Despite challenging market conditions, the residential construction industry has raised its game significantly and taken steps to build greener and more sustainable homes and condos.

Our developers, contractors, and builders have become leaders in green building in Canada and the US and are doing everything to be part of the solution to climate change. They abide by the stringent specs of building codes while attempting to build homes that people can still afford.

In the midst of all this, though, there is a disturbing trend under way. Some municipalities are forging ahead with their own green building standards, imposing conditions that are even more restrictive than the national and provincial building codes, and setting unrealistic timelines.

This doesn’t do anything to fix our current housing crisis. It only limits competition, impedes construction of new homes and inflates development costs. In the end, the consumer ends up paying more for housing.

By way of example, the Town of Caledon has approved a new green development standards program that sets out a series of climate-friendly design standards that all new residential, commercial, and industrial development must meet. It will run as a one-year pilot.

All developments must show how their projects meet 20 different sustainability metrics in community design and mobility, green infrastructure, and buildings and energy – before they are approved.

King Township, meanwhile, has adopted the ThinKING Green Sustainable Development Standards, which will come into effect September 1. It introduces five sustainability metrics: green infrastructure, energy and conversation, built environment, natural environment, and healthy communities. Of the five considerations, there is no mention of affordability. How is that even possible?

All subdivision plan applications will have to address these metrics in order to be deemed complete. For example, 25% of hardscaped areas such as driveways, parking lots, and walkways will have to be constructed of light-coloured materials that absorb less heat from the sun.

Caledon and King Township are just a couple of examples of municipalities that are looking to impose standards to meet their climate goals. Toronto has also imposed a new green standard.

The problem is that we already have national and provincial building codes in place to deal with these issues. They’ve been thoroughly vetted. These just add another layer of bureaucracy.

The purpose of such codes is public safety. Keeping a uniform set of standards is critical for this and the reason they are mandated. They are evolving as a result of building science and cost benefit analysis.

The national and provincial codes provide predictable and uniform standards that builders must follow. It makes no sense – and only creates confusion – if individual municipalities go off script and set their own conditions for building permit approvals. The provisions in some standards require developers to use certain vendors which limits competition, impedes building, and can drastically inflate development costs. It would be like the Wild West out there.

The municipally imposed standards also lack proper authority. Municipalities can use the Planning Act and site plan measures to regulate the look and character of a building, but they aren’t allowed to set requirements for the physical construction of a building or materials. They also don’t have authority to impose code conditions that are higher than the national and provincial codes.

To bring in their own green development standards, and understand and properly assess applications, municipal in-house planning staff will need technical competencies in building science or construction practices. Approvals would grind to a halt if another layer of complexity is added.

Residential builders presently must overcome numerous obstacles to get shovels in the ground. High interest rates, as well as exorbitant taxes, fees and levies, red tape, and bureaucracy are some of the issues they face. Municipalities that push the envelope with their own green building standards will just make it more difficult for them to meet their housing targets.

Builders want to do their part to help the environment. Most contractors are small, family run businesses with families and children and have a vested interest in protecting the next generation. But it won’t help if municipalities undermine the national and provincial process.

Moving the yardsticks beyond those legislated by the present building codes will only stymie the construction of much-needed new homes. In the end, with fewer homes being built, nobody wins.

Under Construction