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Rob Dumont

posted Dec 7, 2010, 1:54 PM by ASHRAE Saskatoon
What should Canada be doing in revising its National Energy Codes for Residences and Buildings?

Recently Canada lost its bid for a seat on the prestigious Security Council of the United Nations. Part of the reason was our refusal to behave responsibly and take serious action against climate change. In life, if you want to be respected, you must do respectable things.

Building energy use is a major, major component of our total energy use. According to the ASHRAE treasurer in a recent speech to the Building Green Saskatchewan Conference in Regina in October 2010, buildings account for 40% of all energy use in the United States, and the buildings sector exceeds the transportation sector and the industrial sector.

A sustainable world will not be without sustainable buildings. 

Canada has been a consistent laggard in the fight against climate change. This laggard behaviour is not the action of just one political party at the federal level. Both the current Conservatives and the previous Liberals did very little to address climate change.  By contrast, most European nations aggressively pursued the Kyoto goal. Canada will miss the 2012 Kyoto Goal of a 6% reduction in energy use compared with 1990 by as much as 40%.

While Canada’s emissions have soared, Germany had chopped its greenhouse gas emissions by 18% as of 2006 compared with 1990, while the UK reduced its emissions by 15%. Canada, in shocking contrast, had increased its emissions by 33.8% over the same period according to Environment Canada numbers. This is shameful behaviour on Canada’s part.

As of 2006, Europe was averaging greenhouse gas emissions of 10.6 tonnes per capita per year, while Canada was using 23.2 tonnes or 119%  more than Europeans.

Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, put it well: “We’re laggards and obstructionists.”

The following cartoon says it all.

Other nations and jurisdictions are aggressively upgrading their minimum standards for energy efficiency. In the United Kingdom, all new houses built after 2016 will have to be net zero energy consumers. 

What specific policies would you recommend for new buildings? 

It is almost always less expensive to build new buildings to a higher energy standard than to retrofit them later. Upgrading wall insulation after the fact is very expensive, as adding more insulation to the walls of an existing building almost always entails changing the finish on either the inside or outside of the wall. For this reason, I am proposing the following real action plan:

1. All new residences in this country must have a minimum of R40 insulation in the walls as of 2012. Full stop.  Canada is one of the coldest countries in the world, and yet our wall insulation values for new construction are set assuming that cheap energy and a limitless atmosphere to absorb carbon dioxide emissions will always be with us.   (Sweden increased its minimum wall insulation value to R33.5 over 25 years ago.1)  Attic, basement wall and window insulation values should be correspondingly increased. A maximum air leakage rate of 0.75 air changes per hour at 50 pascals should be set for all new houses, and all new houses should have a heat recovery ventilator with a minimum effectiveness of 75%

2. By 2016, all new houses in this country must be net zero ready. By net zero ready, I mean that they should be well enough insulated, sealed and HRV’d  so that at a later date they could be energized by on-site solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels.
An even more stringent policy is in place in the United Kingdom, which requires that all new housing be Net Zero (and not Net Zero Ready) as of 2016. 

Who would pay for the extra costs of this initiative? I estimate that the 2016 standard would cost an extra $4 billion dollars a year. This is small compared with the annual budget revenues of the federal government of $274 billion as of 2009-2010. If half of the costs were covered by the federal government, the incremental cost would be less than 1% of federal government revenues. The remaining costs could be covered by provincial governments, utilities and homeowners.

The current proposed revisions to the energy part of the National Building Code of Canada are very disappointing. Although Canada has roughly the same population as California, we do not have the same mild climate. Why are we building houses to the same insulation standards? 

1. Energy in the Built Environment, Swedish Council for Building Research, Svensk Byggtjanst, Box 7852, S-1033 99, Stockholm, Sweden