B.C.’s New High-Performance Staircase
The BC Energy Step Code aims to serve as a road map to British Columbia’s net zero-ready future. Here’s how the new regulation could help catalyze smart energy communities across the province and beyond.
This past spring, the Province of British Columbia enacted the BC Energy Step Code, a performance standard that charts a course to 2032 when all new construction in the province will be net-zero-energy ready.
By choosing to adopt one or more “steps” of the standard, local governments can steadily ratchet up building performance over the coming years, helping both participating communities and the province meet energy-conservation and greenhouse-gas-reduction goals. Along the way, those governments will help the green-building market mature, and
Energy efficiency is the first, and perhaps most fundamental, of the four pillars that underlie the Smart Energy Community model at the core of QUEST’s mission. A Smart Energy Community uses all available policy levers to capture the benefits of energy efficiency—including lower energy costs, reduced emissions, and improved operating performance.
The BC Energy Step Code is arguably the most significant policy tool introduced to date to help the province’s local governments advance towards those objectives.
How it Works
If they wish to do so, local governments may now require or incentivize builders to meet a given step, or steps, of the BC Energy Step Code. Each step above Step 1 represents “better than code” energy-efficiency performance.
To comply, a builder must demonstrate that their project meets established thresholds for heating demand, total energy demand, and air tightness. The regulation groups these thresholds—known as “performance metrics”—into multiple sets of “steps.” The higher the step, the more energy-efficient the building.
Let’s look at an example. In the case of simple buildings such as townhomes, Step 1 requires a builder to commission an energy model to confirm code compliance. The model ensures that the townhome design meets the equivalent performance of a building built to the prescriptive requirements in the current BC Building Code.
Meanwhile, midway up the staircase, a builder constructing a townhome project to Step 3 would use easily available materials and familiar techniques to improve performance while demonstrating that the finished product meets moderate air tightness requirements.
At the top of the staircase, a team working to meet Step 5 will specify high-performance assemblies and components, and pay strict attention to building-enclosure details.
For context, a Step 5 townhome will loosely approximate the requirements of Passive House or CHBA’s Net Zero Ready program. That said, it’s important to note that the BC Energy Step Code is program-neutral. Attaining Step 5 doesn’t confer or require compliance with these, or any other, third-party label or certification.
(For a fuller explanation of how the BC Energy Step Code works, download the BC Energy Step Code Best Practices Guide for Local Governments—the definitive resource on the new regulation.)
Ready, Set, Go!
A recent survey of local governments conducted by B.C.’s housing authority suggests a decent level of interest in the BC Energy Step Code. Of 69 unique communities surveyed, 41 indicated a medium or high interest in referencing the regulation in bylaw within the next one to two years.
On the industry side, the province is working to close gaps identified in builder education and training. Research suggests that the province’s construction industry has struggled to comply with the many pages of prescriptive requirements in the BC Building Code. The new standard seeks to modernize this approach by providing a common language for builders to use on efficiency. The BC Energy Step Code also gives builders a welcome level of consistency in performance requirements between local governments.
“The BC Energy Step Code moves us from having inconsistent standards across BC to a new, coordinated benchmark that is aligned with future net-zero provincial requirements,” says Ann McMullin, the CEO of the Urban Development Institute (BC), which represents the province’s property developers.
By incentivizing and requiring energy-efficient new construction, local governments can use the BC Energy Step code to help drive market demand for a range of high-performance building products—such as better windows, new assembly techniques and products, and more energy-efficient equipment. The regulation gives the building industry a clear sense of where the province is heading on energy efficiency.
“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,” says Bob de Wit, the CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association.
Clean Growth Done Right
The new regulation is an exciting tool to not only foster Smart Energy Communities but also boost the province’s clean-growth economy. That’s why QUEST will host a BC Energy Step Code Economic Development Workshop this coming November (location and details to be announced).
QUEST hopes to convene a wide range of companies that manufacture high-performance building products and provide related services, to explore the unique opportunities and challenges that the new standard presents.
For example, the insulation sector is keenly interested in the new standard’s potential.
“The BC Energy Step Code will help drive market demand for a range of high-performance building products including mineral-fibre insulation,” says Jay Nordenstrom, Executive Director of NAIMA Canada, which represents the insulation sector on the national stage.
“The regulation stands to stimulate this manufacturing sector, allowing BC companies to meet the growing demand with a wider range of more competitive products and assemblies. This will attract investment, spur innovation, and create new opportunities and skilled jobs in Canada’s clean-growth economy.”
“By incentivizing and requiring energy-efficient new construction, the BC Energy Step Code will help drive market demand for high-performance building products such as windows, doors, insulation, and other components,” says Isbrand Funk, the president and CEO of EuroLine Windows, based in Delta, B.C.
In many cases, builders are currently sourcing these high-performance products from overseas, Funk notes. But the BC Energy Step Code stands to stimulate the sector allowing B.C. companies to meet the demand with a wider range of more competitive products.
Other jurisdictions have expressed interest in the deeply collaborative approach that British Columbia’s provincial government embraced to develop the regulation. The province formed an energy efficiency working group and encouraged robust participation from industry, local governments, and utilities. Together, over the course of almost three years, the group developed the core elements of what is today the BC Energy Step Code.
They remain at the table today as the Energy Step Code Council—an advisory body that is helping ensure a smooth roll out across the province.
With the BC Energy Step Code and the Energy Step Code Council, British Columbia has delivered an example of how to create a functional roadmap to very high-performance buildings. All eyes are now on the province as the Government of Canada moves towards its goal that all provinces and territories adopt a net-zero energy ready building code by 2030.
The BC Energy Step Code could potentially serve as a model approach to reach that outcome, yielding plenty of Smart Energy Communities along the way. And wouldn’t that be a real step up for everyone?
James Glave (@jamesglave) is a writer and communications consultant based near Vancouver, B.C. A former senior editor with Outside magazine, he has contributed to a wide variety of publications including The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, and WIRED.
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