North Shore / Sea to Sky Corridor dream home

Building in BC’s North Shore and Sea to Sky: Navigating the BC Energy Step Code for Your Dream Home

The BC Energy Step Code provides an energy efficiency framework for designers and home builders in British Columbia, promoting sustainable, comfortable, and cost-effective building practices. It provides an incremental and consistent approach to achieving more energy-efficient buildings, that go above the base requirements of the BC Building Code. The Step Code offers a pathway to ensure all buildings province-wide will be “net-zero energy-ready” by 2032.

The Province of British Columbia first introduced energy efficiency as a requirement in the BC Building Code in 2008, and it adopted the BC Energy Step Code as regulation in April 2017. The BC Energy Step Code is a performance-based standard established to set forth metrics for energy efficiency in new construction. Under the authority of local governments and municipalities, each step of the British Columbia Energy Step Code (BCESC) could become a bylaw, or an incentivized program at any time.

The BC Energy Step Code is divided into five “steps” that represent progressive increases in energy efficiency requirements. These steps were designed to help the construction industry in BC transition towards net zero energy-ready buildings.

Pathway to 2032: Part 9 (Homes).

What does “Net Zero Energy Ready” (NZEr) mean?

According to Efficiency Canada, “A net-zero energy ready (NZEr) building is designed, modelled and constructed the same as one that is NZE but does not yet have on- or off-site renewable energy components in place.” NZE (Net Zero Energy) and NZEr (Net Zero Energy Ready) are the same, except for adding a renewable energy source such as solar panels or wind turbines.

According to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, net zero homes are up to 80% more energy efficient than typical code-built new homes. Net zero homes are designed and constructed for optimal energy efficiency and cost, to become net zero at a future date. In addition to immediate savings on energy costs, your net zero home will protect you from future increases in energy prices.

Benefits of the BC Energy Step Code

Buildings built to the higher energy efficiency “Step” levels provide numerous benefits. By promoting sustainable, comfortable, and cost-effective building practices, these benefits collectively make the BC Energy Step Code a valuable framework for homebuilders in the North Shore and Sea to Sky Corridor.

Occupant benefits: Homes built to BC Energy Step Code standards offer better management of temperature and air quality through superior insulation, energy-efficient windows and doors, airtight construction and the elimination of thermal bridging, to provide enhanced thermal comfort. Airtight building envelopes require ventilation systems, which provide outstanding air quality while removing indoor pollutants and allergens. Enhanced insulation and airtightness also contribute to a quieter indoor environment.

Economic benefits: Energy-efficient homes require less energy for heating and cooling, which leads to significant savings on energy bills over the lifetime of the home. Energy-efficient homes that make extensive use of passive solar design principles, superior insulation, airtight construction and efficient HVAC systems typically require far less maintenance and repairs, due to enhanced temperature and humidity control. Homeowners may also be eligible for various government incentives and rebates, which can help mitigate the costs associated with meeting the step code requirements.

Environmental benefits: The Step Code objectives help in reducing your family’s carbon footprint. As new buildings in BC achieve net zero ready, they will already significantly lower their environmental impact. As renewable energy sources are installed, these homes will produce as much energy as they consume, over a year, to qualify for net zero certification.

“The BC Energy Step Code presents a great opportunity for the building industry to help meet our provincial climate change goals through the design and construction of more energy-efficient buildings. We look forward to collaborating with local governments to ensure its pragmatic and orderly implementation.”
– Bob de Wit, CEO, Homebuilders Association Vancouver

Industry benefits: There are some unique benefits to builders and developers, as their new homes achieve Step 5 to become net zero energy ready. Designers and builders in BC can set themselves apart by constructing homes to the highest energy efficiency standards, scrambling to meet the growing consumer demand for high-performance homes. The performance-based approach of the Step Code allows builders great flexibility in choosing materials or construction methods to achieve energy efficiency targets, encouraging innovation and creativity in building design.

Local government benefits: The Step Code provides a clear and efficient set of standards for building energy-efficient homes, aligning with Part 10 of the existing BC Building Code energy efficiency requirements, CoV Energy Modeling Guidelines and NRCan Energy Efficiency Regulations, to simplify the regulatory landscape for builders and developers.

Local government building requirements as of June 2024

The BC Building Code separately regulates what are known as “Part 9” and “Part 3” buildings. Part 9 Residential Buildings are 3 storeys or under, with a footprint of 600 square metres or less. These include single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings. Part 3 Residential Buildings are above 3 storeys, with a footprint of 600 square metres or over. These include larger apartment buildings, condos, shopping malls, office buildings, hospitals, care facilities, schools, churches, theatres, and restaurants. For our purposes, we will be focusing only on the requirements about Part 9 Residential buildings.

Local governments in BC can adopt the BC Energy Step Code at different levels, mandating, incentivizing or encouraging developers to meet specific steps. Builders demonstrate compliance by proving to local building officials that the building meets or exceeds the defined metrics for the building envelope, that it passes the airtightness tests and the equipment and systems fulfill the requirements. These are the current requirements for BC’s North Shore and Sea to Sky Corridor communities, listed on their respective websites:

City of North Vancouver: The City of North Vancouver became the first municipality in British Columbia to require the use of the BC Energy Step Code for all new buildings. As of November 1, 2023, the requirement for Part 9 Residential buildings is Step 5 and Emissions Level 1 OR Step 4 and Emissions Level 3.

Builders will need to use energy modelling software and on-site testing to demonstrate that both their design and the constructed building meet the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code and the BC Building Code’s Zero Carbon Step Code (ZCSC).

District of North Vancouver: A building permit application for new construction in the District of Vancouver must demonstrate compliance with the BC Energy Step Code and BC Building Code’s Zero Carbon Step Code (ZCSC). For Part 9 residential buildings, as of November 1, 2023, Step 5 OR Step 4 and Emissions Level 3 is required. To help raise consumer awareness about home energy performance, the district requires a home energy label, such as an EnerGuide Rating System label, to be affixed on or near the electrical panel within your home.

District of West Vancouver Since July 1, 2018, building permit applications for new construction in West Van have been required to show compliance with the BC Energy Step Code, and effective November 1, 2023, the requirements are as follows:

For Part 9 residential (single family, townhouse and other Part 9 residential buildings), the options are Pathway 1: Step 4 + ZCSC (BC Building Code’s Zero Carbon Step Code) OR Pathway 2: Pathway 2: Step 5. For Part 9 detached secondary suites the options are Pathway 1: Step 3 + ZCSC OR Pathway 2: Step 5.

District of Squamish: The BC Energy Step Code went into effect in the District of Squamish on July 1, 2018. For Part 9 buildings, Phase 3 rolled out January 1st, 2021 requires Step 1 for Small Residential Buildings 1,000 sq. ft. and under in gross floor area, essential Carriage Homes or Step 4 for Residential Buildings over 1,000 sq. ft. in gross floor area.

Part 9 building permits must include a completed Pre-Construction BC Energy Compliance Report and Energy Model such as the EnerGuide HOT2000 detailed report. Before occupancy, a completed As-Built BC Energy Compliance Report is required.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler: Whistler Council committed to achieving the top level of the BC Energy Step Code by 2030, and using only low carbon heating systems, when they adopted the Big Moves Climate Action Strategy in December 2020. Effective May 2023 Council made the decision to adopt the Zero Carbon Step Code (ZCSC), which became effective January 1, 2024.

Effective January 2024, for Part 9 single-family dwellings, duplexes and townhomes, RMOW requires Step 4 with Strong Carbon Performance, Emissions Level 3 (EL-3), and from 2027 onward it will be Step 4 with Zero Carbon Performance (EL-4). For single-family dwellings or duplexes with in-ground basement floor area exclusion, Step 5 with Strong Carbon Performance (EL-3) is currently required, and from 2027 onward it will be Step 5 with Zero Carbon Performance (EL-4).

The takeaway

As more BC local governments adopt Step 5 of the BC Energy Step Code, new homes on the North Shore and Sea to Sky Corridor will be required to achieve Net Zero Energy Ready status, characterized by high-performance building envelopes, airtight construction, efficient mechanical systems, and readiness for renewable energy integration.

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