Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative

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Canada's climate is changing from historical conditions, reflecting a global increase in temperature over the last century. Impacts of climate change are affecting many aspects of daily life. Canada's buildings and public infrastructure systems (such as bridges, roads, water and wastewater systems, energy transmission and transit) are guided by codes and standards that have largely been developed based on historical data. In many cases, this has resulted in assets that have not been designed to withstand the extreme weather events we are currently seeing, let alone the future impacts of climate change. The growing risk of building and infrastructure failure, as well as the associated hazards to the well-being of Canadians, creates an increasing need to adapt and build resilience.

This means enabling our infrastructure and communities to be prepared for climate risks like floods, wildfires, droughts, and extreme weather events, including vulnerable regions like Indigenous, northern, coastal, and remote communities. Considering climate change and extreme events in long-lived infrastructure investments, including retrofits and upgrades, and investing in traditional and natural infrastructure solutions can help communities build resilience, reduce disaster risks, and save costs over the long term.

About the Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative

With $42.5 million in financial support from Infrastructure Canada, and in support of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, since 2016 the National Research Council Canada (NRC) has undertaken ground-breaking work to integrate climate resilience into building and infrastructure design, guides, and codes.

The NRC is uniquely positioned to undertake this forward-looking project. Leveraging internationally recognized research capabilities and facilities, the NRC has expertise in infrastructure and building science. On site, it can test and monitor a wide array of infrastructure systems, including wastewater systems, building façade and roof resiliency, and bridge design. Additionally, the NRC is able to conduct ocean coastal and river engineering and fire research.

This five year initiative is intended to develop capacity in Canada's construction industries to adapt to the increasing demands on our built infrastructure attributed to climate change. It is driving innovation and providing partners with the science-based knowledge and tools they need to make sound decisions about how to design, operate, and maintain their infrastructure assets. This supports Infrastructure Canada's commitment to outcome-based programming. The work undertaken by the NRC will contribute to an infrastructure landscape that can keep Canadian communities safer from extreme weather and the effects of climate change.

Projects

The NRC's work plan includes projects divided by climate impacts and by types of assets or systems.

NRC is in the final year of this five year initiative. Milestones to date include:

Climatic Data and Loads

In collaboration with partners including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, and RWDI, the CRBCPI partners have:

  • Developed future-looking climate data, including temperature, precipitation and wind data, based on over 660 locations across Canada to be used by building and infrastructure codes and standards.
    • This data will be implemented in the 2025 Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code (CHBDC), and will be submitted for consideration by the committees of National Building Code (NBC) for its 2025 edition.

Canadian Electrical Code

  • Proposed 50 changes to the Canadian Electrical Code to increase resiliency and reliability of electricity in the context of climate change and extreme weather events.

Flooding

  • Currently developing standalone national guidelines with provisions for the design of buildings to address natural hazards, including flooding, by 2021. Code change requests that are partially based on these guidelines will be submitted for consideration in the 2025 edition of the NBC. The previous edition, NBC 2015, did not address flooding.
    • According to an economic assessment by SPA Risk and the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, flood resilience guidelines will have an 11:1 benefit-cost ratio and will help Canada avoid $2.7 billion in losses annually.
  • Developed best practices for flood risk reduction in residential communities: "Weathering the Storm", in conjunction with the Intact Centre and the Standards Council of Canada.
  • Developing national guidelines for urban storm drainage to evaluate life cycle costs – including financial, social, legal and environmental implications – and the long-term benefits of flood-risk-reduction infrastructure.
  • Created two new standards related to the Construction of Bioretention Systems (W200 and W201) that will minimize the risk of community flooding and surface water degradation caused by changes in rainfall patterns.
  • Established a technical committee to review and advise on the development of guidelines for conducting coastal flood hazard and risk assessments that will incorporate rising sea levels and other risks to improve building design.
  • Partnered with academic institutions to develop technology and research methods to increase infrastructure resilience to extreme weather.
  • Developing guidelines for buildings with buoyant foundations that can help communities at high risk of flooding based on ongoing research at the University of Waterloo.
  • For a more detailed overview of ongoing work on flooding, see below.

Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Fires

  • Currently developing standalone national guidelines with provisions for the design of buildings to address natural hazards, including wildfires, by 2021. Code change requests that are partially based on these guidelines will be submitted for consideration in the 2025 edition of the NBC. The previous edition, NBC 2015, did not address wildfire.
    • According to an economic assessment by SPA Risk and the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, WUI guidelines will have a 6:1 benefit-cost ratio and will help Canada avoid $900 million in losses annually.

Buildings

  • Rewrote the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Guideline on Durability of Building (CSA S478) – a previously optional guideline – as a standard, which allows for durability to be regulated.
  • Developed a new standard with the CSA Group on Performance Requirements for Climate Resilience of Low Slope Membrane Roofing Systems (CSA 123.26) in order to address wind-related climate risk associated with this roof type.
  • Developing guidance for new and existing buildings to ensure safe indoor conditions during heat waves based on ongoing research in collaboration with Concordia University.

Bridges

  • Released the 2019 Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code (CHBDC), which features provisions related to climate change, sustainability and resilience and fully updated historical data.
    • In Ontario alone, the new code has the potential to influence 175 projects per year. The previous bridge code had been based in part on 1970s climate data.
  • Continuing to improve guidelines for bridge durability based on results from the NRC's newly developed world-leading wind tunnel facility where the impact of climate change and extreme weather (including ice, wind and rain) on bridge cables is being tested.
  • Developing guidance for climate adaptation of existing bridges based on ongoing research in collaboration with the University of Ottawa, Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.

Water/Wastewater

  • Developed a new standard in collaboration with the CSA Group on Climate Change Adaptation for Wastewater Treatment Plants (S900.1) to increase the resiliency of water treatment plants and improve reliability of services during extreme weather events.

Roads

  • Currently developing guidance to improve climate resilience of existing roads and to guide cost-effective maintenance and rehabilitation decisions.
  • Currently conducting a field trial of pervious concrete pavement as a strategy for reducing rain runoff loads.

Transit

  • Conducting research and developing guidance pertaining to transit systems, where few standards currently exist. To enable climate change adaptation of transit systems, subway tunnels and trains in Toronto have been equipped with instrumentation that collects data. The Toronto Metro subway system is now the most instrumented system in the world and is being used to conduct research and develop guidance on overheating in public transit.
  • Developing guidelines to improve safety and passenger comfort of rail travel in cold weather based on research of rail stress dynamics and freezing and thawing cycles being completed at the Via Rail Test Site.

Technical Guide for Adaptable Housing for First Nations

  • Developing technical guidance for adaptable housing for remote/Indigenous communities in collaboration with the First Nations Building Officers Association (FNBOA).

Codes and Guide Development

In addition to the work supporting codes provisions and guidelines outlined above, the Initiative has established an oversight committee of federal departments to ensure the results are relevant, and complement related endeavours. The committee discusses the emerging results, provides direction and serves to exchange and make links to federal departments' priorities related to the Initiative, and the work of projects' technical committees.

Where available, the project is engaged with existing committees and governance structures to deliver the project outcomes. Technical committees have been established to guide research and the development of guidelines in the areas of: climatic data and loads; flood-resistant buildings; coastal flood risk assessment; wildland-urban interface design; and roof systems and building materials.

Collaborations

Over 150 collaborators contributed to the success of CRBCPI including provincial, territorial and municipal government departments; national and international experts from engineering consulting firms; industry; academia; non-profit organizations; and the climate science community.

Flooding-related activities under the CRBCPI

Climatic Design Data

  • CRBCPI is generating future climatic design data incorporating the effects of climate change for potential use by the Building Code and Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code (CHBDC).
  • Climatic design data including precipitation, temperature and wind are being generated for different global warming scenarios. Flooding-related data includes: Intensity-Duration-Frequency (IDF) curves used in the design of stormwater and flooding infrastructure, Annual Maximum one-day rain and maximum 15-min rain used in the design of roof drainage

Guidance and standards

Updates to existing codes and standards and creation of new standards:

  • CRBCPI has triggered a discussion by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes on the role of the National Building Code in addressing flooding, and is preparing code change requests related to flooding for consideration (see Guidelines for Flood-Resistant Buildings below)
  • 50 proposals for changes to the Canadian Electrical Code to increase resilience to climate change and extreme weather events were developed with CSA, including 29 proposals related to flooding. The proposals for change have been submitted to the CEC committees for their consideration.
  • A new standard was developed in collaboration with CSA on the Climate Change Adaptation for Wastewater Treatment Plants (S900.1).
  • Two new standards related to the Construction of Bioretention Systems (W200 and W201) were developed with CSA. These new standards minimize the risk of community flooding and surface water degradation from changes in rainfall patterns and extreme rainfall due to climate change.
  • The ULC Standard relating to powered backwater valves was updated to address issues related to power loss and backup power supply and to address the increased risk and frequency of flooding.
  • Updated two suites of standards related to fuel storage tanks, both above ground and below ground, to increase resilience to flooding and prevent tank damage and pollutant spills in flooded areas.

Developing new Guidance:

  • Best practices for flood risk reduction in existing residential communities "Weathering the Storm" was developed in conjunction with Intact Centre and Standards Council of Canada (SCC). SCC is now funding the development of a CSA standard based on this document.
  • A new CSA Z800 Guideline on basement flood protection and risk reduction was developed. To complement this work, NRC in partnership with ICLR developed a practical guidance document entitled "Practical Guidance for Private-Side Drainage Systems to Reduce Basement Flood Risk".
  • A contract is in place with Coulbourne Consulting to develop structural provisions for the design of new buildings to flood-related loads, and guidance to improve the flood resistance of existing buildings. The Coulbourne Consulting team had a lead role in developing similar guidance for the US including ASCE-7 (Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and other Structures) and ASCE-24 (Flood-Resistant Design and Construction). A Technical Committee and a Steering Committee on flood-resistant buildings have been established to oversee the development of these guidelines. Flooding data is being gathered for a number of locations in Canada to support this effort.
  • Two national workshops were held in 2018 to identify priorities for urban storm drainage. As a result, comprehensive national guidelines are now being developed on how to evaluate life-cycle costs and long-term benefits of flood-risk-reduction infrastructure, including financial (direct and indirect), social, legal and environmental implications, and considering uncertain future climate.
  • A technical committee was established to review and advise the development of new guidelines for conducting coastal flood hazard and risk assessments (incorporating sea level rise and other climate change effects) in Canada to support design of buildings and core public infrastructure. These guidelines are nearing completion.
  • NRC is working in partnership with the University of Ottawa to undertake Research and development of guidance for the design of bridge piers to resist the impacts of river ice, flooding loads, and debris.
  • The University of Waterloo is developing guidelines for the design of buoyant foundations. One prototype foundation has been built and the durability of different technologies under winter conditions was explored. An existing building will be retrofit with a buoyant foundation this spring.

Links to related work