Global Warming Forces A Building Code Rewrite | Episode 19

With Marianne Armstrong, Canada’s National Research Council

With Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, it is more crucial than ever that our infrastructure performs the double duty of protecting residents from extreme weather while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Heeding the warnings, Canada is revamping the building codes to react to climate change where we live, work and move. This type of mitigation effort is one of the most effective strategies to protect communities against the effects of natural hazards like flooding rains and oppressive heat waves that are chipping away at our aging infrastructure.

“We have special teams of research engineers looking at how buildings, roads, bridges, water and transit will all be affected by climate change and what can be done to ensure our assets last as long as we need them to”, says Marriane Armstrong from Canada’s National Research Council.

In this episode of the Big Blue Marble, we explore what some of the rewritten codes include, how they will be determined and “if” they are coming to your neighbourhood.


Help protect our forests and wetlands from developers by supporting the crucial work the Conservation Authorities do across the province.  Tell the Ontario Provincial Government “NO” – to BILL 229 Schedule 6.

Hidden in their latest budget Bill is a clause which will take away any control over the protection of our precious wetlands, forests, wildlife habitat and natural spaces from Conservation Authorities, and give huge new powers to developers to push through destructive projects.

Worse, by sneaking through these changes buried in a budget bill, the government is avoiding the public consultation that is normally required on laws that impact the environment.

Help Support Your Conservation Authorities Here

Full Interview Transcript

Voice Over: [00:00:00] You are listening to the Big Blue Marble Podcast with Anwar Knight..

Anwar Knight:[00:00:13]

Good day, my friends. Thanks so much for your company today. As we begin episode 19 here on the Big Blue Marble Podcast, do you know they're almost 1800 jurisdictions and local governments in over 30 countries that have now declared a climate emergency .Toronto, Branford, St. John's, Vancouver, New York, San Diego Barcelona, Milan. Just a few of the cities all have declared a climate emergency. It's a step forward signaling a government's acknowledgement of the seriousness of our climate crisis. And it also starts to put a spotlight on the resources and future investments that will help ensure a community remains resilient as we adapt to our warming world.

And that's it right there. To ensure a community remains resilient. As we adapt to our warming world. You know, all of us use and rely on extremely vulnerable infrastructure every day. We may not realize it, but we do. From the roads that we drive on ,that sidewalk, the stretches all along the street on where you live, the pipes that are deep underground that provide your water supply and how your city or town operates can be changed in an instant. Because of climate change. Let me give you an example, your roads, whether it's a major highway or your neighborhood cul de sac it was designed and built for local weather and climate conditions. It's functionality is based on historical temperature and precipitation data in that region. So that means the average temperatures that normally occur throughout the year. Plus of course, precipitation, rain, and snow, et cetera, but in the face of new weather and climate extremes, those roads will now be pushed beyond the range that engineer's originally planned for. So it means the potential for that asset to become stressed and fail. Yeah. Yeah, I know it's just a road that isn't until a flooding rain storm washes a part of it away.

Now it may prevent you from getting home. It may prevent access to emergency services, and that's just one part of our infrastructure that is alarmingly vulnerable to the shocks of climate change. A more personal connection is where you sleep at night, your homes, the place you work, maybe schools, bridges, all of it. We're designed for the past, not the future, not a future that is in our rapidly changing planet. And we won't even touch, you know, things like communication towers, water treatment plants, et cetera. So the first time a major rewrite in our building codes is now underway to address the stresses of climate change.

Everything from flooding rainstorms, to hurricanes, to sweltering, heat waves that trigger wildfires. It all takes a toll on our built environment. Marianne Armstrong from Canada's National Research Council will be joining us. She is a part of a team that is completing a major building code rewrite here in Canada.
But the kicker here is this elaborate initiative with tens of millions of dollars spent. And yet it still doesn't guarantee that the rewrite will be implemented. We'll explain why in moments .Global warming forces of building code rewrite. That's next here on the Big Blue Marble Podcast.

Voice Over: [00:03:38]
Have a question, comment or show idea. Let us know at

Anwar Knight:[00:03:47]

From the nation's capital, joining us from Ottawa, Ontario. We welcome Marianne Armstrong. She is a Research Council Officer with Canada's National Research Council. Thanks for your time today.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:03:58]

Thank you for inviting me.

Anwar Knight:[00:03:59]

This was a huge endeavor. If I have it right more than 100 researchers were involved and the budget was over $40 million. Is this the first of its kind?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:04:10]

It really is world leading. So it's the first of its kind in Canada, for sure. We're working with Infrastructure Canada, thanks to them. And as you said, over $40 million putting towards over 30 different research projects in this country. So we're looking at how buildings, bridges, roads, water, wastewater, and transit will all be affected by climate change and what can be done to ensure that our assets last, as long as we need them to.

Anwar Knight:[00:04:34]

And I'm very curious, what were some of the teams that contributed their expertise to this rewrite project?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:04:40]

So, first of all, working with a whole bunch of scientists here at NRC, we have our engineers on a bridge engineering, building engineering to understand how roofs and walls work. We're also working with our aerospace engineers.

They were looking at bridge cable design in wind tunnels to see how ice and freezing rain would affect the vibrations of the wind tunnel or the, of the, of the cables. and we're also working with our oceans and coastal engineering group to look at, how to design in flood prone areas and how we can improve coastal design and understand coastal risk in this country.

Anwar Knight:[00:05:14]

Well, I'm glad you mentioned coastal design and risk because I'm assuming here that a bulk of the study portion of this project would have been just breaking down the geographical impacts. Surely it's not one code fits all here. What coastal communities like Atlantic Canada would experience would be completely different than those living in the Eastern Prairie's or perhaps Southern Ontario. Is it that specific?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:05:39]

It certainly is. We have a number of different locations in Canada, different regions in Canada. For example, the North part of this country is warming up at twice the rate of the rest of the country. So there's a lot of different considerations we need to take into effect. Coastal, for example, we're looking at the East Coast, the West Coast, the Great Lakes.

We're looking at what can be done for urban centres, what can be done for rural areas. So you've got the whole gamut in this country and it's a wonderful marvelous country, but it does have its challenges because it is so big.

Anwar Knight:[00:06:11]

So how does this all work? Where would your team begin on this? What were some of the research variables that were a part of the study?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:06:18]

Well, what we're doing right now is we're trying to understand how our buildings act in the current environment and how the future is going to change that. So if we can maintain the level of performance we have now, which is done really fairly good across the country, and we want to make sure that it stays that way in the future.

So we're looking at things like temperature, precipitation, and wind to understand how those are going to change in the future to make sure we can maintain, our standards here in this country. But some of the other areas that we realized we needed to do a little bit more work on include that wildland-urban interface and also the flooding area.

So if we're going to be building in areas that we'll see either current or future flood loads were coming up with guidance on how to do so. So things such as having a certain level of, or having the building raised up a certain level, a use of different materials so that they don't end up causing mold in the future.
I'm also looking at. different structural design to make sure that the buildings don't say float away, which would not be good.

Anwar Knight:[00:07:19]

No, absolutely not. and not just for say a homeowner, but also for insurance companies, because according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada water damage has surpassed fire as the leading cause of home insurance payouts.

And I'm sure, you know, they're also calling for a national flood mitigation strategy to manage the rising danger. Yeah. But I, I found it very interesting though. This is more than just securing infrastructure. It's also about indoor living conditions like dealing with extreme heat. What would be the strategy there?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:07:50]

Well, when I think of, of overheating, for example, I think of simple things that can be done, such as outdoor shading to prevent heat during, during summer heat waves, being one option. Planting trees also helps with urban heat Islanding, for example, but also keeping shade, keeping your window shaded in the summer.

So those are some simple things that could be done at the homeowner level. And we're looking at different types of building, including including houses and trying to understand. what methods can be used to make sure that they stay comfortable in the summer and also don't cause health, health issues, especially for elderly children, people with health conditions.

And by doing that, we're looking at passive methods. So we're not looking at air conditioning more cause that'll, potentially add to, to issues on the greenhouse gas side. but we're looking at passive measures like shading, like having better ventilation, looking at larger buildings, maybe having, a safe space that people can go to a cool space that can go to, to cool off.

So all these options are being considered and we're actually running them through different models to understand what are going to be some of the best methods that we can use to prevent overheating.

Anwar Knight:[00:08:54]

Yeah, and it's all connected. Isn't it? Extreme heat waves impact, not only people or occupants, but of course, depending on where you live, there's also the real risk of wildfires because of extreme heat.
You can just, look in the last five years alone. It has been devastating in Western Canada. we all remember the images of the Fort MacMurray fire in 2016. Burned almost 600,000 hectors destroyed over 2,400 homes. And the fact that the entire city of 80,000 people had to evacuate. BC also had a record breaking fire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

And the trend is frightening since the 1970s, the average area burned in Canada each year has almost doubled. I was reading a report from Wildland Fire Professor Mike Flanagan from the University of Alberta. And he stated that for every degree of warming, the number of lightning strikes goes up by about 12% and lightning causes more than half of the wildfires in the country. So it's really astounding. So what are some of the things that this report focused on as a solution?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:10:03]

We'd look at what materials to use for the building. Some of the landscape design around it to prevent the spread of fire, some of the maintenance issues associated with that.
So really looking at how we can prevent the spread of fire through different ways from fire spreads, from radiation, as friends, from embers that can land and collect in different areas. So what we can do to help prevent things igniting and spreading.

Anwar Knight:[00:10:27]

And of course the priority is always given on what can be done that would make assets safer for the public at large. I mean, that's essential. It makes total sense, but stepping away from that. And I think this is important too, when it comes to spending for our future infrastructure projects. If climate change doesn't directly damage an asset. It does impact the lifespan of an asset. So you not only have to have additional maintenance costs now, but there's also an ecological cost of rebuilding it, right?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:10:57]

There definitely is.
Yeah. So for example, if we need to repave a road every 10 years, instead of every 20 years it's going to cost more, both from materials and the cost of, of bringing in, the equipment, all the greenhouse gases associated with the manufacturing. With the operation of those vehicles. So you have to take all this into account when you're making the decisions upfront on how to build these initially.

Anwar Knight:[00:11:22]

It seems like such a tangled web of calculations and formulas. It's one thing to have a predetermined cost, you know, what, what are the dollars and cents to build a stretch of roadway? But to factor it all in what an enormous task to figure it all out on. What is the most beneficial path to take?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:11:42]

It certainly is. And in some cases we're doing life cycle assessment for different assets where we're looking at bridges, we're looking at roads and at some of the first studies on life cycle assessment for these assets. And something that we discovered early on in the project and has led to another project now, is a need for information to advise these studies.
So we're actually developing currently a lifecycle inventory database that looks at the embodied greenhouse gases and different construction materials that we use in Canada.

Anwar Knight:[00:12:11]

Yeah. See, and we just look at it as a road that we drive on. But I think the issue is that when we hear the term building codes, we tend to think first of it being homes, but this is infrastructure as a whole, that covers a wide spectrum.
And you alluded to it earlier. It also means wastewater, transit and bridges. And I'm curious for something like that, what would be modified if we're talking about bridges, what would be modified?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:12:37]

One example is corrosion. So as temperatures go up, corrosion rates also go up and we've been looking at how to improve the design of, of bridges to, to ensure that they last, as long as you want them to. In case of bridges, you expect them to last about 75 years, for example.

So we're looking at what can be done first. For example, adding a thin layer of concrete on the bridge deck itself that prevents the, the salt in winter from getting too far down into the concrete and leading to higher corrosion. So there's little things like that that could be done to improve the performance.

Anwar Knight:[00:13:11]

Wow. Isn't that something on two fronts, actually, not only about the corrosion, but the fact in general, that bridges have a lifespan of about 75 years. I never knew. So how will this information be communicated to the public at large and maybe not in bridges per se, but overall.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:13:28]

So a few ways. So one way is we're going to be making the guidance from our project available to everyone.
So within a year or so, most of these projects are all the projects I've spoken about will be wrapped up and we'll have information available to whoever, whoever would like it. but also we're looking at working with the National Building Code and the system. So we don't write the code. So we can't just march in there and tell them what to put in it.

But we can provide the information that's needed for them to adapt the building code. So out of work, such as overheating work, we're going to be coming up with code change requests that are going to feed to the committees and be considered for the 2025 building code.

Anwar Knight:[00:14:03]

So to be clear, these new building codes are just requests then. They're not enforced.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:14:09]

Okay. So you're getting into how the code system works and it's a little bit complicated, but I'll, I'll do my best to explain it. so the National Building Code first step there's it's written by volunteers. It's written by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire codes, which is a bunch of volunteers from across the country, with different interests, different regional representation.

So we got a good idea of, of some of the concerns for each code change request, and we can do a good job of understanding, how it's going to impact different parts of the country, different populations, so we can make good decisions on the behalf of all Canadians. So once the code has been developed by the commission, it says published, but it's still not enforced.

So to be enforced, it has to be adopted by the provinces in whole or in part, so they can choose to use the whole building code. They use part of it. They can add some of their own material to it. And then that is in use within the province. And then it's up to the municipalities then to enforce it. So they're the ones in charge of regulation?

Anwar Knight:[00:15:10]

Well, that's very interesting because I don't think a lot of people are aware of that. So your team will present it and make the recommendation, but it's still ultimately up to other parties to prove and execute it, namely the respect of municipality.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:15:23]

But it isn't up to, up to us to enforce this information. it really is up to the municipality level to decide what to enforce in the region, but they can also go above and beyond code. So there's no reason someone can build a better, more resilient home, for example, and build above the codes. Really the role of the codes is the minimum to ensure the health and safety of Canadians.

Anwar Knight:[00:15:48]

Yeah. I appreciate that. I'm just wondering though, right? That ultimately these recommended changes will come with a cost. And for some municipalities, it may not be in the budget. They may not be prepared for it and choose not to implement the change. Is that a possiblity?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:16:03]

Well, there is the possibility that adaptation can add costs to building projects, but the hope is that technology can also keep up the pace. So this is a, from the standpoint of a researcher, I look at it as if we can identify how something needs to perform. We can help different companies to develop the technologies needed, hopefully at lower costs to ensure that adaptation does it come at too high a premium.

Ultimately, we want to be able to adapt for, for minimum cost and see the benefits over the longterm. And that's really the ultimate goal. And it's going to take working with, with different parties across the country to make that possible.

Anwar Knight:[00:16:40]

And I guess you have to start somewhere, but the fact that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world has still some critics saying that these new recommendations, which are slated to be released in 2025 are not coming soon enough.

What are your thoughts?

Marianne Armstrong:[00:16:56]

When we first started the project, there was no information. So it takes time to do things right. And so we've been working on looking at what needed to be done for the country and addressing those, those issues and generating that base of information and where some of the first people in the world to do this.

So when you're starting from scratch four years, so far, four years is not a lot of, lot of time. So I feel like we're really getting the ball rolling. We've really got momentum. And I think we're all mobilized to move in the right door.

Anwar Knight:[00:17:25]

And likely a template that other countries around the world will be looking at.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:17:28]

Certainly. And we're already seeing interest from US,, Australia. New Zealand. We all met to discuss a future of building codes and climate loads. So certainly, people are looking towards us and it's a great place to be.

Anwar Knight:[00:17:42]

Well thanks very much for giving us a guided tour through the upcoming changes. I, I think it's a great step forward.

Marianne Armstrong:[00:17:48]

Well, thank you very much.

Anwar Knight:[00:17:49]

Marianne Armstrong has been my guest today. She is a Research Council Officer. With Canada's National Research Council.

Time now to travel the world with another edition of the Blue Files, Australia's about to build a football size battery that'll help stabilize a part of its energy grid. The installation is a partnership with Tesla using their technology for lithium ion batteries, and it will be located in the state of Victoria., Australia's second, most populous region. That state relies heavily on coal powered plants. This project is a part of the overall goal to derive 50% of its power from renewable sources by the end of this decade. The move to a modernized power generator and storage system is seen as critical by Australian officials in order to help meet growing demands that are overwhelming older power grids that suffered numerous blackouts in recent years. The mega battery is expected to have the capacity to power a half a million homes for one hour while the Victorian big batteries, the largest in the Southern hemisphere, even larger battery projects are scheduled for installation in the US in both New York and California. Some preliminary research has found that air pollution may contribute to an increase in deaths from COVID-19.

The connection to heart and lung disease due to breathing in dirty air over years is already known. But this new research is sounding alarm bells on how air pollution can make infections from illnesses like Coronavirus worse. The new research is published in the journal science advances. The study investigated the impact of long-term exposure to find particulate matter on COVID-19 mortality rates in over 3000 counties in the U S covering 98% of the population.

It found that each extra microgram of tiny particulate matter per cubic meter of air. Over the long-term increases the COVID-19 mortality rate by 11%. That puts the link between COVID-19 and air pollution, roughly on par with the link between the disease and smoking. Although further studies will need to be carried out.

It raises the prospect of air pollution data being used to forecast which areas may need the most help in treating people with the illness. Could hemp help build cities. The uses for the plant are extensive. From makeup carpet to fuel, and now more than ever in construction, like its namesake concrete, hempcrete is a material mixed with a binder that hardens it into a solid in the form of blocks and panels made from the dried woody core of hemp stocks and align based binder. Hempcrete can be cast just like concrete, but unlike concrete hempcrete actually sequesters CO2. One study found that hempcrete can sequester 307 kilograms of CO2 per cubic meter. That's 19 pounds per cubic foot. Roughly the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of three refrigerators. While we are growing it and building hempcrete it's sucking CO2 the whole time and encapsulating the CO2 in the structure says Eric McKee, the founder of the US Hemp Building Association.

Meanwhile, a Canadian company, Just Bio Fiber based in Alberta produces a similar product with production advancements. Their hemp bricks improves air quality because it regulates humidity ensuring no mold can grow. And it is a significant insulator. Terry Radford, the CEO says it works really well in hot climates without the need for air conditioning and same in cold environments, he added the product is sustainable carbon negative and a quicker build then using concrete.

We'll continue to keep an eye on that story in the months ahead. And that's this edition of the Blue Files.
And in our remaining moments, I want to say hello and thank you to Requin on Twitter also Rose and the CVC, that's the credit Valley Conservation Authority. I really appreciate you retweeting and sharing my posts on Twitter and Instagram. It goes a long way and getting the word out of what we're trying to do here on this podcast.

If you'd like to connect with me, it's at anwarknight.a n w a r Knight with a K that's for Instagram and Twitter, and on Facebook it's anwarknighttv. And then we'll say hello to you on the next episode. Thanks so much for that. You know, the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, by the way is one of many great conservation authorities here in the province of Ontario in Canada, and I've done some work with them and they need our help. All of them do for our listeners here in this province, a quick call to action.

You may or may not know that the provincial government is proposing significant changes that would essentially strip the power away from conservation authorities here in the province. And this is huge. It will impact all of us in so many ways. And it was buried in their latest budget bill. It's a clause that will take away any control over the protection of our precious wetlands, forest, wildlife habitat, and natural spaces from the conservation authorities, and yet give new powers to developers so they can push through potentially destructive projects.

So they get more rights. They can now, if this goes through, they can force fast track approvals, and it also gives them increased rights to appeal decisions. If they don't like it. All of this without providing the same opportunity to citizens who may wish to challenge those decisions because it damages the environment.
So an example, you may not get a say if they want to develop a ravine near your home, if this goes through. So think about that. And once a greenspaces gone, once it's developed, you never get that back. So we have, have to really help them out. Conservation Authorities are a vital line of defense for our natural spaces that help mitigate flood risk. Provide precious land for recreational activities, hiking, fishing, and of course, essential habitats for the many species of wildlife, including endangered species that call Ontario home.

And I want you to think back for a moment as we've been dealing with this pandemic, especially during the summertime think how important nature has been.

During all the lockdowns, the restrictions being able to spend at least some time outdoors connecting with nature. It has been so beneficial for me personally. I'm sure many others. So it's time that we stand up for nature. Tell your MPP to remove Bill 229, Schedule Six from the budget bill and protect Ontario's wetlands and forests from developers.

I've made it really easy, by the way, I've put a link in today's show notes, you just click on it. And what you'll do once you put in your postal code, it automatically finds your MPP. And then you can just put your email address and, and fire off an email. And it's very important because at the end of the day, If we all do this, they're going to have to respond.

So please let's work together and let's remove Bill 229 Schedule Six from the budget bill, and let's push forward to stand up for nature because once it's gone, once that protection, once those guardians are pushed off to the side, it's going to be very, very difficult to get back in the game here.

All right on that note. As we wrap up on our site at, of course, you'll be able to see a link to our newsletter. Please sign up for that. It's free. And each month we send it out to your inbox, a whole bunch of great different stories that we're unable to cover here on the show. this month's edition will be out in a few days.

And of course, just so you know, there's no cost and we don't sell your email addresses or anything like that, but you can subscribe bigbluemarbledotearth and, to our subscribers of the show. Well, you know the benefits. If you subscribe to this podcast you will get an alert before anyone else on when a new episode is available.

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Stay safe. Be well, my friends I'm Anwar Knight, wishing you a great day on the Big Blue Marble.