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Move to higher residential building energy requirements moving forward from City Hall

By the end of the year city council will be requiring a higher residential Step Code standard on new residential construction in the city and will introduce Step Code two for new development of complex buildings.

The city will be requiring builders to step up their game when it comes to building development in Nelson.

By the end of the year city council will be requiring a higher residential Step Code standard — moving from one to three — on new residential construction in the city and will introduce Step Code two for new development of complex buildings.

To meet the requirement of any given step of the Step Code, noted city building inspector Sam Ellsion, a “whole-building energy model of the proposed building design must be completed prior to construction to demonstrate that the building’s modelled design meets or exceeds a set of defined requirements.”

In his presentation to city council on the matter in early September, Ellison explained that of the 11 single family dwelling building permits the city issued in the last year — required to be built to a minimum of step one of the Step Code — most of those projects were hitting above Step Code three.

“There are at least 10 projects that voluntarily complied with the Step Code before the requirement was implemented,” he said in his report to council, adding that one project reached step five, or net zero ready.

“A lot of the homes that are already being built by our local builders are pretty good homes and, in a lot of cases … they are already achieving these levels,” he said.

“And it (higher step code) seems to be what people want.”

The move to a higher step in the code contrasts with what is happening outside of the city’s borders.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors decided last month against implementing the first step of the Step Code, citing the rising cost of residential construction and the strict requirements within the code contributing to it.

That financial sentiment has gained even more weight in the last few weeks as the cost of lumber at most yards in the region has nearly doubled, causing the cancellation of some projects.

To help turn the tide of rising costs rather than contributing to it, the regional district board will be bringing forth a motion at the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) meeting to make building affordable and low-cost building methods a priority when the BC Building Code is revised for 2022.

The board’s motion also asked for additions to the code be “addressed through incentives, not punitive or prescriptive measures.”

In his report, Ellison addressed the increased cost for new development, saying the province conducted case studies in 2018 and was able to produce the following results for Part 9 buildings:

  • in regard to increased cost to achieve step three from step one, the overall costs could increase between zero and two per cent; and
  • in order to achieve step four from step one, an additional cost increase of four per cent was noted.

But the increased costs were likely to be offset by reduced energy bills, Ellison said.

The first three readings of the bylaw at this time are expected to provide notice to the community about the forthcoming change. The bylaw will not be brought back for adoption until the November or December regular meeting “to avoid any confusion in the consolidation of the bylaw given the delayed effective date.”

Advising on energy

One of the major hurdles of the Step Code was the requirement for builders to work with an energy advisor to supply the required information for Step Code compliance.

However, Ellison said the city has found that compliance has not been a problem in working with the advisor.

“Additionally, most builders are not reporting significant concerns about achieving the prescribed goal of step code one as a minimum,” he wrote in his report.

Walking the steps

A step three standard for a residential building is estimated to be 20 per cent more energy efficient as compared to the same building built under a step one standard.

As well, a step four standard was projected to be 40 per cent more efficient, with a step five standard at net zero ready, or 80 per cent more efficient than a standard home.

That step five home has the potential to become energy neutral with the addition of directly applied renewable sources.

Future planning

“With an eye towards the future, staff are continuing to educate themselves with regard to embodied carbon in new construction,” Ellison wrote in his report to council.

“Discussion provincially and within the industry has surfaced increasing concerns around the amount of embodied carbon that is associated with achieving high energy efficiency.

“It has been identified that while some products are good at reducing energy consumption they may be contributing large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere during manufacturing and installation, negating gains made in emissions reduction through Step Code.

“The possibility to create a two-tiered system allowing for constructors to meet lower levels of Step Code if they can demonstrate a low embodied carbon total for the proposed project is possible.

“Some jurisdictions have already adopted this approach and it is something the city will explore before proposing any further increases in the Step Code standard.”

— Source: City of Nelson