Tag Archives: Building Codes

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As weather patterns change, so will our building codes

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As weather patterns change, so will our building codes

A new government study, Canada’s Changing Climate Report, says our country is experiencing climate warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Even higher temperature increases have been registered in the Prairies, northern British Columbia and northern Canada.

With that shift, scientists say, we can expect to see more flooding, wildfires and storms in the years ahead. The National Research Council (NRC), working with Infrastructure Canada, is coming up with National Building Code changes we’ll need to cope with the effects of climate change.

That’s good news for Canadians who are already starting to feel the effects, with increasingly severe storms and flooding, high winds and generally extreme weather. Within the next five years, new homes will have to meet standards that will better prepare them to meet these new challenges.

The Code changes are likely to introduce a wide variety of building challenges. Stronger windstorms will likely lead to higher roofing standards with new mechanisms in place to keep shingles or entire roofs from blowing away.

An increased risk of flooding can be met with requirements for backwater valves to keep water or sewage from backing up into basements. In fact, new standards for basement flooding protection have already come into effect. Backwater valves connected to your plumbing system allow water (or sewage) to only flow away from your house. The valves may only cost a few hundred dollars to install during new home construction. Adding them later can carry a price tag of $3,000 to $4,000. Contrast that to the average cost of more than $40,000 for homeowners affected by the last big flood in Toronto.

In Ontario, we already saw many communities suffering from severe flooding this spring. This is why the Ontario government is undertaking a provincial impact assessment to identify where and how climate change is likely to impact Ontario’s communities. The results from this assessment will provide decision makers with the data and information needed to better plan for more frequent extreme weather events such as flooding.

Under the Ontario New Homes Warranties Act, damage from an “act of God” is not covered by the warranty. An act of God is a natural event that is unexpected and unavoidable and causes damage that is beyond the control of the builder. The act of God provision doesn’t apply to weather that would be typical of our climate (such as ice, snow and heavy rain), but to extreme and unexpected weather events such as tornadoes, earthquakes and extreme winds.

But in the future, the question is, will this type of weather become typical?

As building codes endeavour to catch up to our evolving weather, homeowners can encourage incremental change now, by telling builders they’re willing to pay for backwater valves in the basement and tougher clips on roofing shingles. They could also request extra insulation which can keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, an organization that does research into disaster prevention, also provides helpful prevention information for homeowners looking to protect their homes from the consequences of severe weather.

What would really be helpful is a crystal ball, to let us know just what our weather patterns might look like in the future. In the meantime, I’m always happy to hear about Ontario builders who are taking the initiative themselves and building beyond the current Code. Working with their homebuyers they’re taking the lead in preparing for the stormy weather ahead.

Howard Bogach is president and CEO of the Tarion Warranty Corp. tarion.com Facebook.com/TarionWarrantyCorp

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Book smarts – An exclusive sneak peek inside the CHBA’s new renovators’ manual – Apr/May2019

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Book smarts – An exclusive sneak peek inside the CHBA’s new renovators’ manual – Apr/May2019

As you know from previous columns, CHBA has a Renovators’ Manual in the works. Similar to CHBA’s best-selling Builders’ Manual, the Renovators’ version applies building science to renovations. Existing buildings are going to be important as Canada takes steps to limit climate change. This month we offer a small sample of what readers can expect from the new book, when it is released to the public.

Canada has more than 14 million existing houses. Over half of these were built before 1980. That’s important because these older homes were not built to be anywhere near as energy efficient as houses being constructed today. In fact, a house built today is 47% better in terms of energy efficiency than a house built in 1985.

Building Codes are addressing the energy efficiency of new houses. Current plans are for new houses to reach Net Zero Ready levels of energy efficiency by about 2030. Currently, builders are constructing approximately 200,000 housing units per year. This number has been quite consistent in recent years, although it is expected to slowly drop in the face of an aging population. Some simple math shows us that over the next 10 years, building at the anticipated rate, we can expect between 1.8 and 2 million more houses to be created. While these will be far more efficient than the houses we have now, there is no scenario for reducing the total amount of energy used by homes without addressing the existing housing stock.

The Renovators’ Manual will help with those renovations as renovators are asked to significantly improve the energy efficiency of existing houses. Looking a little deeper, this means that renovators will be asked to “apply” the building science they know to existing houses. This is not as easy as it might seem, since applying building science to the materials and systems that are already installed is quite different than starting with a clean slate when designing a new build. The process also involves combining new materials with the existing structure they are renovating.

Net Zero Ready houses are typically being constructed with R-65 ceilings, R-40 walls, triple-glazed windows, R-35 basement walls, and R-10 under the basement floor slab. They will also have air tightness of less than 1.0 air change per hour at 50 Pa of depressurization (ACH50). Even the most ambitious renovation of an older home would find these performance characteristics difficult to match, but renovators will want to know how close they can come, and how to avoid technical problems in doing so.

The challenge will come from the correct “application” of the building science. The houses that need the most work are expected to be the older ones. Many of these have little to no insulation. Even if these houses have been renovated previously, it is unlikely that the renovation will have added a significant amount of insulation. It will be useful to review the most likely starting condition of the house, for example;

  • 2×4 wood frame or masonry structural exterior walls
  • Little or no insulation in the walls
  • Little insulation in the ceiling
  • Little or no insulation on basement walls or under the basement floor
  • Poor airtightness characteristics (i.e. drafty)
  • Large humidity swings – low in winter and high in summer
  • Large furnace and/or air conditioner
  • No heat recovery ventilator – bathroom fans or windows for ventilation
  • May have a wood-burning fireplace
  • Poor drainage around foundation
  • Double-glazed windows

Other important considerations are the climate where the house is located, and the characteristics of the occupants of the house. A maritime climate has different characteristics than a prairie climate. A house with two seniors has different operational characteristics than a house with young children. As renovators, we can’t change the occupants, so we need to provide a home that suits their specific lifestyle and needs.

In the case of the house described above, lets look at what has been happening over the years since it was built.

  • The house has had little insulation so large amounts of energy has been flowing though the building envelope.
  • The house has numerous holes and air leaks that result in large heat losses, however the benefit of such high air exchange rate is better, if uncontrolled, indoor air quality. If there is a wood-burning fireplace, these typically allow large amounts of house air to exhaust through the open chimney. Even with “tight-fitting doors or flue dampers, the fireplace chimney is generally a huge energy (and air) loss source for the building.
  • Relative humidity in the house is expected to have been low in the winter, due to the high air exchange rate and high in the summer, for the same reason. This would lead to the house being hard to heat and cool, but also uncomfortable.
  • Windows, in particular in the “wet” rooms such as the bathrooms and the kitchen, were likely subject to condensation on the glass in the winter and the shoulder seasons.

When looking at such a typical existing house the first step is to examine the decisions that need to be made. In this case, let’s pick a traditional war-time, Victory Home which are common in many cities across the country.

Blown opportunity: most older homes have little to no insulation in the wall cavities, an obvious first step to improving energy efficiency.
Blown opportunity: most older homes have little to no insulation in the wall cavities, an obvious first step to improving energy efficiency.

General

The renovator will need to decide on the building science features which need to be addressed.

  • If the drainage is poor, this needs to be fixed, regardless of what the house is made of.
  • The basement floor is uninsulated. This will not be a comfortable floor without insulation. It is unlikely that removing the basement floor, adding insulation, and then re-installing a concrete floor makes sense unless the existing floor is in poor condition. Therefore, insulation can only be added to the top of the floor. This will be limited by the basement ceiling height.
  • New triple-glazed windows will be needed to improve the envelope.
  • The wall thickness will need to be increased to accommodate the increased insulation.
  • The key building science features needed:
    • Weather barrier
    • Rain screen
    • Thermal barrier
    • Air barrier
    • Vapour barrier
Historic victory: across the country, many WWII-era victory homes, originally built as temporary housing for industrial workers, are still standing as permanent but inefficient homes.
Historic victory: across the country, many WWII-era victory homes, originally built as temporary housing for industrial workers, are still standing as permanent but inefficient homes.

Victory Home

This house will be wood-frame. It is unlikely that the exterior of the house is historically significant, and therefore the renovator has options. The insulation can be added to the interior or the exterior of the building. While working on the inside of the home is easier, the Victory Home is a modest size and the owners may be reluctant to reduce their floor area. To accommodate this, the decision may be made to add thickness to the exterior. The method of increasing the thickness of the wall studs will be the most problematic decision. This can be done in a number of ways and an architect should be consulted for a suitable solution. Typically, the frame of the existing house is structurally sufficient enough to allow the extensions to be “hung” from the existing walls. If that decision is made, then several items fall into place.

The weather barrier is the exterior cladding. Unless an air space is incorporated into the cladding by the nature of the cladding itself, it needs to be installed on strapping to provide an air space.

The rain screen is the air space between the cladding and the house wrap or the insulation installed over top of the studs.

The thermal barrier could be selected to do “double-duty” by selecting foam insulation which also has air barrier properties.

The selection of the vapour barrier is required. Keep in mind that vapour diffusion is a relatively weak process for moving moisture and is dependent on the surface area covered. If 90% of the surface is covered, then 90% of the vapour diffusion is prevented. Moving air is the primary transport mechanism for moving moisture. If the air barrier feature is being handled by another material, the vapour barrier can be a vapour retardant paint (if the interior drywall was not removed, the vapour barrier may already be in place with the existing, multiple coats of paint). If the walls were opened, there is an opportunity to install a sheet-type vapour barrier. This can be polyethylene, or it can be one of the materials where the vapour permeance changes with humidity. This will allow any moisture which happens to get into the wall due to poor flashing details or poor window installation to dry.

The ceiling can be sealed by removing the existing ceiling insulation and applying two or three inches of spray foam insulation to provide the air barrier properties. The desired amount of insulation can then be blown in on top of this to provide the thermal barrier function.

The basement walls and rim joist space decisions will generally be based on the type of foundation present. The most likely options are concrete block or poured concrete. Poured concrete is considered an air barrier, while concrete block is not. If poured concrete, spray foam insulation may be the best solution for connecting the air barrier in the walls, the rim joists, and the basement wall. If concrete block was used, an alternative such as airtight drywall, a vapour permeable, air barrier sheet material or spray foam insulation against the concrete block wall. Typically, drainage is poor in these older houses so a mechanism to allow these walls to dry to the inside is preferred. A provision must be made to ensure that the air barrier is connected to the concrete floor as well. How to do this detail will depend on the method chosen to provide the air barrier for the basement wall.

Now, with the house better insulated, with better windows and more airtight, the air conditioning and heating systems will be over-sized. If left as-is, oversizing will lead to short cycling and this may lead to inadequate distribution of heat and cooling in the house. Also be aware that with the improved air tightness, mechanical ventilation will be required to eliminate cooking odours and to control humidity levels. Therefore, the renovation should include an upgrade to the heating and cooling equipment as well as adding a heat recovery ventilator.

Hopefully this example highlights some of the challenges that renovators might expect and demonstrates the role the new CHBA Renovators’ Manual will play in helping renovators with the decisions they will be making to improve the energy efficiency of housing across the country.

Gary Sharp, CHBA

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Nova Scotia Municipal Election Day

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Nova Scotia Municipal Election Day

Remember that while municipal politicians generally don’t get as much press coverage as MPs and MPPs, local politics has the greatest impact on our daily lives, including your property taxes and local building code regulations. Get out and vote!

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The Designer: Design professionals help work out the details

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The Designer: Design professionals help work out the details

By Jane Lockhart
Jane Lockhart Interior Design

From development, through construction, to move-in day, from timelines to client issues, you’re handling it all. Imagine having a partner who will take care of the client, the details, help manage timelines and save you money? That’s what an interior design professional can do to help get your project finished. In today’s marketplace, details are important — they set your project apart from the others. A professional designer can recommend the latest must-haves to appeal to a certain buyer. These details can enhance a large-scale development or a single custom build to attract the buyer who appreciates quality and thoughtful design over a generic plan. A design professional knows building codes and understands universal design and will bring new ideas to the table, adding value for your client.

It starts with perfect drawings — in our firm it’s paramount every detail is considered. Focal points are a very important sales feature and a design pro looks at how trim, lighting, sightlines and layout make a floorplan work. This saves time later by addressing any potential issues in advance.

Working with the client, taking their needs into consideration and translating it to the builder saves you time and money. Design professionals makes the process run smoother. Like reverse engineering, they can recommend everything from ceiling height to window width to baseboard style knowing how the ultimate design should look. Purposeful design takes all the guesswork out of the equation.

A designer will clear the path by aiding the client through decisions on finishes, colours, fixtures, materials, sizes and quantities. All the details are documented for you to help expedite the building process. Ultimately, when your client’s needs are managed, you are free to concentrate on meeting your deadline.

Today, it just makes sense to work with people with mutual goals, who support each other in the industry and make the process more efficient and cost effective. Talk to a design professional today and see how they can enhance your business and broaden your market.

Jane Lockhart is founder and principal designer of Jane Lockhart Interior Design.
http://www.janelockhart.com/

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London Fire

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London Fire

The deaths of at least 81 people in an apartment fire in London in early June was a tragedy that unfolded in real time on people’s television screens. The deeper tragedy is that a recent renovation seems to have been to blame for the rapid spread of flames that eventually engulfed the entire 24-storey complex. A non-fire resistant cladding was recently installed on the building. The flames spread rapidly across the exterior of the building, trapping dozens inside. Early estimates were that the cladding cost about $3.40 per square metre less than a fire-rated version.

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