CIPH will request change to Alberta hydronic slab insulation requirements

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There may soon be relief for Alberta hydronic heating contractors who fear that changes to the National Energy Code and the Alberta Energy Code will make radiant floor slab heating impractical due to new requirements for underslab insulation.

The Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating (CIPH) plans to request that the Alberta government make a code variance to amend the onerous requirements, reported Robert Waters, CIPH technical adviser for codes and standards. CIPH is also looking into having it changed in the National Energy Code, but that is a longer process, he added.

The change took effect in Alberta on Nov. 1. Waters noted that it took some time to get all the information required to request a variance from the Alberta government. CIPH will provide detailed technical information, economic costs and impact on members. As part of the process, CIPH surveyed its Alberta members to get an idea of the impact and also met with members of the Alberta hydronic heating community. The organization expects to have its request in to the Alberta government before the end of April.

“We’ve had pretty positive response from Alberta government officials,” he added.

Onerous requirements

As we reported in November, Alberta adopted Section 9.36 of the National Energy Code for Buildings into the Alberta Energy Code in May, 2016, with enforcement beginning Nov. 1. This new code requires a minimum R-value for hydronic underslab insulation of R-16, which equates to 3-1/2 to four inches, plus additional insulation around the perimeter of the slab. Current practice is one inch of foam insulation or about R5 as required by the CSA B214-12 Installation Code for Hydronic Heating Systems.

The National Energy Code divides the country into geographic regions depending on climate – these requirements are for Zone 7, which includes much of Alberta.

The Canadian Hydronics Council (CHC) estimated that the change could add as much as 300 percent to the cost of a radiant floor heating system.
In addition to more insulation, the change will require thicker slabs and more rebar to prevent deflection of the slab. The excavation will have to go deeper and, depending on the design of the walls and footings, they may have to go deeper as well.

“If it is not skating rink flat, the potential for voids underneath becomes larger,” remarked Barry Cunningham, general manager at Triangle Supply in Red Deer, Alberta.

He estimated that the typical residential project that cost $8,000 prior to Nov. 1 would now cost about $16,000. “In my opinion, it’s going to take it beyond the resources of the homeowner.”

The irony, noted Canadian Hydronics Council program manager Matt Wiesenfeld, is that these changes would push building owners to less efficient technologies that don’t require underslab insulation.

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