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Canada Rewrites Building Code to Avert $300 Billion in Climate-Driven Losses

Canada’s National Building Code is undergoing a major rewrite in a bid to avert C$300 billion in climate change-driven infrastructure failures over the next decade, according to high-level federal briefing notes reviewed by CBC News.

“From how concrete is mixed for road construction, to roofing standards enabling buildings to withstand stronger storms and plans to help homeowners manage increased flooding, Canada’s building rules are being rewritten due to climate change,” CBC reports. “With Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, according to an official report [1] leaked this month, analysts say it’s crucial to design infrastructure that protects residents from extreme weather while reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

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“The development of building and infrastructure codes and guidelines in this country is a somewhat ponderous process,” stated the briefing note, prepared for the deputy minister of infrastructure in 2018 and viewed by a CBC reporter under access to information laws. “More problematically, the code development process has also been very slow to address the very significant challenges posed by climate change for Canada’s buildings and core public infrastructure.”

But “to remain vital in the face of coming climate change challenges, the construction industry will need better, safer, energy-efficient, and affordable construction materials and technology that can maintain or improve lifespan expectations for buildings and core infrastructure,” the briefing note added.

A federal official told CBC that provincial and territorial governments will have the final say on how the updated Code is applied in their jurisdictions.

The revisions cover a wide range of issues, including roofs’ resilience to extreme weather, optimum concrete mixes for flood-resistant pavement, structural designs to help buildings withstand a changing climate, new standards for basement flood protection, and resilience guidelines for existing stormwater systems. Specific code elements are to be completed between 2020 and 2025.

“Some of the new rules for construction in the era of climate change are nearly ready, while others remain in the planning stages,” CBC states. “The briefing said the new code will be the ‘first substantive’ introduction of climate change considerations for buildings and crucial infrastructure in Canada.”

Representatives of Canada’s $171-billion construction industry said they support the effort to address climate impacts as long as it doesn’t add red tape or increase costs. “We want to ensure these changes aren’t just increasing red tape and impeding progress,” said Arlene Dunn, director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions. “Otherwise, we run the risk of continuous rework, escalated costs, and delayed projects.”

“I’m definitely excited about the direction it’s going in,” although “2025 feels long,” said architect Mona Lemoine of the firm Perkins+Will in Vancouver. “We are dealing with climate change because we haven’t been building the right way.”

Getting that done “requires a shift in how we look at costs,” Lemoine added. “The capital costs of building more resiliently and efficiently may be higher,” but “when you look at the operating costs, those triple-pane windows reduce the costs of operating…and the need for additional heating and cooling infrastructure.”

Canadian Homebuilders’ Association spokesperson David Foster “said the construction industry will be ready for small changes in the code, ideas like mandating back flow preventers in new homes, making sure to build developments outside of flood plains, or tweaking the fasteners used to attach shingles to roofs to protect against higher winds,” CBC adds. “The bigger problem, he said, is that no one has hard data on exactly how different regions will be impacted by climate change to enable contractors to plan and build accordingly.”

“We need scenarios,” Foster said, adding that those regional variations are “a devilishly hard thing to figure out.”