Getting your home Net Zero Ready

Future-Proof Your Home by Getting it Net Zero Ready

“Net zero ready” has become a trendy buzzword in British Columbia over the past few years, after the BC Energy Step Code was enacted by The Government of British Columbia in December 2017 and designers, builders, Realtors® and the media have begun spreading the word.

Many BC Realtors® were introduced to net zero in September 2020, when nearly 100 agents toured the PNE Prize home and met with industry experts to learn about the future of energy efficiency and the BC Energy Step Code regulations. Attendees took a virtual tour of the Net Zero Energy Ready prize home to gain an understanding of what these regulations will look like in newly-constructed buildings. The event was hosted by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, BC Hydro, and the PNE, and attendees returned to inform their offices and home buyers.

Net zero detractors may be uneasy about zero carbon promoters delivering on true sustainability, rather than just talking about it. They also worry that greenwashing may be used to sell products, renovation services and homes. Adding a “green sheen” to marketing campaigns has been used to deceptively persuade the public into believing products, aims and policies are far more sustainable and environmentally friendly than they are. However, choosing a trusted net zero designer-builder or Realtor® who carefully vets sellers and suppliers can mitigate those concerns.

What is the BC Energy Step code?

The BC Energy Step Code establishes a set of measurable energy-efficiency requirements builders must meet in municipalities that incorporate it into their building and development bylaws. The performance targets are grouped into a series of 5 steps for Part 9 buildings, of increasing energy efficiency.

The BC Building Code separates all buildings into two primary categories: Part 9 and Part 3.
In general, single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes are good examples of Part 9 buildings, with 3 storeys or less, and a building footprint of less than 600m2. Part 3 buildings are larger and more complex structures, with 4 or more storeys, and a footprint greater than 600m2.

The BC Energy Step Code places British Columbia on a path to meet the province’s target, with all new buildings being net-zero energy ready by 2032. BC Energy Step Code is a voluntary compliance program in the BC Building Code that local governments can use to incentivize or require a level of energy efficiency in new construction.

Municipal step requirements can go above and beyond the minimal requirements of the BC Building Code. Here are three examples of Step Code requirements in BC’s North Shore and Sea to Sky Corridor.

In West Vancouver, February 28, 2021, the Step 5 requirement, or Step 3 with low carbon energy system, came into effect for Part 9. A low-carbon energy system means a mechanical system providing all thermal conditioning and all domestic hot water heating for a building primarily from low-carbon energy sources with a system seasonal average coefficient of performance greater than two, a modelled greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of no more than 3 kg CO2e/m2/yr, and that any natural gas-fired peak demand heating equipment is appropriately sized.

In Squamish, the Step 4 requirement came into effect January 1, 2021, for Part 9 residential buildings over 1,000 sq ft.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler has been adopting the Energy Step Code for all its new Part 9 residential buildings since January 1, 2019. Step 3 of the Energy Step Code applied to all new Part 9 residential buildings. Step 4 of the Energy Step Code applied to all new Part 9 residential buildings on properties applying for rezoning to increase density and any new residential buildings that include construction of additional in-ground basement floor area. In December 2020, Whistler Council adopted the Big Moves Climate Action Strategy with a Step 5 goal for 2030 and only low carbon heating systems.

How does “Net Zero Ready” differ from “Net Zero”?

Net zero ready homes are built to the same standard of energy efficiency as net zero homes, but they don’t yet have a renewable energy system installed, such as solar panels or a wind turbine. They are so efficient that a renewable energy system can offset all or most of the annual energy consumption. The home’s energy costs will be significantly lower than that of traditional code buildings.

A Net Zero Ready home is wired so that solar panels or other renewable energy options can be installed in the future. After net zero has been achieved homeowners can then apply for certification. Net zero homes generate as much clean energy as they consume.

Will older homes be required to become net zero ready?

Roughly half of Canada’s existing housing stock was built before 1985, with many constructed before the first National Building Code was published in 1941. Many of these older houses have no insulation at all in the exterior walls or attic. They have unfinished and uninsulated basements, drafty single-pane windows and thin or hollow doors. Heating and cooling systems were inefficient to begin with, and many are in disrepair. Currently, older homes are not required to upgrade to net zero ready.

The United Kingdom has the least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe. To meet its climate targets, the UK is working to retrofit all homes to their EPC Band C standard by 2035. Philip Dunne, of the Environmental Audit Committee said, “The Government’s welcome new Energy Efficiency Taskforce can lead a national mobilization to install energy efficiency upgrades, which we would like to see achieve an initial target of a million homes a year and more than double this by the end of the decade… We recommend that the Government launch a national ‘war effort’ push on energy saving and efficiency.”

In the UK, homes that can be retrofitted will be, and those that are poor candidates will have to be condemned. The Energiesprong (translates to “energy leap”) approach that was piloted in the Netherlands is meeting with great success in the UK. The set of standards adds up to a net zero energy home, with a performance guarantee of 30 years.

According to Natural Resources Canada, 17% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its buildings, and 70% will still be standing in 2050. “Retrofitting older homes is what is necessary to make substantial improvements to residential sector greenhouse gas emissions,” stated Canadian Home Builders’ Association CEO Kevin Lee. CHBA’s pilot for their Net Zero Energy Renovation Labelling Program supports continued improvement in the performance of Canada’s existing housing stock, but no targets have been published for older properties so far. As Lee pointed out, retrofits are necessary, so it’s reasonable to expect they will be required in Canada at some point as well.

Making existing homes net zero ready with deep retrofits

The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which became law on June 29, 2021, embodies Canada’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Canada’s climate change commitments to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 cannot be achieved by building new net-zero homes alone. Deep retrofits are a way to make the homes we live in right now net zero ready.

The Government of Canada announced in February 2022 that they are investing in deep energy retrofits to help people upgrade their homes to be more energy-efficient, fight climate change and create good jobs, while saving homeowners money on their monthly bills. The project funds deep energy retrofits in houses and low-rise multi-unit residential buildings.

Do “Net Zero Ready” and “Net Zero” home prices?

According to Real Estate Experts, because net zero ready homes are built to a higher standard, they not only hold their value but can sell for 2-5% more. The US Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab has found that “Homebuyers are willing to pay $15,000 or more for a solar powered-home,” according to a large-scale solar home study. The push for net zero ready energy-efficient homes is translating to higher home sale prices for sellers.

The takeaway

A net zero home generates as much energy as it consumes and is about 80% more energy efficient than a home built to traditional standards. Your energy bills will drop to a fraction of what you’re paying now, and you’ll be protected against future increases in energy rates.

With a high-performance sealed envelope, super insulation in the walls and roof, and warm high-efficiency windows and doors, not only will you experience exceptional comfort, but your home will be more durable. The built-in fresh air system improves the quality of air, removing outdoor air pollution, allergens, and asthma triggers such as dust and pollen.

To meet its climate change commitments, Canada will eventually have to upgrade a large percentage of existing homes to net zero. Whether you buy a new net zero ready home before 2032 or retrofit the one you have, the upgrade future-proofs your investment. And you will know you’re doing your part to achieve carbon zero and preserve Canada’s natural resources.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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