What the New BC Energy Step Code means for Homeowners

Homebuilding Technology is Changing

Over the last 40 years the way we build homes has not changed much. By 1980 many jurisdictions in Canada had adopted a 2X6 wall with R20 insulation and required an air and vapor barrier. Up until the late 2000’s most homes built in Canada followed this relatively low-tech method of construction. Energy in Canada was inexpensive and Canadians did not consider their monthly energy bills to be all that important: most of the advancements in home construction were around better materials and interior design; things like granite counters, hard wood floors, tile and stainless steel appliances were in high demand – very few people were asking for improvements in energy efficiency, nor did they understand the improved health and comfort benefits from new or renovated high performance homes.

More recently, we have seen a growing interest in healthy comfortable energy efficient buildings. Following in the footsteps of Canada’s R2000 program, we saw the development of Built Green Canada and its certification of green energy efficient homes in 2004, the growth in popularity of Energy Star for new homes, particularly in Ontario, and the rise of Passive House, a German certification focused on low energy homes developed from our own R2000 standard.

As Canadians became more aware of climate change and the impact of green house gas (GHG) emissions, governments at all levels began weaving into their policies measures to reduce GHG's. in 2010, BC was a leader in this shift with the 1st Carbon Tax and the 1st move towards bringing higher levels of energy efficiency into the building code with a prescriptive minimum standard based on the EnerGuide rating scale. Very quickly after that, we saw the City of Vancouver, using their unique charter to begin to champion even higher energy standards. In 2012 Codes Canada released its 1st requirement for a comprehensive improvment in energy efficiency: this was adopted by BC in the spring of 2013. To date most of the provinces in Canada have, in one form or another adopted this national standard.

While some in the industry have found both the early BC energy code changes and the more recently released national energy efficiency (Section 9.36 of the National Building Code) standard technically challenging, these improvements have not really moved the dial very far when it comes to reducing GHG's, or helped Canada achieve its goals for the Paris Agreement climate commitment. Consequently, governments at all levels are mapping out a more aggressive strategy to reduce emissions from all buildings, and housing will play a key role.

BC is a Leader in Change

The leader in this Canadian charge is BC, having passed the BC Energy Step Code into regulation in March, allowing implementation by Local Governments in December 2017. This new approach to improving energy efficiency is laid out as a 5-step approach for low rise housing and a 4 step program for high rise housing and large buildings. A key change for the industry will be the move to both a modeled approach where every building will need to demonstrate compliance through energy modeling software and mandatory airtightness testing. In many ways this will simplify the process for builders and home owners and potentially identify flexible optimization options that could reduce cost.

The 1st step for low rise housing simply requires using the modeled approach to achieve the existing minimum BC Building Code energy standard and culminates in Step 5; a home built to such a high standard of energy efficiency that it could produce as much energy as it used on an annual basis.

The new Energy Step Code will allow municipalities the opportunity to increase standards for energy efficiency as long as they are consistent with the standards and process as laid out in the Step Code. To date over 20 municipalities have adopted or are consulting on adopting the new energy performance requirements; these 20 municipalities comprise 65% of all municipalities in the province of BC. North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Vancouver have already adopted higher levels of the Step Code and in our local region, Squamish and Whistler are both in the process of consulting with industry on a schedule for near term adoption.

The end goal for BC will be to have an energy code in place by 2032 that through reductions in energy use in buildings will assist the province in meeting it’s 2050 target of reducing GHG emissions to 80% below 2007 levels.

How does this Affect Homeowners?

So, how will the BC Energy Step Code affect you as a home owner you might ask? In the short term, 1-4 years, that will depend on whether your community chooses to adopt the Step Code and what level they choose to move to. Some communities such as Whistler, Squamish, West Vancouver and North Vancouver will likely find themselves at Step 3 by 2019, a 20% improvement in the current standard, possibly with plans to move to Step 4 by 2023. What is important to understand is that the BC Government is likely to adopt Step 2 or 3 as the new minimum code by 2022. Those communities that choose to advance quickly will be able to stay ahead of the curve, building capacity and gaining an understanding of the new requirements progressively in advance of the formal code changes. In addition, they will make sure that the homes built today are being future-proofed against the changes of tomorrow – do you want to build a new home today only to discover that in a few years it no longer meets the minimum standards?

Energy Code

Of course, the long-term goal will be to have all houses built to the Net Zero ready standard by 2032. If you plan on staying in your home for the next 20 years, it might be worth considering building to that future standard today, protecting your investment against the coming changes – you might be surprised and how little it can cost today to build to that future standard.

The Pan Canadian Framework and Building Smart Strategy at NRCan identify 2022 as the goal to require improvements in energy efficiency for renovations. This will go hand in hand with mandatory energy labeling for all homes offered for sale. If you are planning a renovation, it would be a great idea to consider what you can do to improve the efficiency of your home during the work. In the face of future mandatory energy improvements and energy labeling this will help protect your investment.

If you would like to learn more about the Energy Step Code and how to future proof your new home or renovation, please give us a call. We love to talk about all the additional benefits that a cozy, healthy, energy-efficient home can provide.

Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2018