Episode #3 – BC Energy Step Code & The Future of New Home Construction

How energy efficient is your home? Have you ever had an Energy Advisor provide you with energy modelling and air tightness testing? Do you know what a Step Code is? James and Denny talk about the BC Energy Step Code and how builders are using energy software modelling and on-site testing to rate the insulating efficiency of a home. Listen to the Garbutt+Dumas Real Estate Podcast (bottom of page) to learn about the BC Energy Step Code and the future of new home construction.

BC Energy Step Code & The Future of New Home Construction

The BC Energy Step Code is a system of guidelines laid out to make sure the construction of new buildings are compliant in terms of modern-day energy efficiency. The goal of implementing such regulations is to make all new buildings “net-zero energy ready” by 2032. While this may be ambitious, it’s happening, and we need to get ready…

With more and more local governments adopting the BC Energy Step Code as part of their legal compliance for construction, in their latest podcast, our friends, James Garbutt and Denny Dumas, discussed the implications of these new regulations and offered some practical advice for those who wish to make sure they’re operating within the new laws.

A total of 64 local governments in British Columbia have submitted their initial notifications that they have started to consult on the new regulations, with 31 of those fully adopting the BC Energy Step Code as a part of their bylaw.

Displaying great humility, James wanted to make it clear to listeners that he doesn’t have the definitive answers on making sure homes meet the new provincial standard, however, he does offer us his own, practical insight into the topic based on his years of experience in real estate construction.

BC Energy Step Code

The BC Energy Step Code is different according to two distinct categories: Houses (Part 9, simple buildings) and Wood Frame Residential Buildings (Part 3, more complex buildings). In this podcast, Garbutt and Dumas discussed the application of the new code to residential houses (Part 9).

Part 9 buildings are categorized according to five steps; step five being the highest level of energy efficiency and, to all intents and purposes, is a building that could be considered off-grid or completely self-sustainable. Some local governments are demanding that builders comply with step four of the BC Energy Step Code by 2022, with the aim of achieving step five by 2032.

While steps one and two of the BC Energy Step Code are very much achievable without the addition of huge costs, James gave us his practical advice to help builders understand what is needed in order to achieve step four. To keep it simple, it’s all about insulation and designing a home in a way that has more focus on energy efficiency.

All About Insulation

“Let’s talk about insulation,” James said, “because that is what it really comes down to”. His personal interpretation of a home that would meet step four of the BC Energy Step Code comes down to simply building with 2 x 6 walls that have batt insulation, a rain screen on the outside, and a vapor barrier on the inside. James recommends adding insulation boards to the foundation walls, like a 2-inch rigid board to the exterior, as well as beneath the concrete slab in the basement.

In James’ opinion, if you put rigid board (or similar insulation products) around the exterior of your home and on top of the sheeting in your roof too, the framing materials of your home will be encapsulated in this, giving extra protection to preserve the building for the long term. It could also block condensation from getting to the wood and, in his opinion, is the great way to make a home compliant with step four of the BC Energy Step Code.

One of the most important factors in achieving compliance with the BC Energy Step Code is creating a fully sealed building that has minimal air gaps. Right now, there is no air testing, but as part of the BC Energy Step Code, buildings will be subject to an “airtightness test” at a certain stage of its construction. While there is no obligation to commit to step four at the moment, 2022 is fast approaching, and so James advises us to get used to the extra reports and tests in energy efficiency now.

A home that is compliant with step four of the BC Energy Step Code will have to have significant insulation in the roof. They want to increase the minimum to R40 (currently at R20), meaning, in some cases, a metre of insulation could be required. This will, of course, affect how architects approach roof heights as we move forward.

In order to achieve compliance with the BC Energy Step Code, James discusses using triple pane windows with insulated frames to improve efficiency. Window placements and overhangs are also important factors that can affect whether the home meets the new energy-efficient insulation demands. An overhang keeps water away from the walls and offers shade against the summer sun. Clever design means the home can be angled to capture the warming winter sun without having that sweltering greenhouse effect in the summer.

James goes on to discuss the mechanical changes on the inside of the property as the BC Energy Step Code aims to reduce heat loss through vents. The use of a heat exchanger system is James’ tip to combat heat loss as they warm the fresh air that is coming in. “There are lots of ways to get there”, James added, “there is no one way”.

Market Effects of the BC Energy Step Code 

What will be the effect of constructing according to step four of the BC Energy Step Code? Well, incredibly efficient and durable homes for a start. In James’ opinion, these houses could easily last for 200+ years if built and designed to a high standard.

Having said that, there will be additional time and costs to this energy-efficient construction. For example, factoring in the costs of the design, tests, reports and the extra building material costs, such as insulation, on a typical Vancouver suburb home could exceed $50,000.   More so if you include financial carrying costs for the extra time.

James Garbutt and Denny Dumas conclude this podcast by discussing how step four and above compliant homes will affect the future of real estate in the area. In two years, many cities throughout BC have a goal to meet step four of the BC Energy Step Code.  In the short term, they agree that speculative new home construction may be affected by this as buyers may take some time to pay the additional premium for these new homes. At some point, however, high energy efficiency will be the norm, and homes built prior to this era might have a negative connotation. Similar to how a building without rain-screen does today.