BC Energy Step Code
In April 2017, the B.C. government introduced the multitiered BC Energy Step Code to bring a consistent set of standards for energy efficiency to the many jurisdictions in the province. With the introduction of the new regulation, the province is stripping individual jurisdictions—with the exception of Vancouver—of the power to set their own energy efficiency standards. In place of this power, municipalities may choose from several levels of energy performance from within the BC Energy Step Code.
At its highest levels, or “steps,” the new code requirements approach Passive House standards. For instance, the BC Energy Step Code effectively prioritizes building envelope performance because, under the new regulation, buildings must be tested for airtightness. More insulation and better windows than the typical are needed to meet all but the standard’s lowest level. Also, energy modelling is now required for all projects as the BC Energy Step Code is performance-based rather than prescriptive.
The BC Energy Step Code has two sections:
- one for Part 9 residential buildings, which applies province-wide; and
- a second for multiunit residential and commercial that applies only to Climate Zone 4 (the Lower Mainland, southern Vancouver Island, and southern Okanagan).
In contrast, Passive House requirements are the same across all building types and all climate zones.
For Part 9 residential buildings, the new standard has five steps. It also has four levels for multi-unit residential and three for commercial. To meet Step 5—the highest level for Part 9 buildings—Passive House certification provides a clear route to compliance. Section 18.104.22.168 of the new regulation, “Compliance Requirements” states, “Buildings designed and constructed…. to the Passive House Planning Package, version 9 or newer, are deemed to comply.” In the province’s guide to the new standard, Step 5 is described as “equivalent” to Passive House.
Though the requirements for Step 5 are similar to Passive House, they are not identical. Thermal energy demand is the same for both at < 15 kWh/m2year or peak thermal load < 10 W/m2. Air changes per hour (ach) in the code are 1.0 whereas Passive House is slightly more stringent at 0.6. While the BC Energy Step Code has a requirement only covering mechanical energy use intensity (MEUI) with a maximum 25 kWh/m2year, this does not account for auxiliary electricity and domestic hot water. Passive House, in comparison, measures overall primary energy renewable (PER)—the total energy use intensity (EUI) multiplied by a PER factor (i.e. the energy supplied from renewable sources divided by the final energy demand of the building). Passive House sets the PER limit at 60 kWh/m2year (Figure 1).
With multi-unit residential, the steps in the new energy code only go up to four. In this instance, thermal energy demand is again set at < 15 kWh/m2year—the same as Passive House. While the BC Energy Step Code sets a maximum total energy use intensity at 100 kWh/m2year, Passive House has a requirement for PER with, as previously noted, a limit of 60 kWh/m2year.
Lastly, for commercial buildings, the BC Energy Step Code only goes up to Step 3. Here the thermal energy maximum is increased to 20 kWh/m2year and the MEUI goes up to 120 kWh/m2year, which matches earlier versions of the Passive House standard (Figure 2).
The BC Energy Step Code, though different from Passive House, has made a significant move to the methodology and criteria of the Passive House standard. By explicitly accepting Passive House as an “equivalent” to the highest levels of the regulation for each of the three building types referenced, it has provided building professionals the option of using one universal standard for energy compliance.
It remains to be seen how effective the BC Energy Step Code will be in reducing GHGs from buildings. For now, the regulation only applies to Part 9 buildings for the vast majority of the province not in Climate Zone 4. Also, with the stated target of being net zero-ready by 2032 and no interim targets, the BC Energy Step Code in its current form allows municipalities to stay more or less where they are for another decade or so. Indeed, the standard’s guide recommends “at least until 2020, local governments that are considering the application of the BC Energy Step Code on a community-wide scale should only require the lower steps.”
Given the normally slow adoption of change within the building and development industry, the timelines of the mostly voluntary BC Energy Step Code may appear reasonable. However, when one considers the BioScience article, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” where 15,000 scientists issued a warning of catastrophic environmental collapse, saying “soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” one knows mankind is up against the clock and losing on climate change. One can only hope individual jurisdictions will show moral leadership and ambition, and move to the highest levels of the BC Energy Step Code as quickly as possible.