Codes for Climate Change

Hotter. Colder. Wetter. Dryer. This is called climate load, and it comes in an evermore random order. The need to design homes and buildings which can live through many decades of crazy weather is upon us.

Long overdue are standards of construction which consider the whole lifespan of a building, instead of just its birth. Every piece gets old. Surfacing, structural parts, opening frames, insulation, caulking; nothing escapes the advancing pressures of long term stress inflicted by use, and natural forces.

Called predictive standards, the idea is to consider the effects, on building components, of observable changes in weather patterns. Though weather is unpredictable, the way materials change because of it is very predictable.

The current code focuses on the proper state of materials at the moment they are assembled. Instead, the focus needs to look way into the future to the final moment when the building is demolished. Two examples: 1. Even though window frames and joint caulking begin their partnership in pristine condition, the caulking will forever be exposed to sun and air-borne pollutants, which can potentially chemically transform the caulking into toxic runoff. 2. Buried sealants inside a wall system, which fail before the wall does, will undo the intent to maintain tight controls on energy use, and pollution inside and outside the building.

Current standards consider very short-term historic data to establish acceptable practices for the installation of everything in a home or building. But homes and buildings exist long-term.

The need is to think way ahead about the life of the building, and design systems and components and elements which are in the building envelope for the purpose of withstanding future climate load. The standard should include the obligation for designers to create durability plans, and the durability plans have to be based on the life of the building, the life of all the parts and pieces that go into the various shell components of the building, and the sub-elements that are part of that shell.

In Earth’s western hemisphere Canada has taken the lead. The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes has published its intent to develop codes and standards based on predictive data instead of historic data. Such data will include information on temperature trends, humidity, general precipitation, wind, wind-driven rain, freeze-thaw cycles, ice storms and UV radiation. Couple all that with materials and systems testing, so that the lifespan of every piece of every new home and building will be known from the first moment it’s installed to the last second of its existence.

Moving ahead with this, we can predict a bright future. – AB

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Andy Bozeman

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