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Vancouver to ban fossil fuel appliances for low-rise buildings

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Vancouver City Council sees air-to-water heat pumps as the way of the future for low-rise residential heating.

Vancouver city council has approved a bylaw that will require zero-emission space and water heating for all residential buildings three storeys and under as of Jan. 1, 2022.

The building bylaw amendments will help the city meet “Big Move No.4” of its Climate Emergency Response plan, adopted in April 2019.
According to the city, these buildings will see an 86 percent reduction in carbon pollution compared to those with natural gas heating and hot water systems, while still allowing other residential natural gas uses such as cooking stoves and fireplaces.
The latest amendment also requires a two-tonne carbon pollution cap for new single-family and duplex dwellings of more than 325 square metres, effective Jan. 1, 2021, and a closer alignment to the B.C. Energy Step Code for residential buildings four to six storeys, effective Jan. 1, 2021.
The city is targeting 2025 for the same zero-emission space and water heating in replacement systems of these building types. City staff will release a report later this year with initial recommendations to that end.

Under its Climate Emergency Response plan, the city’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050 and have 100 percent of the energy coming from renewable resources by 2050.

Preparing the industry

A March 10 city planning report titled ‘Climate Emergency Requirements for New Housing 3-Storeys and Under’ details how the city expects the transition to occur and the plumbing and HVAC industry’s role. It includes a significant shift to hydronic heating with air-to-water heat pumps:

“The shift towards zero emissions space and water heating will lead to new heating systems. Air-to-water heat pumps produce hot water for space heating and are likely to be a common heating solution for new single-family homes, as over 90 percent of typical single-family homes built in 2019 were heated with hot water. For air to water heat pump systems to be properly designed and installed, some training is needed, which will take collaboration and time.”

The city has been working with the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating of British Columbia and the Thermal Environmental Comfort Association, and others, to develop two courses on air to water heat pumps – one for designers and one for installing contractors.

“The retraining and education element underway supports a responsible transition from a city where new buildings are heated with natural gas from fossil sources to a city where buildings are heated from renewable sources.”

The city notes that these systems are more common on the North American East Coast as well as in Europe and Asia, “so staff are confident local industry will be able to adapt quickly.”

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