Canadian Contractor


New Code driven by fear of jurisdictions not adopting National Code

By Casey Edge

Codes Canada has announced proposed changes to the National Building Code including energy efficiency. The opportunity to provide feedback ends March 13, 2020.

The changes to Part 9 outline tiered energy performance levels similar to the BC Step Code, but there are also important differences.

For example, the BC Step Code circumvented the National Building Code process and as a result, made significant errors, and issue we already addressed.

The National Building Code offers the Energuide Rating System enabling “energy models to use the automatically generated reference building… rather than manually modelling a reference building and the proposed building.”

BC issued a revision to its Step Code on December 19, 2019 adopting “a similar approach.”

In addition, the National Code offers a prescriptive path not available in the BC Step Code. The BC Code requires Certified Energy Advisors testing each home, even if designs are identical in a subdivision and built by the same crews.

The National Code’s prescriptive option helps address this as well as the lack of mandatory building envelope education across the country.

According to the BC government, “The BC Energy Step Code does not specify how to construct a building, but identifies an energy-efficiency target that must be met and lets the designer/builder decide how to meet it.”

As long as the home meets the metrics/blower door tests, that’s sufficient. While this may offer some flexibility, a National Code task force discovered a problem. Using some code-approved materials and applications suitable for a basic code home may actually fast-track building envelope failure in a more energy efficient home. This undermines consumer protection.

Despite extra diligence by Codes Canada, it probably still expedited its new code due to BC going down its own path, despite the agreement to harmonize with the National Code. The National review explains: “Any delay in the development of tiered energy efficiency requirements would likely impact industry and jurisdictions who are waiting for the national code process to develop requirements meeting the goals set out in the Pan-Canadian Framework. This may favour jurisdictions developing their own requirements and not adopting the national codes, increasing the likelihood of less harmonization for requirement applications between jurisdictions across the country with potential detrimental impact to the construction market and the industry.”

BC’s Step Code was a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. It’s not hard to find other examples today affecting national issues and policies.

Having focused on some of the differences between the new National Building Code proposal and BC Step Code, there is a glaring similarity, other than the tiered approach.

Both codes launched cost/benefit studies that do not identify the costs of labour and materials, and neither included reasonable administration, overhead, etc.

The National Building Code’s estimate of $30,000 extra to build a Tier 5 home is more credible than the BC Step Code’s claim of only $17,450 to build a Tier 5 home compared to a basic code home in Victoria.

This lack of costing transparency is why the Victoria Residential Builders Association is doing its own study.

While the National Building Code is somewhat of an improvement over the BC Step Code (not difficult to accomplish), it is still an inadequate regulation that does not address realistic building costs, nor does it establish a true national standard for the protection of consumers.

Enabling municipalities to cherry-pick their own level of energy efficiency undermines the fundamental purpose of a code standard based on proven practice.

Some BC municipalities started at Step Code’s tier 3 and others are leaping from tier 1 to 3, skipping 2. That’s why the term “Step Code” is misleading. It implies the tiers are adopted step by step. In fact, BC’s Step Code is a Leap Code, but that term sounds irresponsible for a building code.

Another issue with both the National Code and BC Step Code is the greater impact of radon on more energy efficient homes. An SFU scientist has warned about high radon levels in some municipalities adopting the BC Step Code. Codes Canada is only now addressing the radon issue.

But as Codes Canada admits, its bigger fear was “jurisdictions developing their own requirements and not adopting the national codes…”

Apparently that’s what drives national code development in Canada.


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