Energy efficiency is the focus of a new extension-type amendment of the BC Building Code, that can greatly improve the sustainability of homes in British Columbia.

Solar panels present an exciting way to have homes in the province comply with this Building Code amendment, which for now is voluntary, called the BC Energy Step Code. It creates new subsections 9.36.6. and 10.2.3. within Division B of the BCBC, to create “stepped” performance targets that bring buildings toward net-zero emissions, by 2032. In many ways, it aligns with the City of Vancouver’s initiative for net-zero emissions buildings by 2030.

The BC Energy Step Code is in effect as of April 7, 2017. Here is a summary of how the Step Code works, and how homeowners and builders in BC are affected.

 

How the BC Energy Step Code works

The current BC Building Code has some energy-efficiency policies within it; however, the Step Code includes even more energy-efficient performance upgrades.

In addition to that are various steps. What, exactly, these steps will entail for buildings will depend on policies developed by local governments across the province, although the BC government will implement guidelines to set the bar for each step.

In all, there are five steps within BC Energy Step Code. Here’s how they look, according to an infographic from the Government of BC’s website.

 

We can see that the current version, which equates to Step 1, includes some advancements in energy efficiency within the current BCBC.

Step 2 will see buildings be approximately 10% more efficient than what is required within the current Building Code. Page 19 of a presentation by Zachary May (Assistant Director of Policy and Codes Development of the provincial government’s Office of Housing and Construction Standards’ Building and Safety Standards Branch) suggests that Step 2 could equate to an EnerGuide 80 rating, which is basically a “new house built to building code standards containing energy requirements”, according Natural Resources Canada’s guide to EnerGuide Ratings.

Step 3 would bring buildings up an additional 10% above Step 2 performance levels, which could equate to an EnergyStar-rated home.

Step 4 would raise the bar an additional 20%, to 40% better than current standards.

Finally, Step 5 homes would be virtually on par with Passive House energy efficiency standards. These are homes with net-zero emissions and usually generate their own clean electric energy, often with solar panels.

 

Solar panels and the BC Energy Step Code

Buildings that achieve Step 5 of the code – the goal for year 2032 – would be “net-zero ready” structures, including Part 9 homes and Part 3 commercial buildings (Step 4).

Net-zero ready doesn’t necessarily mean net-zero.

But with Vancouver’s net-zero emissions goal for new buildings, which has a target of 2030 – and additionally, a retrofit plan to bring all buildings within the city to net-zero by year 2050 – homes in Vancouver will need to move toward Step 5 level quickly.

Net-zero homes share several commonalities with Passive House building standards. Among these:

  • Better airtightness for reduced heat loss from the home.
  • Improved insulation for the building envelope.
  • Passive heating and cooling for the home’s interior, using window placement and materials that heat the home naturally within winter, and reduce solar heat gains in summer.
  • Lower overall energy demand.
  • Clean energy generation in order to offset any non-passive energy consumption.