Canada’s new building code update will address climate change

Flooding in Huntsville, Ont. Photo by Bob Hilscher/Shutterstock

The next national building code update will address climate change.

In Januarys past, the shallow creek that runs behind my cottage on Lake Huron was host to hockey games. This year, it’s more conducive to kayaking, and year-round residents are nervously watching as the water continues to creep toward their doors.

Researchers at the National Research Council have been considering how this new climate reality, which remains uncertain but is certainly going to include increased flooding and more wildfires, is going to affect our buildings. Then, based on their conclusions, they will draft recommendations to be considered for the new National Building Code, to be released in 2021 and to ensure that buildings will have the resilience necessary for the extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

Marianne Armstrong is a research council officer with the NRC, part of a vast network of people, agencies, and institutions tasked with anticipating how to prepare for a changing climate. There’s a building code update approximately every five years, and while climate has always been considered, Armstrong says, climate change has not. In fact, it was just four years ago that Infrastructure Canada budgeted $42.5 million to study what could be done for buildings, waterways, transit, roads, and bridges. Part of that, of course, was to rework the National Building Code.

Making predictions is a challenge, of course. “In Canada, not only do we have the unpredictability of what the future is going to hold in terms of policies related to carbon, for example, or how the population is going to change, or how land use will change,” says Armstrong, “but we also have the joy of having a huge country with very diverse climates in it.” That uncertainty, however, is part of the consideration in the building code update. “When we have an understanding of the uncertainty, we can design for that.”

Armstrong assures those worried that this will drive up the cost of building or renovating that affordability is carefully considered. But, she notes, if buildings don’t last, that’s going to end up costing more in the long term.

Cottagers still reeling from last year’s floods might take some measure of comfort in the fact that, according to Armstrong, there’s innovative work being done on flooding in particular, though it remains experimental.

8 things every cottager can do to get ready for the next flood

In the meantime, expect new building code guidelines to be available in early 2021. Flooding, in particular, will be addressed, including structural recommendations and material recommendations (such as materials that would be mould resistant, for example). But Armstrong notes that it will be up to each jurisdiction to determine what guidelines it wants to include, so there’s no way of knowing what will make the cut in your province.

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