British Columbia Program Helps Builders Get Zero-Energy Ready

Filed in Codes and Regulations, Environmental, Global Housing by on February 12, 2018 2 Comments

step codeBuildings in British Columbia will be required to be built as zero-energy ready by 2032. So the Canadian province established the BC Energy Step Code (or stretch code) to help builders and communities make the transition. This is part of B.C.’s larger plan to reduce carbon dioxide.

A zero-energy ready home is an energy-efficient home that can become zero-energy — or use as much energy as it produces — with the addition of onsite renewable energy.

This voluntary standard includes a series of measurable energy-efficiency steps. Builders can choose to build to the “Step Code” and communities can incentivize builders to meet the standard.

The code is organized into five steps of increasing difficulty: Step 1 (the lowest step) requires the home to meet current building code, to Step 5 (the highest) which calls for a zero-energy ready home.

Taking a performance-based approach, the Step Code establishes specific outcomes but lets builders decide how to achieve these targets. There are metrics for the building envelope (walls, windows, etc.), equipment and systems, and air-tightness testing.

“Our builders want to build energy-efficient homes, and they are looking for a pragmatic way to get there,” said Mark Sakai, director of government relations at the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association. “We think the Step Code provides that pathway. It puts a stop on ‘too much, too fast’ and helps builders balance cost and other issues.”

Sakai said that GVHBA is educating its membership on elements of the Step Code, and making sure the local governments implementing the code understand its scope.

British Columbia created a multi-stakeholder Energy Step Code Council to help local governments and utilities implement the Energy Step Code. GVHBA has a presence on that council.

Zero-energy building mandates are gaining momentum throughout Canada. The National Building Codes of Canada have given the deadline of 2030 for buildings to be zero-energy ready; provinces and territories that have their own building code are evaluating their pathways toward this threshold as well. They are also looking into both the costs and benefits of progressive actions toward zero energy.

In the United States, there are various goals and requirements for moving toward a zero-energy building stock. The AIA 2030 Challenge calls for increasing energy savings and a zero-energy goal in new construction by 2030. California and Massachusetts have set similar zero-energy goals for their states, with California targeting 2020 for residential construction. The Department of Energy is supporting these efforts through research and guideline development, including the Zero Energy Ready Home program.

We could take a cue from our northern neighbor about how to make this process as seamless as possible.

“It’s very important that green builders in the U.S. speak to our Canadian counterparts to see what strategies are working in our collective attempt to build cost-effective energy-efficient homes,” said Ray Tonjes, NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building Subcommittee Chairman. “As a voluntary, delineable standard, the Step Code simplifies the process of getting closer to zero energy.”

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  1. Alex Krowka says:

    For what it’s worth, I work with US DOE’s Building Technologies Office (including Zero Energy Ready Home) on a daily basis and unfortunately the Dept is not “calling for all new commercial buildings to be built as zero-energy by 2030”. That said, kudos to BC on taking a great step forward. More should follow and keep pushing the envelope!

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