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Comment: High-performance buildings will save energy

For years, municipalities throughout Greater Victoria have supported better design and construction by encouraging or requiring high levels of energy efficiency and other technical requirements in their bylaws.

For years, municipalities throughout Greater Victoria have supported better design and construction by encouraging or requiring high levels of energy efficiency and other technical requirements in their bylaws.

They see industry leaders providing better, affordable buildings, and want all residents to have the opportunity to benefit from living and working in such homes and offices.

Developers and builders, however, have found the patchwork of different municipal bylaw requirements confusing, leading to needless expense. Inevitably, the extra costs are passed on to the people who buy or rent the buildings.

However, the slate will be wiped clean this month. The B.C. Building Act, passed in 2015, gives municipalities the opportunity to require better buildings and eliminates the confusion and expense that result from numerous unique regulations in each town.

Under the act, if a local government wants to continue enforcing technical building requirements for energy efficiency in a bylaw after Dec. 15, the bylaw must reference the province’s new Energy Step Code.

Local governments face two decisions: Will they continue enforcing energy efficiency-related technical requirements in their building bylaws? If they do, which “step” of the step code will the bylaws reference?

The B.C. Energy Step Code provides a provincewide approach to improving energy efficiency incrementally in buildings beyond B.C. Building Code requirements. It enables local governments to require better buildings for residents in a cost-effective and consistent manner, and is part of a process leading us toward high-performance new and existing buildings across Canada by 2032.

Local governments have many reasons to increase building energy efficiency in their communities. Improved comfort and health, building durability, energy savings and greenhouse gas-emissions reductions are obvious benefits. A building’s efficiency is also often a sign of its fundamental quality.

Unfortunately, this kind of quality is almost invisible at the time of sale and is difficult for buyers to evaluate. A recent federal-provincial agreement to implement energy benchmarking and labelling for buildings will help to address this — as well as increase transparency and consumer protection. Building-performance testing and labelling gives consumers a way to quantitatively assess a prospective home’s quality.

Because a home is the largest investment most families make, requiring better building performance today protects them by ensuring their homes maintain market value when the labelling program comes into effect.

That efficient homes are also more affordable is less obvious to people unfamiliar with high-performance building design and construction. Industry leaders in Greater Victoria and around the world are delivering tens of thousands of affordable housing units that meet Passive House levels of performance. Passive House buildings consume up to 90 per cent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings.

Doing this successfully and cost effectively requires training and a willingness to innovate design and construction practices.

Many more builders in the region routinely deliver homes that meet or exceed B.C. Energy Step Code levels of efficiency. Improved efficiency makes these homes more affordable through minimal cost increases and dramatically reduced operating costs.

A comprehensive costing assessment done for the B.C. government confirms the experience of these builders.

Our local governments have consulted extensively in recent months with the public and industry groups such as the Canadian Home Builders Association, Passive House Canada and others. Passive House Canada believes that requiring performance-based measures for buildings is key to ensuring British Columbians live, work and play in better-quality homes, community centres, office towers and apartment/condo buildings.

The Energy Step Code offers a thoughtful and effective path to achieve the high-performance buildings of the future. Recognizing this, Passive House Canada has joined a number of B.C. organizations and companies to urge local governments to adopt Step 3 in their bylaws immediately and to target higher-level steps in coming years.

Step 3 is something all qualified builders are able to deliver affordably using practices common today, and enables significant emissions reductions — particularly if renewable energy sources such as electricity are used.

Most importantly, Step 3 protects consumers. It requires buildings to be tested and have an energy model — tools that allow consumers to evaluate a home’s or building’s quality.

By requiring performance-based outcomes, the B.C. Energy Step Code encourages industry innovation and new cost-effective practices. It also will help ensure British Columbians enjoy the same quality of buildings as residents in other jurisdictions experience.

In the end, we all benefit from better buildings.


Rob Bernhardt is CEO of Passive House Canada, a national non-profit association advocating for the Passive House high-performance building standard. He lives in Vancouver Island’s first Passive House building.

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