5 big things to know about changes to Canada's building code

Changes to Canada's building code should ensure new homes are safer, more energy-efficient and able to withstand the increasingly intense weather being produced by climate change, according to Josh Silver, an instructor with Holland College who teaches carpentry. 

This year the National Building Code is also being expanded to cover new buildings across P.E.I. — until now, the code only applied in Charlottetown, Summerside and Stratford. P.E.I. is the last province in the country to adopt the code, which has been recently updated.

Silver said in most cases the changes will mean consumers will spend more money building, but those costs will be offset by long-term savings. 

"The main focus of the new building code is specifically around changes in our environment, so we are going to have much harsher weather, stronger winds, more rains, more flooding, things of that nature, so we're making a house more waterproof and more wind-proof," said Silver.

'People want to save money'

The changes will standardize building procedures across the Island.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Silver said the increased costs will vary depending on the size and scope of the project. He said fuel savings alone will put more money into homeowners pockets in the long-term.

He points to his own home as an example — it was built about a decade ago, and costs $3,000 to heat annually with oil. Meanwhile a co-worker, who heats his well-insulated home with a heat pump, pays just $300 for heat.

"My co-worker would have $2,700 of free money that I don't have, because I'm paying that on oil. So then he can invest in that granite countertop or whatever the sexy things he needs — and that's over the lifetime of that house, keep in mind,"

Training provided for homeowners 

Holland College now offers training four times a year on changes to the code, available not contractors and homeowners.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Each municipality will have the option to enforce the code, or sign that responsibility over to the province.

Roy Vandermaar with Greenfoot Energy Solutions in Charlottetown says many of his clients are now building beyond the code's minimum requirements.

"First and foremost, people want to save money," said Vandermaar. "But there is also the comfort factor — not having cold spots, being comfortable in your home. There is also a resale factor, and then the environment. People are more and more concerned about their footprint."

1. It's all about insulation 

The code will require homeowners to do a better job insulating their homes, which Silver said will save homeowners money and reduce the home's environmental impact.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

He said the new code will set out minimum energy-efficiency requirements, and one way a homeowner can meet those is installing dense-packed cellulose — basically shredded newspapers covered in a fire-retardant coating — in walls and covering with a sealed membrane.

The addition of spray foam and traditional Fiberglas pink insulation should ensure the house is airtight.

2. Cozy basements 

Basements will now have to be insulated, Silver said. 

He said one of the best ways to achieve this is through inter-connecting foam, or ICF, which come together almost like Lego, Silver said. 

"They are hollow blocks that have foam on the inside of the house and foam on the outside of the house. Then we will fill this void with concrete," explains Silver. "[The] new code says that this concrete has to be more durable and more waterproof. That's a code change."

3. Not just the walls

The National Building Code will also require new homes being built to have insulation not only on walls but also under the cement in the basement.

Rick Gibbs/CBC

This is a new requirement not only for rural areas of the province that up until now have not had to meet the National Building Code standards, but an update to the National Building Code for all new builds.

"The foam acts as an insulator and a waterproof [seal]," said Silver. 

"This is a new code requirement that is required because we're worried about flooding in basements and also our energy efficiency."

4. Preparing for storms

The national code will also require roofs to be much stronger to deal with increasingly intense storms.

Rick Gibbs/CBC

Silver said that means ensuring that roofs have stronger materials and more insulation. That insulation acts as a glue to ensure roofs can withstand stronger winds, he said. 

5. Safer bathrooms

Silver said something as simple as the placement of a shower grab bar is now covered in the National Building Code.

He said about 40 per cent of all slip-and-fall accidents happen as people are getting in or out of the shower or tub. But until now, almost all grab bars have been installed inside the shower or tub.

"What there will be now is a large vertical, strong bar that as I am exiting [the shower or tub], I can grab," he said.

"That bar that would be there now was not required prior to 2020 and is now a code requirement." 

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