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Canada’s national energy code

Around the world, energy codes are recognized as one of the most cost-effective tools for achieving energy efficiency in buildings. In Canada, the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) was developed as part of a commitment to improving the energy efficiency of Canadian buildings and reducing GHG emissions. The NECB applies to large buildings and sets out the technical requirements for the energy-efficient design and construction of new buildings and additions.

The NECB is published along with a suite of National Model Codes. These model codes address the design and construction requirements for buildings, and ensure new construction meets minimum health, safety, and performance standards.

New code pathways to higher energy performance

The latest version of the NECB was published by the National Research Council in March 2022. The NECB 2020 contains multiple new changes over its 2017 predecessor, such as reducing the maximum allowable thermal transmittance for windows and doors and above grade opaque assemblies, reducing the maximum allowable lighting power densities for interior and exterior lighting, and much more.

The 2020 edition is an important step toward Canada’s goal of achieving Net Zero Energy Ready (NZER) buildings by 2030. An NZER building is highly energy efficient but does not include onsite renewable energy production to offset annual energy consumption from operations.

For the first time, the NECB includes progressive performance tiers to maximize energy efficiency in new construction. This new approach sets the direction for industry and enables provinces and territories to incrementally adopt higher levels of performance within one code. The NECB 2020 has 4 tiers of performance improvement, with the last tier yielding at least a 60% reduction in energy consumption over the baseline tier 1. The energy efficiency improvements per tier of the NECB 2020 are as follows:

  • Tier 1: Baseline target
  • Tier 2: improvement of 25% over Tier 1
  • Tier 3: improvement of 50% over Tier 1
  • Tier 4: improvement of 60% over Tier 1

Code Harmonization

In Canada, provinces and territories regulate the design and construction of new buildings. While the national model codes are prepared centrally by the independent Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, with input from stakeholders across the country, adoption of the codes is the responsibility of provincial and territorial authorities having jurisdiction.

Provinces and territories have adopted or adapted various editions of the National Model Codes, including the NECB. Inconsistent model code adoption can lead to barriers to trade, investment, and labour mobility within Canada, as well as increased costs to businesses and consumers. Efforts to harmonize code adoption across Canada are underway via the federal, provincial, territorial Regulatory Reconciliation and Cooperation Table – a body established by the Canadian Free Trade Agreement to align regulatory frameworks across all jurisdictions. A reconciliation agreement was signed by the parties to reduce variations between jurisdictional construction codes and the national codes and to limit future misalignments through a clear timeline for adoption (e.g., the 2020 codes should be adopted within 24 months of publication and subsequent codes within 18 months of publication).

The evolution of Canada’s energy code

A consortium of provinces, utilities, industry stakeholders, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Natural Resources Canada developed the Model National Energy Code for Buildings (MNECB) in 1997. It was Canada’s first national standard for building energy performance and it influenced the way buildings were designed in Canada for more than 15 years.

In 2011, the MNECB was renamed the National Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) for consistency with the other model national construction codes (National Building Code of Canada, National Plumbing Code of Canada , National Fire Code of Canada). The NECB 2011 outlined the minimum energy efficiency levels for all new buildings, including an average 25 % performance improvement over its predecessor, and offered more flexibility for achieving code compliance.

The next edition of the code – the NECB 2015, contained more than 90 new changes helping to ensure a greater level of energy efficiency in new Canadian buildings. Examples of changes include new thermal requirements for semi-heated buildings, updated maximum allowable lighting power densities, new prescriptive requirements for hydronic pump systems and heat rejection equipment, demand control ventilation for parking garages, and more.

The interim 2017 edition of the NECB was then published to improve overall energy performance of buildings over the 2015 edition. Modelling for these changes indicated a potential energy efficiency improvement of between 10 and 14 % over the NECB 2011.

Build to code and save on energy

Building to NECB requirements will help reduce energy consumption, save on energy bills, reduce peak energy demand, and improve the quality and comfort of the building's indoor environment.

Building to code is the most cost-effective option

The most cost-effective time to incorporate energy efficiency measures into a building is during the initial design and construction phase. It is much more expensive to retrofit later. This is particularly true for the building envelope.

The NECB focuses on five key building elements typically considered during design:

  1. Building envelope – Includes walls, windows, doors and roofing, and addresses air infiltration rates and thermal transmission.
  2. Lighting – Measures such as reducing lighting power densities, using lighting controls and making effective use of available daylight are all considered here.
  3. Heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems – Includes heat recovery ventilation, pipe and duct insulation, and building automation and control systems to optimize equipment operation.
  4. Service water heating – Considers all the ways hot water is used in a building and includes requirements to limit water flow rates and maximize waste-water heat recovery, and sets minimum performance standards for service water heating equipment.
  5. Electrical power systems and motors – Establishes requirements for monitoring energy use of electrical distribution systems, sets limits on the size of conductors so as to minimize voltage drop, and establishes standards to govern the selection of transformers and electrical motors.

How to show you are in compliance

Prior to issuing a building permit, municipal code officials will generally require evidence that the design is code compliant. Code compliance is an important part of ensuring actual energy savings are realized. The NECB offers three compliance paths: prescriptive, trade-off and performance. These compliance paths allow for buildings to comply with the energy code in different ways.

Energy software can be used to demonstrate compliance with some of the NECB paths for various editions of the code.

It is important to check with your province or territory for any code or compliance tool variations.

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