Victoria, BC — Most new buildings in British Columbia will be required to comply with the energy efficiency requirements of the BC Energy Step Code as of May 1, 2023. This means that the BC building code requires “20 per cent better energy efficiency” for most new buildings.
CleanBC set a goal for new construction to be net-zero ready by 2032 with gradual increases in energy efficiency requirements.
The BC Energy Step Code’s performance-based energy efficiency approach requires buildings to be evaluated through whole-building energy modelling and on-site airtightness testing to validate how the building’s design and construction meet performance targets.
Effective May 1, the lower “Steps” of the Step Code in Article 18.104.22.168. for Part 9 buildings and Step 1 in Article 10.2.3.3. for Part 3 buildings will be marked as “reserved” in Division B of the BC building code and are no longer applicable to new construction.
Local authorities will still be able to adopt Step 4 or higher of the BC Energy Step Code for Part 9 buildings and Step 3 or higher for Part 3 buildings. However, it won’t be necessary for local authorities to adopt by bylaw anymore, either the Step 3 standard for Part 9 buildings or the Step 2 standard for Part 3. These standards will become universally applicable province-wide as the new minimum acceptable standard for compliance with the building code.
The prescriptive values for energy efficiency will increase, to reach the targeted 20 per cent improvement. These requirements are applicable to Part 9 buildings not within the scope of the B.C. Energy Step Code, such as non-residential and some mixed-use buildings.
Under the prescriptive approach, buildings must meet specific requirements for insulation, windows, and other equipment, according to the provincial government.
“This approach focuses on individual assemblies or pieces of equipment, rather than the performance of the whole building as a system.”
On a temporary basis, the Building Act General Regulation will allow local authorities to permit the prescriptive approach for Park 9 buildings that the BC Energy Step Code would otherwise apply to, such as single-family homes. “This may be necessary for rural and remote areas of the province where access to energy modelling and airtightness testing services are limited or impractical,” reports the province.
The prescriptive approach must be accepted by a bylaw in relation to the conservation of energy. No bylaw is required for Part 9 buildings that don’t apply, like non-residential and some mixed-use commercial buildings.
The term “log homes” has been added to the BC Building Code to describe homes where the exterior vertical walls primarily consist of structural log members.
When the regulatory amendments to the building code come into effect, log homes will have the option of complying with the BC Energy Step Code, but will have several available compliance paths under the prescriptive approach.
Zero carbon step code
Previous iterations of the BC Building Code contained energy efficiency requirements without directly addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Amendments to Division B, Parts 9 and 10 of the building code will add new optional technical building requirements for the reduction of GHG emissions. These requirements, commonly called the Zero Carbon Step Code, come into force on May 1.
Technical requirements for GHG emissions have been added to the building code using a tiered approach, similar to the BC Energy Step Code. Local authorities have the discretion to determine which of the levels, if any, will apply in their jurisdiction.
The Zero Carbon Step Code has four levels of increasing stringency for Part 9 and Part 10 buildings. The first level is called EL-1 as it only requires the measurement of a building’s emissions. The next level is EL-2 and will likely require decarbonization of either space heating or domestic hot water system, reports the province.
Third is EL-3, which will require the decarbonization of both space heating and domestic hot water systems. The final level is EL-4 which indicates that the operation is as close to zero emissions as possible.
The Zero Carbon Step Code requirements will be voluntary, initially. The CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 commits to requiring increasingly stringent emission requirements for new buildings in 2024 and 2027, according to the province. In 2030, the BC Building Code will require all new buildings to be zero carbon.
“It can be difficult to determine what requirements in the BC Building Code should apply when an existing building is being altered. To address these challenges, the province is supporting the National Research Council’s development of a code that will address alterations to existing buildings. Anticipated for release in 2024, this code will help to provide guidance to owners, designers, local governments, and building officials,” reports the government of British Columbia in a press release. The Energy and Zero Carbon Step Codes were developed for new buildings.