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Comment: Natural-gas ban will drive housing costs higher

A commentary by a former ­television journalist who lives in Metchosin. “As I write this, a crew is installing a natural gas line to my house.”
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Upcoming bans on the use of natural gas in new buildings will add unnecessary costs for homebuilders and limit the use of an efficient, low-carbon fuel source, Ed Watson writes. STEVE MAXWELL

After learning about Victoria council’s decision to ban the use of natural gas in new construction, I’d have to say that we’re quickly heading down that storied road paved with good intentions. Our destination isn’t the hell of runaway climate change, but an equally unpleasant place where no one can afford a place to live.

The same local politicians who, rightly, are concerned about climate change seem equally zealous about the hot topic of housing affordability. Unfortunately, they appear oblivious to the fact that their actions do very little to reduce global climate change, and very much to increase housing unaffordability.

As I write this, a crew is installing a natural gas line to my house. It’s one step in the process to suite a garage on my property. The idea was simple enough: Suite the garage for me, then my son and his partner move into the house. Great idea, but not so simple. And definitely not the inexpensive housing solution we were looking for.

I won’t go into all the details, but before we started any type of demolition or construction I was into the project for more than $20,000. A good portion of that was attributable to what economists call “regulatory burden.” And I live in a low-cost municipality.

In fact, earlier this year the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. released a report suggesting that “…government charges can represent more than 20 per cent of the cost of building a home in major Canadian cities.”

On a $900,000 new home it works out to $180,000. And that’s not even accounting for the additional costs inherent in policies like the B.C. Energy Step Code.

You’ve probably not heard of the “Step Code” but it can add many thousands of dollars to the cost of a building. Even one as small as my 750-square-foot suite. The website says the Step Code can be used “to incentivize or require a level of energy efficiency in new construction that goes above and beyond the requirements of the B.C. Building Code.”

Many of the municipalities in the Capital Regional District have signed on to the Step Code, and it’s expected to be generally embraced by the B.C. government when it comes out with planned revisions to the B.C. Building Code.

The Step Code only applies to new construction, but if you’re adding on to an existing building you may be captured by the Code and prohibited from using natural gas as your primary source of heat.

The gas line being installed on my property will be used to replace electric forced-air heat in the main house, so that I can use the freed-up electrical circuit to power the suite. I planned it as a money-saving measure for my own “low-cost housing” project.

The cost calculations of climate change need to include more recognition that reducing emissions increases the cost of housing. And the UBC professor who founded Generation Squeeze says when it comes to housing, it’s all connected.

People’s inability to move up and into new housing because of cost and availability also prevents homeless people from finding low-cost shelter.

Canada contributes less than two per cent a year to global GHG emissions. We may have a moral duty to reduce our emissions, but our leadership also has a duty to do some cost-benefit analyses.

People making decisions, at every level, need to spend less time travelling the virtue-signalling road of good intentions, and more time on a practical path. A path less travelled perhaps, and along which you’ll still encounter people who have gas.

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