STEP UP NEW BUILDINGS
2050 Vision: What does success look like?
All our community’s new buildings are energy efficient and operate exclusively with zero-emission energy sources.
2030 Target: What’s the critical milestone?
All our community’s new buildings are built to meet the requirements of the top step of the BC Energy Step Code, and use only zero carbon energy sources for space and water heating.
The Actions: What needs to happen?
- Adopt the BC Energy Step Code and supplement with incentives targeting zero-emissions heating systems.
- Require building energy labelling and benchmarking.
- Support the building industry through the transition to high-performance, low carbon construction.
Rationale: Why this, why now?
While existing buildings generate the majority of building-related greenhouse gas emissions, local governments have greater authority to influence new construction.
They can do so via the BC Energy Step Code, a section of the BC Building Code that local governments may use to require or incentivize better-than-code energy performance in new construction. While the BC Energy Step Code is a great tool for improving overall building energy performance, it does not explicitly address emissions from new buildings. Local governments can address this shortcoming by implementing the regulation in tandem with incentives that target zero-emission heating and cooling systems.
Growth rates vary across the province. Some communities are growing as fast as 5%, adding hundreds of new buildings each year. Every new building built to minimum code standards is a lost opportunity for improved energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. Every inefficient new building is one more building that will have to be retrofitted down the road.
This Big Move is for all communities, but especially those that are growing.
The Province of British Columbia developed the BC Energy Step Code and made it available to local governments to use as a technical shared pathway to reaching its target of net-zero energy-ready new construction by 2032. The Energy Step Code Council, chaired by a represented from the Province’s Building Safety and Standards Branch, developed the BC Energy Step Code and now oversees implementation. Its members include industry associations, local governments, utilities, and non-governmental organizations.
The province’s CleanBC climate plan outlines the dates when the base BC Building Code will adopt BC Energy Step Code performance targets:
- In 2022, all new buildings will be 20% more energy efficient than those built to meet today’s minimum code requirements.
- By 2027, all new buildings will be 40% more energy efficient
- By 2032, all new buildings will be up to 80 percent more energy efficient, achieving “net zero energy ready” performance, the most efficient buildings that can be reached today.
The province subsequently introduced CleanBC Better Homes, which links homeowners and residential builders to rebates and resources, and CleanBC Better Buildings, which provides funding and capital incentives to encourage energy efficient design, construction and renovation. The Better Buildings program also included a juried competition and incentive program to boost industry capacity to build tall and complex high-performance buildings.
Other relevant provincial legislation includes the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Renewable & Low Carbon Fuel Requirements) Act and the Renewable & Low Carbon Fuel Requirements Regulation, which aim to help:
- Reduce British Columbia's reliance on non-renewable fuels;
- Reduce the environmental impact of transportation fuels; and
- Contribute to a new low-carbon economy.
The Province’s CleanBC plan includes a target for renewable natural gas (RNG). It directs Fortis BC to source 15% of the gas in its distribution network from renewable sources by 2030.
Federally, Natural Resources Canada’s Build Smart: Canada’s Buildings Strategy includes a target for more stringent building codes across the country starting in 2020, and establishes the goal that all provinces and territories will adopt a net-zero energy-ready model building code by 2030. In addition, the Federal Government has established a goal that all space-heating technologies for sale in Canada will meet an energy performance of more than 100% by 2035, with interim targets set for 2025 an 2050. The Government of Canada will continue to invest in research, development, demonstration, and cooperation with industry to help reduce technology costs over time.
Adopt the BC Energy Step Code and supplement with incentives targeting zero-emissions heating systems
Local governments can use the BC Energy Step Code to ensure all new buildings are energy efficient, and pair it with policies to reduce or eliminate emissions from space and water heating.
- If you have not already done so, immediately implement Step 1 across your community. This will familiarize your builders with the performance pathway approach.
- Investigate availability of funding from BC Hydro and Fortis BC to help offset the additional costs of energy advisors.
- Quickly transition to Step 3 before the BC Building Code requires that level of performance in 2022.
- Introduce policies and programs to require or incentivize higher steps, including:
- A rezoning policy to offer additional density in exchange for higher performance.
- Development Permit Area (DPA) guidelines
- A building permit rebate program
Multiple local governments have embraced a tiered approach to the BC Energy Step Code for larger and more complex Part 3 buildings. This approach sets a minimum standard, such as Step 3, but allows builders to drop down a step, in this example Step 2, if they connect their project to a district energy system or implement a low carbon energy system, such as a geo-exchange heat pump. These local governments are collaborating to align their requirements, making it easier for other communities to adopt similar regimes.
The province has signaled that it will increase the energy efficiency performance requirements in the base BC Building Code starting in 2022, and deliver a 20% energy efficiency improvement above today’s level. In practice, this means that as of 2022, every new home being built in the province will need to meet the requirements of Step 3. Local governments can implement a tiered approach that requires Step 4 community-wide, but allows for Step 3 with an approved low carbon energy system.
When making a major purchase such as a new or used car or major appliance, energy performance is a key factor for many people. In contrast, when buying a new home, potential homebuyers have no way of knowing the energy performance of the home they are considering. Local governments can change that and contribute to market transformation by introducing requirements for home energy labelling as part of their Energy Step Code compliance process, making it easy for potential owners and occupants to understand the building’s energy consumption and associated costs. Once there is an established Energy Step Code bylaw, local governments can introduce administrative requirements that enable the disclosure of home energy labels.
Support the building industry during the transition to high-performance, low carbon buildings
The Energy Step Code Council has identified a need for increased industry training and capacity-building in the short and long term. Because of their strong relationships with builders, designers and developers, local governments are key partners for BC Housing, industry associations, and other training organizations, and play an important role in making high quality training accessible locally. Meaningful and sustained engagement with the building industry is important as the industry transitions to high-performance, zero carbon building. Local governments can:
- Consult with the local industry in advance of implementing the Energy Step Code
- Work with neighbouring local governments and/or the regional district to coordinate regional training
- Co-fund training or provide venue, catering and in-kind staff time when partnering with training providers
- Provide rebates to offset the cost of mid-construction air tightness testing or working with an energy advisor for the first time
Make Your Case
The following facts may prove helpful when explaining this Big Move to constituents, staff, or other elected officials:
- Energy efficient buildings are more comfortable, durable, quieter and cheaper to operate than buildings built to current provincial minimum code standards.
- A Step 3 home is about 20 percent more energy efficient than one built to the minimum requirements of the BC Building Code, and a Step 4 home is 30 percent more efficient. The associated construction cost premium can be only as little as two to four per cent.
- Prioritizing low carbon electricity or energy sources in combination with the BC Energy Step Code can lower overall building emissions.
- High performance low- or zero-emission buildings offer:
- Meaningful greenhouse gas reductions and positive financial returns.
- Lower operating costs, keeping more money circulating within your community.
- Better durability, and protection against fuel price volatility and the rising cost of carbon.
- Resilience to the impacts of climate change.
- In Canada, construction is a $171 billion annual industry that employs well over a million people. New building codes will spur innovation and support Canadian businesses in developing more efficient building techniques and technologies.
- We can support workforce transition by establishing a clear pathway toward the goal.
Inspiration from Near and Far
Here we share case studies of how other jurisdictions have enacted creative policies, partnerships, and programs.
1. BC Energy Step Code Incentives
Several British Columbia communities have implemented building permit rebate programs that seek to incentivize builders to meet higher energy performance standards. For example, the City of Campbell River’s Incentives for New Buildings program includes permit rebates that increase with each incremental step. The city also includes an additional incentive for electrically heated homes to match Fortis BC’s Energy Step Code incentives. The province’s CleanBC Better Homes site includes a search function for incentive programs.
2. A Regional Approach to Industry Capacity Building
The East Kootenay Building a Legacy program offers hands-on builder workshops, BuildSmart tailgate meetings, and homeowner and realtor education. The program supports a successful regional approach to BC Energy Step Code adoption, increased collaboration between local governments in the region, and strong relationships between local governments and the building industry.
3. Building Electrification
California has enthusiastically embraced building electrification as a pathway to meeting its climate commitments, and local governments are making moves to phase out natural gas in new construction. The City of Berkeley will no longer allow natural gas pipes in many new buildings starting in 2020, and across Northern California, more than a dozen local governments, including San Jose and Santa Monica have approved building codes revisions that seek to incentivize or require electric appliances in new buildings. In British Columbia, the District of North Vancouver recently took initial steps in an effort to ban natural gas in municipally owned buildings.