Canada needs a new building code process to reach net zero emissions: report

A new report published by Efficiency Canada, an energy efficiency research and advocacy organization at Carleton University, calls for all new buildings to be Net-Zero Energy Ready (NZEr) by 2030.

The report: Strengthening Canada’s Building Code Process to Achieve Net-Zero Emissions, outlines the disconnect between climate commitments and new “stretch” model building codes. Efficiency Canada tracked the latest building code development and found that the 2020 national model codes, in some instances, reject the more energy-efficient option.

According to the organization, 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 towards NZEr buildings.

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

The authors have two key recommendations: clearer federal ministerial 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 that the government will move the market towards the net-zero standards,” says Lockhart. “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. Policymakers can learn from these challenges as they turn their attention towards the provincial adoption of the 2020 codes, and the development of future national model codes.

“We can’t get stuck with inefficient buildings if Canada is going to achieve net-zero emissions,” says 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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