March 1, 2017 by Angela Stelmakowich, Editor
Community resilience looks to be taking a big step forward with the recent announcement that National Research Council Canada (NRCC) will take into account climate change as part of regular updates to the country’s building codes.
The NRCC will conduct research, evaluations and risk analyses over the next five years with a view to developing “new solutions to factor climate resilience into the design of future buildings and infrastructure in Canada. This includes houses, roads, bridges, water systems and rapid transit networks.”
The federal government is investing $40 million into these sorts of efforts from its Investing in Canada plan.
Pointing out that buildings and infrastructure are increasingly being challenged by the “impacts of climate change and an increase in extreme weather events, such as damaging floods and devastating high winds,” the NRCC and Infrastructure Canada is upgrading codes, specifications, guidelines and assessment tools.
New specifications and guidelines will be ready and released as soon as 2020.
“With climate change, the total annual precipitation is increasing, as well as the frequency and severity of extreme events, such as heat waves, high winds, floods and droughts, all of which is resulting in increased stress on built structures,” Richard Tremblay, the NRCC’s general manager of construction, says in the NRCC statement.
It is expected the measures, once in effect, will “reduce the costs of rehabilitation and replacement of buildings and infrastructures affected by extreme weather events.”
Ottawa’s move, no doubt, is music to the ears of Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry, which has long supported making buildings more resilient.
“Severe weather is already costing Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” says Craig Stewart, vice president of federal affairs for Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
“This decision puts Canada on track to limit future damage by implementing smarter and more effective building standards. Provincial governments across Canada must now step up and work with all stakeholders to adopt these model changes,” Stewart says.
IBC contends a culture of disaster risk reduction is needed that resonates with consumers and engages all levels of government, businesses and institutions.
The need to incorporate climate change resilience into codes was also recommended last spring in an Office of the Auditor General report. The NRCC “should incorporate climate change trends into the National Building Code’s structural design provisions, to take into account the expected increase in frequency and severity of weather events that can directly affect buildings,” it notes.
Ottawa’s plan bodes well – or, at least, better – for buildings that will soon become part of the national landscape. That said, there are still so many others to which the revised codes will not apply. They will be subject to the same severe weather ravages as their updated counterparts, so will demand additional care.
Retrofitting will add costs, but, where possible, building owners must be more dedicated to doing this, allocating funds to get the job done.
In past, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has put forward a number of recommendations meant to enhance code requirements and beef up resiliency. These included making backwater valves and hurricane straps mandatory in all new builds, as well as looking at impact-resistant roofing material.
Severe weather is not going away, so failing to enhance the protections of existing buildings will do little to help improve resilience and avoid insurable damage.
“I see this initiative on climate change adaptation as having the potential to have a profound impact on the Canadian construction industry and on the future of buildings in Canada,” says Doug Crawford, chair of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes.
Stronger codes cannot help but be a win, regardless of peril. In this case, stronger is simply better.