Vancouver ‘greenest city’ plan alarms industry

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The City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan and related changes to the Vancouver Building Bylaw are raising alarm in both the HVAC/R and plumbing industry with energy and water efficiency requirements that go far beyond national code requirements.

The changes will potentially result in significantly higher costs for Vancouver consumers and building owners as manufacturers are compelled either to make special products for the Vancouver market or opt out of it, remarked Martin Luymes, director of programs and relations for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI). Both HRAI and the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating have written letters to the City of Vancouver objecting to the proposals and the lack of consultation with industry.

Aggressive changes

The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan will require that by 2020 new homes must be carbon neutral and use 50 percent less energy than homes did in 2007.

Some areas of the city have been designated for the establishment of neighbourhood energy systems that supply thermal energy for heating, hot water, and in some cases cooling. These areas have specific thermal requirements for buildings to connect and use neighbourhood energy services.

As well, all existing and new larger (Part 3 and Part 9 non-residential buildings) must meet energy reduction targets 20 percent below 2007 levels by 2020 and be “carbon neutral” by 2030.

For existing buildings, the new bylaw requirements were added to the existing upgrade mechanism process used in Part 11 for Life Safety, Structural, and Accessibility.

“Although HRAI typically maintains a “fuel-neutral” stance in these sorts of discussions, the association always guards against policy initiatives or regulatory changes that force market changes at a pace that may create hardship for consumers and the industry that supplies products for comfort conditioning.  The timeframes adopted are aggressive and may create product shortages leading to confusion, hardship and unnecessarily high costs for consumers,” said Luymes.

There is a problem too with “carbon neutral” – political buzzwords that appear to have no clear meaning. Wikipedia defines it as: “Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.” However, in essence, it may simply mean a ban on the use of natural gas (or other fossil fuels) for heating, remarked Luymes.

Unique powers

The changes Vancouver is planning couldn’t be done by most other Canadian cities as building codes fall under provincial jurisdiction. However, the Vancouver Charter allows the City of Vancouver to adopt bylaws to regulate the design and construction of buildings.  The Vancouver Building Bylaw does just that and also includes administrative provisions related to permitting, inspections, and enforcement of these requirements. 

This unique ability allows City Council to quickly respond to issues that have an impact on building safety within the city and more significantly to be (in their own words) “a leader with respect to building regulations” in a variety of ways including energy performance, reported HRAI.

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