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After heat dome deaths, B.C. report recommends building code changes to keep people cool

Click to play video: 'Coroner: B.C. needs to do better job to protect most vulnerable from extreme heat' Coroner: B.C. needs to do better job to protect most vulnerable from extreme heat
B.C. needs to do better job to protect most vulnerable from extreme heat – Jun 7, 2022

British Columbia is better prepared to withstand a hot weather emergency, but more must be done to protect people, says the chief medical officer at the BC Coroners Service.

A death-panel report released Tuesday makes several recommendations, including changes to the province’s building codes to require “passive and active cooling” in both new and existing developments by 2024, said Dr. Jatinder Baidwan at a news conference.

“Current building codes in British Columbia do not consider cooling in the same manner as they consider heat,” he explained.

“As codes are revised, they will need to reflect the latest climate science and our reality that we face.”

Passive cooling includes building design options like insulation, air tightness, ventilation and shading. Mechanical — or active — options include heat pumps and air conditioning.

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Click to play video: '2021 heat dome report calls for changes to B.C. building codes' 2021 heat dome report calls for changes to B.C. building codes
2021 heat dome report calls for changes to B.C. building codes – Jun 7, 2022

Read more: Review into B.C.’s 2021 heat-related deaths calls for more coordinated response

Temperatures in parts of B.C. surpassed 40 C for days during last summer’s so-called heat-dome event, resulting in 619 heat-related deaths, most of them among elderly and vulnerable people in buildings without air conditioning.

The report says 98 per cent of those who died in the record-breaking heat wave were indoors and most victims “lived in socially or materially deprived neighbourhoods” compared with the general population. Ninety-three per cent may have been without air conditioning, it estimated, and 76 per cent may have been without a fan.

Baidwan said governments should offer rebate programs that encourage active and passive cooling in the current housing stock, and developing an interim measure to get residents air conditioners or fans, should an emergency arise.

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“If we can’t get something to somebody, we can actually take somebody from where they’re at risk, and put them somewhere where they’re less at risk — in a cooling centre or whatever,” he explained.

Click to play video: 'B.C. Coroner’s Service makes 3 key recommendations to prevent death during heat-related events' B.C. Coroner’s Service makes 3 key recommendations to prevent death during heat-related events
B.C. Coroner’s Service makes 3 key recommendations to prevent death during heat-related events – Jun 7, 2022

As the province mulls over the recommendations, some designers say it’s not as easy as it sounds to make changes to retrofits and new builds, particularly if the deadline is 2024.

Ron Rapp of the Homebuilders Association Vancouver said the recommendations are “valuable,” but the building code changes in particular require “some degree of clarification” as there appears to be some overlap with existing regulations.

The increased cost associated with the some of the other recommended changes also represent “quite a sea change” to make within the next 18 months, he added.

Read more: Extreme heat emergencies to be added to B.C. alert system

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BC Hydro has said if building code changed to make air conditioning mandatory, it would be able to meet the demand.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who announced on Monday that B.C.’s new heat response system will include alerts broadcast to mobile devices, said the government will consider the review and “take necessary steps to prevent heat-related deaths in the future.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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