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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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