It’s not your imagination: your house is taking more of a beating from the weather than in the past. Storms, freezing rain, heavy rains and strong winds are nothing new; but with the climate change of recent decades, the frequency and severity of these disturbances have been increasing—and the consequences are serious for certain types of buildings.

The new reality in construction and renovation

If you’re planning major work on your home, you need to consider some of the risks associated with climate change. They are part of the new reality, whether you’re reshingling the roof, replacing the exterior cladding, upgrading doors and windows or enlarging your house. The long-term performance of its elements and maintenance of a healthy indoor environment depend on these considerations.

The new climate reality also demands that you inspect your house more often and step up maintenance of its building envelope to guard against premature deterioration.

This chart summarizes the impacts of the changes in the weather noted in recent years.

Climate phenomena
on the rise in Quebec
Impacts on buildings
More frequent freeze/thaw cycles
  • Greater humidity-related constraints related to exterior concrete elements, among other things
  • Greater risk of ice dams forming on sloped roofs
Thawing and rain in winter
  • Excess weight on roofs
  • Water infiltration (due to ice forming and blocking normal runoff)
Heavy rains (sudden flooding)
  • Flooding
  • Sewer backups
  • Insufficient drainage from flat roofs, etc.
High winds (storms)
  • Raising or detaching of exterior cladding elements (walls, roof)
  • Water/air leakage
Summer heat waves
  • Overheating of poorly insulated/ventilated attic spaces and poorly insulated / non-air-conditioned homes 
Higher pollen concentrations in the air
  • Deterioration of air quality in naturally ventilated buildings 
Bacteria, virus and parasite growth in waterways (in southern Quebec)
  • Incidence on water quality in homes with private wells

Why worry about these consequences? Because the majority of houses in existence today were designed and built before scientists began noticing the gradual changes in our climates. As a result, properties often contain built-in flaws that can cause their premature deterioration.

Monitor dangers and fix faults… without delay

What can we do to help existing buildings (especially older ones) better resist the ravages of the weather? Most important, keep our eyes open—more often and wider—to detect shortcomings and correct them as quickly as possible.

To that end, conducting seasonal inspections and preventive maintenance takes on capital importance. To be sure you don’t forget anything, use our practical checklists for spring, summer, fall and winter.

These days, you should take things a bit further. After an episode of wild weather, immediately inspect the condition of your home’s exterior. If you notice a problem, take corrective action right away: fixing any damage (even if it appears to be minor) will prevent it from worsening the next time Mother Nature shows her wrath.

More rigour during renos

Climate change also means that when it comes to repairs and renovations, a more thorough job is a must. You should:

  • review current systems with more stringent resistance and performance criteria and take all necessary corrective actions; and
  • opt for heavier-duty materials and employ best practices during the actual work.


“Most of the technical solutions in construction practices already exist, but they aren’t always as rigorously applied as they should be,” writes building expert Mario Canuel in a magazine article on the impact of climate phenomena.1

The following chart lists elements that merit greater attention because of our changing climate and its impacts.

Element What to monitor
Roof
  • Solidity of the structure and wood framing
  • Resistance of the covering materials (to wind and to water infiltration)
  • Drainage capacity
  • Efficiency of attic ventilation 
Exterior cladding
  • Ability to minimize leakage and eliminate any water that seeps through the cladding
  • Presence of an air gap behind the cladding
  • Integrity of joints (brickwork, sealants, etc.)

Doors and windows
  • The energy rating (how well they keep out air, water and wind)
  • Proper installation (continuity) of air barriers or air/vapour barriers
Insulation
  • Thermal resistance (R value) of the insulating material in place, especially under the roof
Ventilation and air conditioning
  • Suitability of equipping the house with an air exchanger (HRV) and/or air conditioning
Plumbing
  • Presence and effectiveness of a check valve (to protect against sewer backups)
  • Water quality (if supply is a private well)


1. Source: Mario Canuel, “Changements climatiques – La nécessaire adaptation de nos façons de construire,” Formes magazine (2013, Vol. 9, No. 3).