Mandating energy efficiency through the National Building Code of Canada would dampen voluntary conservation innovation already seen across the country, says the chief operating officer of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA).
"The minute that you regulate something into the code, all you're doing is setting a ceiling," says CHBA CEO John Kenward of Ottawa.
Kenward, who prefers a "market driven" approach, says the homebuilding industry has worked with governments to develop improved energy conservation technology and design.
"You've removed the motivation to continue to improve," he says, describing the probable outcome of acceptance of a recent recommendation by the Consumers Council of Canada (CCC) that the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings and the Model National Building Code of Canada for Houses be referenced within the National Building Code.
Though both model energy codes were first published 10 years ago, neither has been adopted by the National Building Code, first released in 1941 to address public concerns about Canada's patchwork of local bylaws that existed previously.
The Toronto-based CCC recommends in a research report funded by Industry Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs that the 2010 National Building Code embrace energy efficiency as a core objective.
A minority of provinces and municipalities have adopted varying levels of mandatory energy efficiency as a core objective without the benefit of guidance from the model energy codes, the CCC paper says.
The model energy codes contain minimum requirements for energy efficiency in new homes and new buildings other than houses.
These documents are based on a cost-benefit analysis, taking into account different regional climates, fuel type, fuel cost and construction costs. They also take into account the volatility of many of these costs.
"The overall aim of this extensive technical and economic analysis is to support cost-effective resource conservation and energy efficiency," the CCC's Energy Efficiency in Building Codes report explains.
The CHBA's Kenward says new homes are considerably more energy efficient than they were decades ago, and energy conservation resources would reap a greater payoff in the renovation of older homes.
In addition to the R-2000 energy efficiency standards developed by Natural Resources Canada and the country's homebuilding industry, says Kenward, builders in some provinces are setting their own ambitious energy guidelines.
The Energy Star for New Homes initiative, for instance, is available in Ontario and Saskatchewan. And members of participating homebuilders's associations in British Columbia and Alberta have embraced the Built Green Society of Canada's Built Green program.
"Why not focus that energy and resource to encourage those who own homes built before 1980 to increase the energy efficiency of those homes?" Kenward asks.
Jeff Morrison, of the Ottawa-based Canadian Construction Association, an association of non-residential contractors, says that while his association does not get involved in matters of provincial jurisdiction, "anything we can do to encourage greener buildings and energy efficiency is a welcome step."
Joan Huzar of Victoria, chair of the CCC's energy committee and past-president of the consumer research organization, acknowledged that good contractors often do spectacular work in energy conservation design.
However, she says, not all builders are good builders and a large portion of housing stock built today probably will need retrofitting in 10 to 15 years.
"Ideally, you'd fold the energy codes into the National Building Code," Huzar says.
"I do think that the National Building Code should have energy efficiency, as well as water (usage) efficiency, as one of its objectives," Huzar says.
Ken Elsey of Mississauga, president and CEO of Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance, applauded the CCC report. "Consumers have an expectation that when they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home, it will be energy efficient," he says.
The CCC paper reviews several key surveys carried out to determine the level of consumer awareness of, and demand for, energy efficiency in their new homes; then notes the existence of widespread public support for such design work.
It then reveals the results of its own federally funded Canadawide survey conducted by Maritz Research via Omnitel, the national telephone omnibus service, in February 2007.
Eighty-six per cent of the respondents reported that energy efficiency was important to varying degrees in their decision to purchase a new home, with 23 per cent saying this was extremely important to them, 39 per cent saying this was very important and 24 per cent saying this was important.
Seventy-seven per cent reported that they looked for an energy rating level such as EnerGuide, EnergyStar and R-2000 to help them assess the energy efficiency of the home they were considering buying.
Seventy-two per cent said the National Building Code should include energy efficiency requirements for houses and buildings to serve as a model for any province to adopt.
"Consumers overwhelmingly support mandatory energy efficiency provisions within provincial codes," the CCC paper concludes.
Notes the CCC's Huzar: "The people who can't afford to buy the better-insulated houses have to pay more in higher energy costs."
The CCC rose in 1994 from the ashes of the Consumers Association of Canada (Ontario) a few months after the struggling CAC wound up its affairs. CAC-Ontario was dealt the fatal blow four years earlier when the Ontario government ended its operating grant.
In the years since, the CCC has developed the expertise to carry out government-funded policy research, a significant switch from its previous role as a consumer lobby group. It believes that working cooperatively with business to manage consumer interests is the most effective way to advance the consumer interest.
Building codes in Canada are concerned with health, safety, accessibility and the protection of buildings from fire or structural damage.
Under Canada's Constitution Act, building regulation is the responsibility of provincial and territorial governments.
The Model National Energy Code of Canada for Houses has not been adopted by any province or territory, but a few have used some of its requirements in their building codes.
The Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings has been referenced by the Province of Ontario and the City of Vancouver.
(Brock Ketcham is an Edmonton-based writer who specializes in consumer and public policy issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)