater air tightness, so as to improve energy efficiency. Additional changes include improved insulation, better windows, and improved efficiency for furnaces and hot water tanks. Programmable thermostats, which will allow residents to turn the head down when they are sleeping or not at home, have also become a requirement.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has also proposed further changes to these efficiency requirements for the 2019 OBC and seems to be exploring ways for the 2019 OBC to better respond to the impacts of climate change. Some of the issues upon which the Ministry is soliciting feedback for the 2019 OBC include:
- whether government should require hurricane straps in all new houses to provide greater resilience against high winds;
- whether government should be updating the climatic data in the OBC to reflect current weather conditions; and
- what other elements government should consider to increase the ability of houses and buildings to better withstand the effects of extreme weather.