How Easy is it to Increase My Home’s Performance Through a BC Energy Step Code Remodel?

The BC Energy Step Code encourages homeowners to incrementally invest in more efficient home upgrades and products that can save money by reducing long term operating costs.

The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial standard that allows local governments to continue to take the lead in improving energy efficiency while offering industry standards for capacity building. Residents benefit more from this initiative through increased energy savings, better efficiency, and lower energy expenses.

What is the BC Energy Step Code?

The BC Energy Step Code aims at helping the communities chart a course to a future in which all of British Columbia’s new buildings will be net-zero ready by 2032. Such high-performance buildings will play a key role in reaching the climate targets, promoting energy savings, and helping occupants lower their energy bills. The methods and materials employed in designing a more energy efficient home also produce a more durable, long-lasting building. 

Objectives of the BC Energy Step Code include:

1. Matching local building codes across the province

This will reduce confusion for developers and homeowners who build in various jurisdictions. The energy step code establishes a set of measurable, performance-based energy efficiency standards that go above and beyond the BC Building Code’s prescriptive route.

The local governments each choose which steps they will require and what should be adopted as the new base code. For example, the BC Energy Step Code went into effect in the District of Squamish on July 1, 2018, requiring all builders to meet the requirements of Step 1, Part 9. As of January 1, 2021, the requirement has been upgraded to Step 4 for all residential homes 1,000 sq ft over.

In the Village of Pemberton, the reference to the BC Energy Step Code to Building Bylaw was adopted in July 2019. The Bylaw requires new Part 9 residential buildings like single-family homes, duplexes and small multi-family meet Steps 3 and 4.

The District of West Vancouver requires Step 5; but they allow a downgrade to Step 3 for homeowners who choose a low carbon approach, employing an all heat pump pathway for heating and cooling.

2. A shift to modern performance-based code requirements

The BC energy codes are expected to prompt a shift to modern performance-based code requirements instead of the prescriptive-based compliance that doesn’t measure overall building energy usage.

It sets out requirements based on different metrics and then leaves implementation to the builder to work with an advisor in determining the most cost-effective way to meet them. The BC energy step-up code focuses on establishing a long-term goal rather than incremental improvements.

3. Promoting better designs and construction process across the housing sector

The Energy code will promote a better design and construction process encompassing all building parts. This will encourage more collaborations across the design and construction teams.

Popular BC Energy Step Code remodel upgrade options

The BC Energy Step Code applies to Part 9 and Part 3 residential buildings in BC, including the Sea to Sky Corridor of British Columbia. Part 9 Residential Buildings are classified as buildings with three storeys and under with a 600 square meter footprint or less. Buildings under the Part 3 Residential category are those above three storeys or with a 600 square meter footprint or over.

The BC Energy Step Code is implemented through a rollout method of the efficiency standards that increase on a staircase. These are a series of steps that local governments will leverage as incentives to push for a certain level of energy efficiency in new construction. Reaching the higher step code targets attracts rebates from FortisBC and BC Hydro, British Columbia electrical and natural gas distribution utilities.

The exact steps are set by the individual cities and towns across BC, such as Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton. These steps align with the province’s general construction guidelines. Here is a look at the popular remodel upgrade options.

Step 1

Step 1 involves minor improvements over the existing code. The available code requirements and compliance promote a learning process to increase familiarity with energy modelling and airtightness testing.

A building’s construction must meet the minimum prescriptive energy efficiency requirements of the BC Building Code.

Step 2

Step 2 involves a 10% improvement in overall efficiency. The progress made to the building systems is based on lessons learned from Step 1, such as better enclosures and smaller mechanical systems.

Step 3

Step 3 specifies a 20% improvement on the previous step. The Metro Vancouver municipalities have already moved to this step from 2018 and require all builders to meet the requirements.

The first step is the BC Building Code Minimum, while the fifth and last step is the new normal in 2032. This will require all builders to construct super-efficient net-zero homes that produce more energy than they use.

Deep energy retrofits like Enerphit passive, Net Zero / Net Zero Ready renovation programs through CHBA are becoming more popular, as new builds will be required to meet this target by 2032. CHBA Net Zero programs offer the largest rebates from Clean BC and also offer a 15 – 25% reduction in mortgage insurance premiums.

Increasing your home’s performance through a BC Energy Step Code remodel

The EA will first model and test the existing home. Regardless of the “step” chosen, this will provide measurable data to compare the home’s performance between the its current state and after the proposed renovation is completed.

By gradually adopting the BC energy step code through remodel upgrades, you can increase the building performance requirements towards attaining the desired net-zero energy levels by 2032. To meet these requirements, the BC government requires you to work with an energy advisor to check that each plan meets the energy-performance requirements of a given step.

In most cases, the energy advisors rely on software to analyze construction plans and determine the energy efficiency of your building. They’ll then authorize you to upgrade, paying special attention to the building envelope. The energy advisor will also test the entire constructed building to see how well it performs.

One key benefit of adopting the BC Energy Step Code is the higher energy efficiency standards and multiple rebates. These have been shown to provide multiple co-benefits that could offset the entire project’s cost. High-performance homes are not only more efficient; they are more durable, more comfortable, more sustainable, and they will last longer.

How energy savings and rebates could help offset the cost of an Energy Step Code remodel/upgrade

Once a home is constructed, it can be challenging to change its design to account for the BC Energy Step Code improvements. However, you can still consider a remodel upgrade to increase the performance of your home. The increased energy efficiency and rebates offered through the BC Energy Step Code incentives will help offset the remodel upgrade costs in ways such as:

1. Support for planning and designing remodel upgrades

Homeowners pursuing Step Code 3, 4 or 5 upgrade remodels are eligible for FortisBC’s Design Offer. The offer supports early planning for building envelope consultants, mechanical design and the entire Integrated Design Process.

Through this offer, the BC Energy Step Code is out to encourage remodel processes that will cut time and risks when remodelling high-performance homes. This is essential and plays a role in helping offset the costs of engaging consultants to identify cost-effective remodel innovations.

2. Lower energy costs in the future

By targeting a Net-Zero energy by 2032, you can leverage upgrades such as solar panels when remodelling your home. Although there are few cases to date with remodelling to Step Code 5, there are more than enough incentives to help you proceed with any step upgrade to achieve the net zero energy levels.

In planning for the future, such an upgrade can be oriented to allow several incremental upgrades towards Net Zero. For instance, you can incorporate upgrades like a gas-fired combi-boiler to provide for in-floor radiant heating and an affordable solution for water heating.

3. Rebates for upgrade to Step Code 2 or higher

Renovating your home to Step Code 2 or higher in BC qualifies you for rebates to offset some of the makeover costs. The program has two rebate options, including the Home Performance Step Code rebates ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 per home.

There are also high-efficiency natural gas water heater rebates from $500 to $1,200 per home. Similarly, you stand to benefit from a $1,000 refund if you hire a qualified energy advisor to remodel the home’s planning and design. These incentives will help you offset most of the costs.

BC Energy Step Code incentive programs

The BC Energy Step Code Incentive Programs aim to motivate more people to implement the new requirements in their homes to meet higher energy efficiency standards than currently required. Key incentive programs include;

Better Homes

Through CleanBC’s Better Home program, you can find rebates for renovating an energy-efficient home.

Better Homes New Construction Program

The province supports the adoption of the BC Energy Step Code and making energy-efficient more affordable and accessible for ordinary British Columbians.

Up to $15,000 rebates are offered via the CleanBC Better Homes New Construction Program for constructing new, high-performance homes.

Better Buildings

CleanBC’s Better Buildings provides funding and capital incentives to encourage energy-efficient design, construction and renovation of commercial buildings.

Better Buildings BC Challenge

This incentive program aims to encourage, support, and publicize the development of net-zero energy-efficient buildings. Visit Better Buildings BC: The Net-Zero Energy-Ready Challenge for further details.

Will the energy savings of a BC Energy Step Code remodel offset the costs?

In most cases, energy efficiency will allow you to care about the environment while setting you on a path to a monetary upside, through energy savings, incentive programs and rebates. Energy savings vs cost is an important consideration when implementing an energy step code remodel upgrade. And there are more advantages than just efficiency, government incentives and attractive remortgage options. Your home will be more comfortable, more durable and sustainable, and it will last longer. 

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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