Calls for improved building code standards are all about going green
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Calls for improved building code standards are all about going green

Woolwich is among those calling for higher standards for energy efficiency in Ontario homes.[Submitted]

With greenhouse gas emissions from buildings accounting for 45 per cent of the total in Waterloo Region, Woolwich is pushing greater energy efficiency to be mandated in an update of the Ontario Building Code.

Council last month passed a motion calling for increasing the minimum energy performance standards for new buildings, saying that’s an important step in reaching emission targets.

The provincial target is a 30 per cent reduction by 2030, while Woolwich adopted greenhouse gas reduction targets of 80 per cent below 2012 levels by 2050 and endorsed in principle a 50 per cent reduction by  the 2030 interim target.

“We’re way behind the eight ball and we need to start moving or we’re not going to make these targets. This is something that we can do as a council – we can ask the province to speed up those timelines on changing the Ontario Building Code. To me it just makes common sense,” said Coun. Patrick Merlihan at an April 11 meeting.

The need for higher standards is addressed in a new report from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA)

Written in partnership with StrategyCorp, the Accelerating Ontario’s Green Future: New Approaches to Housing and Climate Change report tackles GHG emissions in the resale housing market by providing more supports to homeowners in reducing their energy use and saving costs on their monthly bills. The report also proposes a plan to help address a major climate threat looming over Ontario homeowners: flooding.

“Climate change is a major threat to our way of life and the residential housing sector has to do its part to lower emissions and mitigate risks,” said Tim Hudak, the organization’s CEO, in a release. “Through these recommendations, Ontario can help homeowners reduce their carbon footprint, safeguard their homes against climate change, and keep more money in their pockets.”

Some of those same concerns about higher standards are shared by community-oriented groups, as well.

Kevin Thomason of the Grand River Environmental Network spoke in favour of the Woolwich council motion calling for action from the province.

“The good news is that we already have many of the solutions that we require. We know what needs to be done, but it isn’t happening fast enough. We also know that despite all the global treaties and national programs that many of the most impactful climate actions we can undertake are here at the local level. We can design our communities to be more sustainable complete and compact,” he told councillors at the meeting.

“Many of these much-needed actions fall into the broad heading of green development standards, and here in Waterloo Region there is a new citizen group called GreenWR being created to see how we can encourage and accelerate the adoption of green development standards by the Region of Waterloo and our area municipalities.”

Proponents say improvements will save homeowners money today and down the road while helping to reduce the region’s carbon footprint.

For existing housing stock, upgrades are the way to go, says the OREA report. It identifies key goals to support homeowners in making building envelope improvements to their properties. Envelope improvements (upgrades to outer barriers supporting energy efficiency, from windows to walls) have been shown to be one of the best ways to reduce the consumption of natural gas – a major driver of GHG emissions from housing.

“On-bill financing is a great way to provide homeowners with upfront help to do a green renovation, which they can then pay off using the savings on their energy bills,” said Hudak. “The planet gets lower GHG emissions from homes, jobs get created in the renovation sector and homeowners get long term savings – it’s a win-win.”

Among OREA’s recommendations is a “green home renovation tax credit” and an on-bill financing for building envelope improvements, in which the government works with its energy sector stakeholders to offer residential energy efficiency programs for their customers, allowing upfront costs to be paid down over time.

Dave Heuchert, Woolwich’s chief building official, says there’s been a push to harmonize the Ontario Building Code to the national code

“Through the years, the code cycles have introduced new building code requirements to improve energy efficiency. The building code at the provincial level is changing more frequently at the moment than we’ve ever seen in the past and this would be another example of a significant change,” he said of the township’s call for higher standards.

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