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Climate and Construction: Canada’s 2020NBC goes under Efficiency Canada’s microscope, part one

John Bleasby
Climate and Construction: Canada’s 2020NBC goes under Efficiency Canada’s microscope, part one

Canada waited seven years for a national building code model to help the country meet its international obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

The 2020NBC was finally released late last month. In the meantime, the provinces and territories were provided with advance digital copies in December, giving them the opportunity to review the code and decide if and how they would amend it for their own purposes.

Efficiency Canada, an energy research organisation based at Ottawa’s Carleton University, recently published its concerns over the 2020NBC process. Research director Kevin Lockhart spoke with the Daily Commercial News at length, expressing his organization’s views on the successes and disappointments surrounding the building code process both nationally and in Ontario.

First, Lockhart describes Efficiency Canada’s outlook on the NBC’s overall objectives and development process.

The 2020NBC model offers a tiered approach to energy efficiency in new buildings similar to the BC Step Code. What do you see as the benefits of this?

The national building code model offers a good starting point with its tiered framework. The provinces and territories can then use these tiers and add their own measures. At the same time, it’s essential to have all the tiers available and accessible to the building industry through the provinces. That way, rather than codes following industry and industry then establishing practices, it would be codes setting the standards for industry to follow and industry meeting the challenge, that first challenge being energy efficiency.


There’s criticism that the 2020NBC model fails to define energy efficiency based on outcomes. Would there be benefits to an outcomes approach?

An outcomes-based code would be very beneficial in terms of identifying performance standards and measuring those energy metrics. But incorporating that into our current code would be an intense process and a very different approach to codes in Canada.

Data is an issue. We desperately need to increase our knowledge about what we build, how we build it and how energy flows through our buildings. With that, we might be able to consider outcomes-based codes that would not only improve the energy and emission performance of our buildings, but do so in a way that was demonstrative. We could then use that to encourage industry to work alongside government to reduce energy emissions.


The official government release describes the 2020NBC as presenting over 400 changes developed “through an open and transparent process that included experts and volunteers from across Canada.”  Did Efficiency Canada participate?

Yes, we did. And we highlighted the fact that there were challenges with the consensus-based approach when it didn’t have targets. Without those targets and without industry oversight, the consensus-based approach tends to water down the energy efficiency result in order to pursue the participants’ needs.


That’s a criticism being heard: too many industry lobbyists and not enough building scientists involved. Would you like to see changes to the committee makeup for the 2025 National Building Code? Or is the problem a lack of defined targets?

I think it’s a little bit of both. The committee makeup would benefit from informed participants who can bring different experiences. As building codes become tools for policies, climate action and a link to various policy outcomes, having different voices would be beneficial. That would broaden the perspective by taking into account different experiences and different representation, not just from those constructing the buildings but also from those who use, live and work in them.


The 2020NBC offers reductions in operational carbon through energy efficiency. Should it also have attempted to address embodied carbon?

Energy is the starting point for reducing all carbon emissions. By drawing down energy use first, it’s easier to draw down embodied carbon through design changes that make buildings more efficient.

(This interview was condensed and edited).

As provinces and territories review their individual adoption of the 2020NBC, Ontario has come under criticism for its reluctance to adopt key measures of the new tiered code. Kevin Lockhart outlines this in the second part of this interview tomorrow.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Climate and Construction column ideas to

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