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Building Codes

Proposed ‘Alterations to Existing Buildings’ will change the way building codes apply to renovations

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Proposed ‘Alterations to Existing Buildings’ will change the way building codes apply to renovations

In some parts of Canada, renovation work is required to follow the current building code that’s in effect. In other parts of the country, renovations only need to meet the “code of the day” – the requirements that were in effect when the house was originally built. This could all change with a new policy coming from the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes on “Alterations to Existing Buildings,” which could spell new requirements for renovations to existing homes.

Renovating for the Future

Canada has committed to significantly reducing its greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2030. The target is to achieve levels 30% lower than what we had in 2005 – a substantial undertaking. Canada has 14 million residential residences, and approximately 49% of the current housing stock was built before 1980. Most of these older buildings are far behind new homes when it comes to energy efficiency. Even if all the new homes built from now until 2030 (about 180,000 per year, or 1.8 million total) were built to “net-zero” energy efficiency, we still wouldn’t hit our target.

The only way the goal can be achieved is if we renovate the existing housing stock to make it more energy efficient. Canada has 7 million homes that were built before 1980. That’s a lot of opportunity for renovators.

The New Plan: “Alterations to Existing Buildings”

All levels of government are serious about meeting the GHG targets by 2030. To get us there, they have only two methods: they can persuade, or they can regulate.

Persuasion comes in the form of grants, low-interest loans, or tax credits. It makes the offer too enticing for a building owner to refuse. Regulation, on the other hand, removes the element of choice. It mandates minimum levels of performance and enforces it through inspections. A combination of both persuasion and regulation is considered in the draft CCBFC policy paper “Alterations to Existing Buildings” to drive improvements in the energy efficiency, accessibility, seismic resistance, structural integrity, and fire safety of existing homes.

The Roll Out

The policy paper proposes that when new requirements for renovation are adopted, they will not immediately apply to all existing buildings. In other words, homeowners will not get a notice from government to renovate their residences for energy efficiency. Instead, it is proposed that new requirements will come into play only once they have been “triggered.” What will trigger the new code requirements? First, the change to the building must be a voluntary decision by the building owner. Then, depending on the scope of the work and the changes being made, the building code will specify if the changes being made “trigger” the new requirements. If they do, the code will also specify which aspects of that building will need to be upgraded. The extent to which the home needs to be upgraded will fall somewhere between its existing state and minimums of the current code.

For example: Let’s say an owner decides to alter, upgrade, or change the function of a building. This could trigger improvements to the energy efficiency, accessibility, seismic resistance, structural integrity, or fire safety to meet the current code. That scope will obviously mean more work than the owner had originally intended, so to fund this extra work there will need to be persuasive tools such as incentives, grants, and/or tax credits.

What are the Triggers?

At this stage everything about “Alterations to Existing Buildings” is “proposed”. Nothing has been approved or decided upon. The following content is intended to provide you with information, but please note that any of this can – and likely will – change before it is finalized.

Not a trigger:

  • Cost The recommendations at this time clearly indicate that the cost of the change should not be a trigger. Costs change over time and vary across the country.
  • Involuntary changes For example, if a home is damaged by something typically covered by home insurance (for example, a hurricane), alteration requirements would not apply, because the repair is not deemed to be voluntary. Building owners will be able to repair their properties after a natural disaster without triggering requirements.
  • Normal wear and tear If a building owner is doing maintenance or repairs due to normal wear and tear, or replacing a component with something similar, they will be exempt from alteration requirements. Examples of this could include re-roofing or replacing an old furnace with a new one.

What could be a trigger:

“Alterations to Existing Buildings” proposes that the following voluntarily changes may trigger requirements:

  • A system(s) upgrade
  • Space reconfiguration
  • Change of occupancy
  • Addition, and/or
  • Other change (yet to be defined)

In these cases, the significance of the change will drive the requirements of what needs to be done. If the work is deemed to be a “minor” change, requirements will be applicable only to the area being changed. However, if the work is deemed to be a “major” change, requirements will be applicable to all directly affected systems. The criteria to differentiate between minor and major changes will be important, as well as the consistent interpretation of this criteria by building officials across the country.

“Alterations to Existing Buildings” will have a significant impact on the renovation industry in Canada. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) is actively involved at all levels of the Association providing input to the discussions on behalf of the industry. Much of this work is being done by CHBA’s Technical Research Committee and the Canadian Renovators’ Council.

As a renovator, your expertise is both needed and welcome. If you’re not a member of CHBA, impending code requirements for alterations to existing buildings should be the “trigger” that gets you to join. If you want to be “in the know” and get involved, talk to your local home builders’ association (HBA). Find a local HBA near you by looking on our website at CHBA.ca.

Stay tuned for more on this important issue in the future.

Gary Sharp
Gary Sharp

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3 Ways to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

3 ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint

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3 ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint

More people than ever are realising the impact of human activity on the planet and are trying to find ways to minimise it. And one of the things that can be done is to reduce our carbon footprint. The issue is that many people try to focus on the wrong things without noticing the small ways that they may be leaking energy. This is why you have to monitor how you consume energy closely and make changes at multiple levels. Here are a few ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Go for Net-Zero building

The best way to make sure that your home has a minimal carbon footprint is to build it with energy efficiency in mind. Net Zero homes are homes that can produce as much energy as they consume. Net Zero homes are not only able to generate energy on-site but are also built to be as energy-efficient as possible.

But you have to make sure that you work with the right team to get the results you want and end up with a true Net Zero home. You could get net zero homes with Effect Home Builders, for instance, and they’ve been building net energy homes for over a decade and received various accolades. Working with a reputable team will ensure that they build a home you’ll love, be comfortable in, and will allow you to save both energy and money in the long run.

Go tankless

It’s still surprising to see how many people have no idea about tankless water heating systems and how they work. But depending on your household, this could allow you to significantly reduce your energy consumption.

Traditional water heaters spend unnecessary energy keeping the water in the tank hot for hours. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, automatically heat water coming from your water supply using heating elements. Not only does it mean that you only spend energy when you need it, but you also don’t have to worry about running out of hot water.

Seal and insulate

One of the simplest things that you can do to reduce your energy consumption and carbon footprint is to make sure that your home is sealed as tight as possible. Not only is this a cost-effective method, but it is one you can do yourself as well.

While many people will concentrate on spots like under-door spaces and windows, there are many places where your home may be leaking energy. These include electrical receptacles and outlets, mail slots, space around pipes, fireplace dampers, and more. Also, note that attics are a common area for leaks as hot air rises. So, make sure that it is properly insulated, and call in a professional if you’re unsure of whether you can do the job alone.

Bottom line

Now that you know how to improve your home energy-efficiency, make sure that you do everything you can to follow through. Not only will you be able to sleep better knowing you did something for the planet, but you’ll have a nice surprise when you look at your next energy bill.


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7 Steps Toward Energy Efficiency

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7 Steps Toward Energy Efficiency

Can the way we design or retrofit our buildings help the climate crisis? This is a question that lingers in my mind daily. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and trying to reverse climate change has never been more important. Investing in our buildings, new or old, can make a difference. Old buildings in particular present a great opportunity to make improvements.

It has always been a challenge to get people to invest in new sustainable buildings, largely because of the idea of higher upfront costs. Thankfully, because of successful projects like evolv1 in Waterloo — a net-positive, multi-tenant building that recently won the first-ever Zero Carbon award from the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) — more people understand that there’s a great business case for green buildings. Not just for the environment but for the bottom line.

While our understanding about the value of green design in our new buildings is taking hold, people are still overlooking all the old building stock out there. For every innovative evolv1 project in development, there are dozens of inefficient existing buildings around us. Most of these old buildings will stand for decades, so what can we do about them today? What strategies can we adopt to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings?

Here are some ideas. Let’s focus on low-cost/no-cost measures. If you follow these suggestions, it’ll make a difference―both for the environment, and for your energy bill.

Don’t leave the lights on

Do you really need to be lighting every floor of your office building all the time? Aside from emergency lights, it makes sense to use control strategies like daylight dimming and occupancy sensors to reduce your energy usage during evenings and weekends. Daylight dimming detectors adjust lighting according to the amount of sunlight available, and occupancy sensors work like indoor motion lights to detect if a person is present.

Program that thermostat

Here’s another easy one. To maximize energy savings, it’s wise to use a variable temperature strategy. In office buildings, set your thermostat to a comfortable room temperature for the mornings and afternoons, when the building is occupied. In the evenings, reduce it. For example, during full occupancy times, set your temperature to 21C (70F). Lower it to 15C or 16C (59F-60F) during off-hours. At home, make sure to use a smart thermostat or a programmable thermostat. Why heat a room that much if no one’s in it?

Close down your fresh air damper

Here’s a related point to the last one. Some building operators keep central fans running for too long, which supply fresh air to spaces when it’s not necessary. If there’s no one in your building during nights or on weekends, it doesn’t make sense to provide continuous fresh air. At night, revert to the minimum airflow required for conditioning the space.

Shut off your equipment

Instruct staff members to power down their laptops and desktop computers at night. Reduce the receptacle power use during unoccupied times. I realize that businesses need to update their systems occasionally, so perhaps you can schedule patch/maintenance updates on weekends for a couple of hours. But don’t leave those computers on every night.

Fix those old windows

Windows in older buildings are often leaky. This leads to more heat escaping from your comfortably conditioned spaces, which means that you need to supply even more heat — and you lose more energy this way. Look into fixing or replacing those drafty windows as soon as you can.

Upgrade your equipment

People often don’t upgrade their equipment when they should. All pieces of equipment have a useful service life. For example, if your furnace has a service life of 20 years, don’t let it run for 30. If you are planning on doing a mid-life retrofit to your building, do not replace your equipment on a like-for-like basis, but upgrade and improve on the equipment’s efficiency. Technology improves every day, so the efficiency of appliances and devices also improves constantly. If your furnace is running at a low efficiency, you’re going to be dealing with some big bills.

Design for tomorrow, not for today

Apart from the cost, look ahead to the future. The temperature will be warmer, so if you’re designing/and or upgrading a cooling system, you need to account for extra cooling load in the future. Design for tomorrow, not today.

A few final thoughts

For both existing building retrofits, as well as for new developments, clients are typically focused on upfront costs. Most stakeholders will prioritize upfront cost — how much is this going to be at the outset? But we need to start considering life-cycle cost and think of how much it’s going to cost to operate the building on a day-to-day basis. Can you save $10,000 down the road by spending $500 extra today?

High-performance and low-carbon buildings will produce lower operating costs than more conventional strategies. Like I mentioned earlier, success stories like evolv1 are helping to change this mentality — evolv1 is a living example of net-zero carbon emissions balanced with a financially viable solution.

These are steps that we can take to help address the current climate crisis, while also designing, building, and retrofitting buildings to be energy- and cost-efficient and more comfortable for users.

Afaf Azzouz is a buildings energy specialist with Stantec’s Energy and mechanical engineering group in Ottawa. She recently won the 2018 Emerging Green Leader Award from the CaGBC of Ontario. https://www.stantec.com/en

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Design Option: Add in some Natural light with Skylights

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Design Option: Add in some Natural light with Skylights

When looking to design or decorate a home we can often get caught up in the details of the colours, furnishings and finishes we’d like to use. These are all important to the overall aesthetics of our space. However, equally or even more importantly is lighting. Lighting is a requirement to ensure that your space not only looks good but also functions well. Most of us are familiar with the basics types of lighting: ambient, task and accent. However, one that is often forgotten when designing is the option of adding in natural light.

We all enjoy the benefits of natural light in our lives and our homes. Natural light not only enhances the aesthetics of your space, but seeing the great morning sunshine is a wonderful way to begin the day. Many homes suffer from those dark and shady areas such as a staircase or a bathroom, where natural light struggles to reach. If this is the predicament you find yourself in, then consider adding a skylight to your design and let the light shine in!

The addition of skylights, or sun tunnels if you are lacking the space, can be a wonderful asset to your project. It not only increases the volume of natural light, but also aids in the “health” of your home. Windows are designed to let light in and to circulate air throughout a room. However, hot air rises, and therefore so will any toxins and pollutants. To counter this, many of the skylights on the market today are being designed to open, allowing your home to properly ventilate. Boasting this feature, along with greater energy efficiency, temperature regulation and protection from the sun’s rays, the skylights of today can be a fantastic complement to the design, architecture and function of your home.

When designing for my clients, I enjoy the challenge of maximizing light, especially natural light. As we often have limitations to window sizes and locations, skylights become a great option, creating a more open feel to the space – a great feature for “space-challenged” urban dwellers!

However, before you start ripping up your roof and ceilings to install skylights in your home, there are a few important points you should be aware of in order to maximize the benefits of this great feature.

  1. Plan well and be aware of the finished outcome. Skylights are not vertical windows; the two are not interchangeable. However, they are designed to complement each other. A window is designed to catch the sun’s rays and when open circulate air in a room. By adding an operable skylight, you are able to bring sunlight into the core of your home while also properly venting out your home, thereby creating a healthier environment.
  2. Think about how the sun moves throughout the day. Skylights positioned on a north-sloping roof will pretty much diffuse light for you all day, whereas one situated on a southern sloping roof will be exposed to more direct sunlight. To diffuse the light you might want to consider a skylight with a built-in operable blind.
  3. Select appropriately for your space to maximize the design aesthetics. Just as a large skylight in a very small bathroom may appear overwhelming, a single small skylight on a vast sloping ceiling in a family room or kitchen may not be as impressive as you might hope. Skylights come in varying sizes. Therefore, if you have a large ceiling you may want to consider adding more than one skylight or create a cluster of different sizes for visual appeal. However, for tighter more confined spaces, the sun tunnel option may be the way to go. You also need to consider your lighting plan in accordance with the skylight.

Whatever your decision, I think we can all agree that skylights, as well as sun tunnels, can be a wonderful feature in your home. They add a strong architectural design element to your space while creating interest and airiness to your ceiling. So invest a little more thought into the volume of natural light you’d like to see in your home and consider the addition of a skylight in your next renovation project.

Whatever your decision, I think we can all agree that skylights, as well as sun tunnels, can be a wonderful feature in your home. They add a strong architectural design element to your space while creating interest and airiness to your ceiling. So invest a little more thought into the volume of natural light you’d like to see in your home and consider the addition of a skylight in your next renovation project. LindaMazurDesign.com

Photos by Stephanie Buchmann. Skylights photos courtesy of Velux Canada.

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