Andrée Iffrig, Senior Sustainability Strategist at DIALOG, shares her thoughts on climate change resolutions for A&E firms in 2021.
Architecture and engineering firms can make two resolutions for 2021 that would be game changers: Stop using historic climate data and resolve to build substantially better than code. Together, these address the climate emergency and prepare our building stock and infrastructure for a climate-changed future.
When engineers prepare energy models, they typically use 30 years of historic climate data. When architects research weather factors such as wind velocity and direction, historic data informs their results. The problem with this accepted practice is that we no longer live in a previous climate. We live in a new climate that is not remotely like the old one, as NASA and NOAA research reveals.
Projections based on sound climate science reveal that by 2050 in most of southern Canada, it will be 2C hotter and there will be more precipitation. Northern Canada will be hotter still. This heat and precipitation won’t come in well ordered, gradual increments but in spikes of intense heat waves and unusually heavy rain events.
Designing to historic climate data may be legal but it does not serve the building owner or the occupants. We usually build for a 30-60 year life span, yet we are using historic data to inform design and engineering in a climate emergency.
The National Research Council (NRC), Canada’s building code provider, acknowledges current codes do not factor in the new climate. A new model code reflecting climate change data will be released by 2025, with research ongoing to craft a code with the goal of building resiliently.
Given that the model code may not be implemented immediately in every province and territory, that leaves a gap of several years to fill. NRC is releasing interim measures such as best practices for flood risk reduction in residential communities and new guidelines for urban storm drainage, but it will be business as usual well into the 2020s unless architects and engineers decide to design differently.
If we factor in this new climate’s impacts, the ROI for building better is readily apparent. When horizontal infrastructure and buildings are built to a higher performance standard, they immediately buy their owners, occupants and communities extra time to adapt to climate change. A little extra care and money up front translates into less need for adaptation over the next 20-30 years. Net zero buildings will fare better than code-built ones as the climate emergency worsens. Roads and bridges built to higher standards such as ENVISION or the PIEVC Protocol will outlast business-as-usual examples.
We are all anxious to leave COVID and 2020 behind us. Let’s make 2021 the year the A&E sector gets serious about addressing the climate emergency. Regardless what current building codes permit, we can resolve to use future-proof data, build better and educate ourselves about the implications of this new climate.