Being concerned about resource depletion such as peak oil, peak natural gas, and overall energy production and natural resource decline, I thought it would be interesting to see if the Ontario Building Code acknowledges these very serious and imminent issues. I say imminent, because even if a resource peaks and enters decline 25 years from now, the buildings being constructed today under the current Code will still be around, consuming what’s left, and will have contributed to the problem in the first place. The same can be applied to climate change, given that construction and building operations account for 40% of greenhouse gas production.

The Ontario Building Code (2006) establishes its goals in Division A. It has overall objectives that the Code seeks to achieve and then functional statements relating to those objectives. Both the objectives and functional statements are inherently qualitative, meaning no numbers or other facts. This is an appropriate way to separate goals from the solutions to those goals.

In Division A Table, objective OR2 is “Resource Conservation – Energy Conservation”. It states:

An objective of this Code is to limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of a building, a natural resource will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of depletion or the capacity of the infrastructure supporting the use of the resource will be exposed to an unnatural risk of being exceeded, caused by the consumption of energy.

Then the related functional statement F131 in table indicates that statements in the building code relating to resource conservation are designed “To limit excessive energy consumption“.

That’s interesting. The entire goal of the energy components of the building code boils down to resource depletion or the ability to produce and deliver the resource, and not to use it all up too quickly. But notice the lack of numbers.

Who defines what an unacceptable risk is? Well, Appendix A comes along and says Division B with all of its prescriptive requirements forming the bulk of the Building Code that everyone talks about is considered to be boundaries between acceptable risk and unacceptable risk. That is, “the risk remaining once the acceptable solutions in Division B have been implemented represents the residual level of risk deemed to be acceptable by the broad base of Canadians who have taken part in the consensus process used to develop the Code.”

There we have it. The key to changing the building code is to somehow get into the consensus process. But how does it work?

Here is my understanding of the process. The Province of Ontario sets out in legislation in the Building Code Act the various powers that the regulations under the act will have. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing administers those regulations in the documents comprising the Ontario Building Code. It’s good to leave an act as general as possible because it’s hard to change an act, while regulations can be changed without having to pass through the legislature.

The Building Advisory Council is the vehicle by which the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing solicits strategic advice on policy, technical and administrative issues related to the Building Code Act and the Building Code regulations. The terms of reference of the council is available in a PDF document on the Ministry web site.

Those terms of reference spell out the organizations who may have a designate to be on the Building Advisory Council, although the Minister can appoint additional members at will. To find out who the current designates are, have a look at the most recent minutes, available at the Building Advisory Council’s index page on the Ministry web site.

Following the chain of command approach, as an engineer I would contact the designate for Professional Engineers Ontario, the designate from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, or the representative from the Consulting Engineers of Ontario. A contractor might contact the representative from the Ontario General Contractors Association, and/or the designate for the Council of Ontario Construction Associations.

Any individual can always make submissions directly to the Ministry or the Minister, without having to do through the Building Advisory Council. But having a recommendation endorsed by the committee is helpful.

However, the Building Advisory Council is only an advisory panel. The Ministry as a whole, and ultimately the Minister, can do what they please. They can take recommendations under advisement and then turn around at make a step in a different direction, for political or other reasons. I’m sure when the engineers had an issue with Building Code Act about jurisdiction between it and the Professional Engineers Act, their complaints were dutifully passed along through the Building Advisory Council to the Ministry, which were then dutifully ignored. Nothing was changed until PEO applied to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2006 and won in May 2007.

In conclusion, to reform the Building Code such that Division B significantly raises the bar on energy performance of buildings and in effect lowers the threshold for the acceptable risk of resource depletion, we need to work with the Building Advisory Council members, the Acting Director of the Buildings and Development Branch as well as other people from the Building and Development Branch who are present at the BAC meetings, the Minister, and finally the Premier of Ontario. It wouldn’t hurt to work with your local Member of Provincial Parliament too. And if all else fails and you think you have a case, go to court.

The Ontario Building Code (2006), as with as all provincial acts and regulations, is available for free in a Word document on e-Laws but the online version does not contain the contents of the Volume 2, such as the supplementary standards.