What proposed changes to the National Renovation Code for ‘alterations to existing buildings’ mean for renovators

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By Frank Lohmann, Director, Building Science, CHBA

Changes are coming to the National Building Code and the National Energy code that will, for the first time, make these codes applicable to renovations – or, as the codes will call it, “alterations to existing buildings.” In response, CHBA established a 29-person working group, along with extensive work by CHBA staff, to best inform the code development process from an industry perspective.

In addition to new homes, Canada’s construction codes theoretically already apply to “the alteration, reconstruction, demolition, removal, relocation and occupancy of all existing buildings.” The problem is that the current codes do not contain any specific requirements for existing buildings, which has resulted in a patchwork approach across Canada where each municipality determines their own method for which requirements apply in full and which ones are exempt. This often causes confusion among renovators, regulators and building owners alike, and obviously presents an undesirable degree of disharmony for Canada’s renovation market, which makes up more than half of Canada’s building construction GDP.

Need to improve the energy efficiency

Part of the motivation for the renovation codes was the need to improve the energy efficiency of Canada’s existing housing stock to reach Canada’s climate change goals in significantly reducing greenhouse gases. While more than a third of Canadian homes standing today were built before 1983 – and likely in need of a significant energy upgrade – the new codes will not mandate energy upgrades. Rather, the renovation code will only apply whenever an owner voluntarily undertakes a project where at least one portion of the renovation touches the building envelope, the space heating system or the water heating system.

Some of the guiding principles for the development of the code changes demand that the renovation requirements be reasonable, pragmatic and that they avoid placing an undue burden on building owners. Policy makers have recognized, in part thanks to CHBA, that if building code requirements were applied to existing buildings in the same way as new construction homes, it would result in costly and onerous renovations and run the risk that many of the renovations would be driven to the underground economy. CHBA remains engaged to advocate that the proposed requirements reflect these principles.

“Governments at all levels will need to find ways to help more homeowners get the financial assistance they need to renovate their homes for increased energy efficiency if they’re serious about Canadians reaching Canada’s GHG targets for personal residences,” says Kevin Lee, CHBA CEO. “Otherwise, the risk is that homeowners will go to underground contractors for their renovation needs, skipping permits and jeopardizing their largest asset – their home.”

Financial incentives

CHBA has been advocating for the federal government to provide homeowners with more support and incentives, such as the Greener Homes Initiative that will provide $5,000 grants for energy retrofits using the EnerGuide Rating System, and which can be stacked on top of local municipal incentives. Another way to help would be to allow substantial renovations, such as those reaching Net Zero Ready performance, to qualify for the GST/HST new housing rebate. While the renovation code in the 2025 codes will exclusively cover energy efficiency requirements, it will not mandate net zero ready levels but rather make sure that any renovation at least reaches the base code requirements in Section NBC 9.36. that have the code for new homes since 2012.

The upcoming changes prompted CHBA to establish a 29-member volunteer working group, made up of renovators, energy advisors, HBA staff from across Canada and national CHBA staff. The group met throughout May and June and provided its feedback to code committees on how HVAC and service water heating system, fenestration, airtightness and thermal resistance of assemblies should be dealt with during a renovation. Several of the working group’s suggested revisions were accepted by the Task Group of Alterations to Existing Buildings, while some revisions are still under discussion.

On Aug. 23, the Standing Committee Energy Efficiency reviewed the proposed changes. The Standing Committee is expected to approve all changes before Oct. 5. They will be available for the public review in early 2024, which will offer all members an opportunity to review the changes and provide comments. CHBA will be communicating to members when the review period is open, where to access the information, and how to comment.