Relief for Alberta hydronics industry in fall

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Alberta hydronic heating contractors will see some relief this fall from onerous slab insulation requirements that have virtually put the industry out of business.

Alberta Municipal Affairs is currently working on a STANDATA – a way for provincial safety code administrators to provide interpretations, alternative solutions or information about the code applied across the province – which is expected to be published this fall, reports Paul Chang, provincial building administrator, building, fire, energy, and accessibility for Alberta Municipal Affairs. The STANDATA will substantially reduce the thickness of insulation required under radiant floor heating slabs.

An increase from one-inch insulation required by the CSA B214 hydronic installation code to about four inches under National Building Code Regulation 9.36 that took effect in November 2016 resulted in substantially increased costs for both materials and changes in building design needed to preserve structural integrity.

The insulation requirement had originally been created to improve energy efficiency by preventing heat from being lost into the ground. But, technical analysis by the CSA B214 Committee had shown that insulation beyond one inch provides negligible improvement in building energy performance, said Chang. Tests have shown additional energy savings at about four percent.

Earlier this month Canadian Hydronics Council (CHC) chairman David Hughes (NAIT) received assurances from Dr. Bob Turner, MLA Edmonton-Whitemud, that changes were expected to be published soon.

“A proposed code change will also be made by PSD (Permits Safety Codes Division) to NRC (the National Research Council or NRCan) for changes to the national building code, which the manager of the Codes Centre at NRC supports.  As chair of the Provincial Territorial Policy Advisory Committee on Codes, Alberta will also present the issue to the other provinces and territories, and the proposed code solution.”

Hydronic heating is an energy efficient way of heating a homeowner’s house, said Chang. “Industry stakeholders have informed us that increased costs associated with current national slab-insulation requirements are excessive and jeopardize the availability of hydronic heating as an option for Albertans,” he added.

One Calgary contractor reported seeing local market share drop from seven percent to one percent after inspectors started enforcing the new requirement. And yet, hydronic heating has been proven to be highly energy efficient way of space heating, something the federal government is trying to encourage.

“I think that as regulations get made they are made in the best of intentions. But in this case, it doesn’t appear to be one of them; where maybe they hadn’t quite anticipated what the market effects would be,” said Matt Wiesenfeld, CHC program manager for the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating (CIPH).

“When you take any kind of housing component and make it a lot more expensive that doesn’t necessarily have to do with performance, then obviously people look at alternatives,” said Wiesenfeld.

CIPH sent a formal request to Alberta Municipal Affairs to change the insulation requirement in May 2017.

“Since the introduction of this regulation, the Council has repeatedly attempted to influence regulators with data on both cost, and performance, and with a recent statement we believe we are finally arriving at a solution that will make it possible for hydronic heating to compete on an equal footing,” said Hughes.

The Mechanical Contractors Association of Alberta and NRCan have supported the CHC initiative.

Alberta Municipal Affairs along with CIPH are advocating a reduction in the under-slab insulation requirements for hydronic heating in the National Building Code.

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