Building codes and standards – Beware the “Minimum Trap”

 If you build, renovate or put an addition on your home or building, there is a set of standards (a.k.a. – specifications) you choose and a building code you must meet. If you’re buying an existing structure then you’re stuck with whatever set of standards was put into it before; unless you plan to upgrade it. If it’s more than 15 years old, energy-efficiency upgrades should be seriously considered, depending on the building’s original construction.

Every province (and some municipalities) has a set of minimum building code requirements, which work in conjunction with the National Building Code, that all construction must meet, and they are just that – minimums. These codes are there to ensure the building or house is structurally sound and has a reasonable amount of insulation in it – again, minimums. With increasing importance being placed on energy conservation, some provinces, including Nova Scotia, have increased their minimums for insulation requirements and considering where energy prices are inevitably going, you can be sure these “minimums” will continue to increase. What that means is that a home built now to meet minimum codes will actually fall short of the basic requirements in the near future, and that will likely mean decreased value associated with that building when it gets compared to others 5 or 10 years from now.

A standard is a set of design/performance specifications for the building that incorporates things like the building envelope, heating and ventilation systems, passive solar features, air-leakage maximums, renewable energy usage, water conservation measures, thermal mass features, appliance and lighting requirements, materials, etc. Some, like R-2000, have been around for some time and have seen some improvements with changes in code requirements. Others, like Passive House and LEED for Homes, are newer to Canada and set very high efficiency standards. There are also less formalized sets of specifications that a given builder may use to produce a very efficient building. With some research, and asking some questions, anyone looking to build or upgrade to high efficiency standards can find what works for them, and their specific situation.

Any time you are going to build or upgrade, careful planning and consideration should be given to the specifications you build to. Again, with where energy prices will go in the coming years, even from renewable sources, building high efficiencies into your project is a sound investment. If the building is highly efficient, every time energy costs go up (which is almost every year!) you are effectively enjoying more savings and that puts more value in your home or office, not to mention how much less you spend on operating costs. It’s already happening in some places in Canada that a property’s value is being assessed on its energy rating and you can expect that will happen here as well. So if you build or upgrade now well above minimum standards, guess whose house will be at the high end of the value scale later on? Yours will be one of the most valuable in the neighbourhood.

So remember, the next time you see a contractor or seller referring to how the house or building they are selling “meets standards”, find out if that means the building code minimum, or something barely above it. They’re not legally allowed to give you any less…so if that’s the case, they should probably stop trying to pat themselves on the back so hard.

We need to be ahead of the curve using more up-to-date standards, materials and technology; and it will actually cost you less given the price of energy in the future and the added value that efficiency will give your home or building. Building only to today’s minimum standards, or barely above them, is short-sighted and will eventually cost both financially and environmentally.

Expect more from your home or building.

Andrew W. Alcorn, CET

Innova Builders, Inc.
@InnovaBuilders on Twitter
Innova Builders on Facebook

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