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Associations, Government

Passive House and Efficiency Canada call for a federal “building policy champion”

John Bleasby
Passive House and Efficiency Canada call for a federal “building policy champion”

The leaders of two national energy efficiency organizations have called for the creation of a federal “building policy champion,” in a letter sent to Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains in early December 2020.

Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, and Chris Ballard, chief executive officer of Passive House Canada, believe that such a minister or senior government official would, “ensure the national model codes is based on outcomes, actual energy performance and that place building codes as part of a whole-government approach towards reducing energy use and associated emissions in Canada’s built environment.”

Since Bains resigned from the federal cabinet on Jan. 12, 2021, the organizations now intend to follow up with the new minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne.

In their letter, Diamond and Ballard express concern that the current 2015-2020 building code development cycle may fall short of providing the leadership required to meet the federal government’s net zero energy-ready and net zero emission objectives.

They also suggest, “a directive, clarifying the role of building codes as a tool for market transformation.”

“A directive of the building code’s renewed purpose will provide a clearer mandate to those developing the code and avoid the pressures that exist to define the code solely as a minimum standard,” write Diamond and Ballard. “It would also clearly connect the objectives of the national model codes with Canada’s climate change commitments.”

The organizations believe such steps would not only meet the government’s energy objectives but also provide good jobs for the building industry.

Six specific suggestions are presented in the letter including: revisit Net Zero Energy-Ready performance standards to ensure efficiencies meet the new net-zero economy; promote electric vehicle charging; incorporate embodied and operational carbon metrics; and energy performance evaluation based on projected outcomes versus reference building comparisons.

Diamond and Ballard also call for air tightness testing for all buildings. That suggestion conflicts with the directive issued by the Standing Committee on Energy Efficiency Public Review earlier this year instructing the CCBFC’s Executive Committee to drop airtightness testing from any compliance path for buildings and houses.

The absence of an air tightness test removes a much needed objective test to confirm the success or failure of a building meeting its projected energy efficiency outcome. It also leaves building inspectors relying solely on visual inspections at various points during construction in order to verify the correct use and installation of new energy efficient materials and methods.

Air tightness tests have been proven effective on homes for years to measure air changes per hour (ach) for rating purposes and to identify flaws in the building envelope. The analysis is based on the relatively simple blower door test.

One concern often raised is whether that test can be successfully expanded for use on multi-storey residential or commercial buildings.

Jesse Moore, a building science engineer with RDH Building Science Inc., made it clear in his presentation during the recent Buildings Show that air tightness testing during the construction of larger buildings was quite feasible. It’s largely a matter of planning.

Moore outlined his company’s testing process, explaining how “smaller chunks” and individual floors can be tested, rather than tackling the entire building at one time. Planning considerations include co-ordination with trades to ensure tests are made at the right time and detailed attention given to sealing stairwells, windows and balcony doors. Smoke machines are used to find installation faults while thermography can detect temperature variants caused by air leakage.

The benefits of incorporating air tightness tests into the verification process are clear to building envelope specialists such as Moore.

“Any time we start talking about a test or specify a test, even when there is no target, it tends to move the quality of construction and air tightness to a higher performance level,” he said. “By implementing a target that has to be achieved, the result moves even further into the realm of a high performance building.”

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