New building code aims high, falls short

Last week the Ontario government introduced its new Building Code under much anticipation. The good news is that, on top of provisions that will promote use of solar PV and hot water systems, all new houses built in the province will have to be 35 per cent more efficient — i.e. they’ll need to comply with the high EnerGuide 80 standard (roughly comparable to an Energy Star home). This is what Ontario’s chief energy conservation officer was calling for, and what a number of conservation and environmental groups endorsed. The bad news is that this standard won’t be imposed until 2012! Crikey!

Mark Winfield, director of environmental governance at the Pembina Institute, told me his organization and the province’s Conservation Bureau had called for the EnerGuide 80 standard to be implemented immediately. He’s not happy about the five-year delay, and is miffed that the government has not embraced a three or four year upgrade cycle to the code. In other words, there’s a risk we may have to wait another 10 years for further amendments, leaving little flexibility to keep on top of trends and industry best practices. “It’s a bit of a dissappointment,” said Winfield, pointing out that this is the government’s first step to make good on conservation efforts after announcing on June 13 that it plans to achieve more than 6,000 megawatts in conservation over the next 20 years. “It falls short of the kind of action needed.”

I agree completely. This is just foot dragging — to the hidden delight of homebuilders — in an area where the government can make significant impact today. To be fair, the new Building Code does require that new homes be nearly 22 per cent more efficient beginning next year, and 28 per cent more efficient by 2008. The final step toward 35 per cent efficiency applies in 2012. My own feeling is that a 25 per cent improvement should have been imposed next year followed by the 35 per cent mandate in 2008, stripping three years from the process.

Even with an overly generous five-year transition period, it’s not surprising that many homebuilders are screaming bloody murder. Victor Fiume, president of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, told my Toronto Star colleague Tony Wong that, despite the booming real estate market, the industry is struggling and that we “don’t want to kill the shining star of the Ontario economy” with the new standards.

The home builders are also taking issue with what the government claims will be the added cost to comply, which will be passed on to home buyers. The government says the premium will be between $5,900 to $6,600, but the industry says it’s more like $10,000 to $15,000 (averaging about $12,000).

First, let me point out that Marshall Homes in Ontario recently began offering Energy Star (EnerGuide 80 equivalent) homes in Oshawa as an option for between $7,229 and $9,519. This might be a little higher than the government’s estimates, but it’s far lower than what the industry claims. Also, given the economies of scale that an industry-wide mandate will bring, there’s good reason to believe that the costs will fall, putting them more in-line with the government’s cost estimates.

Second, home builders won’t be bearing the brunt of these costs. Home buyers will. And given how healthy the real estate market is in Canada, I’m not so sure this will affect sales or leave builders in a financial lurch. Also, the premium for an EnerGuide 80 home will, for example, be less than 3 per cent of a $300,000 home. That’s not unreasonable, particularly if after 8 years you get that premium back from energy savings — a fact the home builders conveniently avoid talking about.

Within five years, I’m willing to bet that you can fetch a premium on resale for EnerGuide 80 homes and may be at a disadvantage if your home is deemed below standard when it comes to energy efficiency. My point being that all this industry foot-dragging is ridiculous and that the tough standards should be imposed within two years, not five.

This is even more reason for municipalities in Ontario to follow the lead of East Gwillimbury by imposing today the tough baseline standards that the province prefers to wait on.

2 thoughts on “New building code aims high, falls short”

  1. Tyler,

    I have recently become interested in renewable energy, especially as it applies to the home. Your blog is one of the best sources of relevant daily news that I have come across.

    Regarding this particular posting, I have been unable to track down specifics related to the new building code. The link that you have provided gives a general overview of the government’s plan but I am having trouble finding a ‘nuts and bults’ description of the new building code or the Energuide specification.

    Any suggestions?


  2. The actual code is not available yet. Here’s what I got from the government’s site:

    “The new Code is expected to be published in the Ontario Gazette on July 22. Publications Ontario will be conducting a special printing of only the Regulation which is expected to be available in early August. The Office Compendium of the Building Code, including a fully formatted and indexed edition of O. Reg. 350/06, supplementary standards, appendices and related materials, will be available in the Fall, 2006 from Publications Ontario.”

    Hope that helps. It should be available soon.



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