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.