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Energy Step Code for British Columbia

Energy Step Code for British Columbia

Posted by Ryan ColemanJanuary 01, 2017

What is all this discussion about the upcoming Energy Step Code in BC anyway?  Well, the Government of BC’s introduction of an Energy Step Code represents a new innovative pathway to support the design and construction of higher performing buildings in the Province. 

In short, the proposed Energy Step Code establishes progressive performance targets, transparently communicated many years in advance of implementation, thereby assisting market transformation from the current BC Building Code (BCBC) to the highest level of performance, including Net Zero energy ready buildings. Local authorities will be able to adopt progressively more stringent performance levels as regional market transformation is achieved.

Effectively, it was not until the most recent update to the BCBC (including subsequent amendments) that minimum energy efficiency requirements were introduced for large and complex buildings over 600 sq. m. (Part 3 buildings) and small buildings and houses, 3 storeys or less (Part 9 buildings).  This initial step represented a critical move in a positive direction for establishing higher building energy standards in the Province.  That said, to create market transformation and achieve the Province’s goal of requiring Net Zero energy ready buildings as the base BCBC by 2032, a broader multitude of policy and program tools including incentives, training, enhanced compliance, improved enforcement, building performance transparency and building regulations will be required.  The national code development process through the National Resource Council (NRC) is on a similar schedule, but provincial laws and regional market transformation efforts through the Energy Step Code will be crucial to achieve results.

It is within this context that the introduction of an Energy Step Code as a next evolution in policy will give the Province, local governments, utilities and the building industry more tools, options and opportunities to accelerate energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the built environment.  Additionally, it is also important to note that the Energy Step Code will also complement the Building Act by ensuring consistency in technical standards for construction across the province.

One of the key features of the Energy Step Code is that it is performance based, parts of which will be comparable to outcome-based metrics via billing data.  Under Step 1, every class of home and building will be required to be energy modeled prior to construction and then “commissioned”, including testing for airtightness prior to occupancy to build confidence in the performance of the finished product.   Additionally, every level of performance will be evaluated using the same metrics which creates a consistent way of measuring and understanding energy use in all buildings regardless of their location.

The path to Net Zero energy ready buildings as the base BCBC by 2032 will include a total of four (4) steps for Part 3 buildings and five (5) steps for Part 9 buildings.  Each of these steps will provide Province-wide consistency in how energy performance in buildings is pursued and measured.  Additionally, the incremental steps will become the overarching indicator of future code requirements thus adding transparency and predictability benefits for the building industry and enabling preparation and market transformation. 

For consistency purposes, the Energy Step Code will use standardized metrics that measure the efficiency of the total building, the building envelope (i.e. air leakage, insulation, windows and doors, etc.) and the performance of the mechanical systems (i.e. heating, cooling, ventilation, etc.).  These objective indicators of performance will provide confidence in the value for money in higher performance buildings. They could also help remove barriers to developing industry capacity since traditional building practices will be measured through the same lens as high performance building practices.  These standards may include the following depending on building type:  for Part 3 buildings, Total Energy Intensity, Thermal Energy Demand Intensity (envelope), and for Part 9 buildings, Mechanical Energy Use Intensity, Peak Thermal Load and Percentage-Better-Than EnerGuide Rating System Reference House. 

In terms of next steps with the Energy Step Code, work on several fronts continues to confirm the performance tiers and technical requirements ahead of implementation.  Additional attention is also being directed to the workforce capacity that will be required to implement the “steps”.  Without question, resource investment and change management strategies will be required to ensure the successful implementation of the Energy Step Code over the next few years.  Successful work on implementation will include but not be limited to awareness among builders, professionals, trades and building officials, development of new tools and incentives (particularly in light of the DSM Regulation proposed amendments), commissioning and quality assessment procedures and development of a feedback loop and continuous improvement framework.

For the public and private sector, there are exciting opportunities ahead to support the successful implementation of the Energy Step Code.  To learn more about the Energy Step Code, visit the Province of BC’s website here.