Step Code changes for construction
Recently, North Cowichan voted to bring in Step Code 4 from the B.C. Building Step Code efficiency plan on their own volition even though it clearly states this on their website: “The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial regulation that local governments in British Columbia, Canada, may use, if they wish, to incentivize or require a level of energy efficiency in new construction that goes above and beyond the requirements of the base building code.”
North Cowichan will be aligning the Building Bylaw to reflect provincial Step Code requirements for space and water heating in buildings. As of May 1, 2023, the province requires all new residential and commercial buildings to demonstrate compliance with the BC Energy Step Code:
Step 3 for Part 9 buildings (single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes)
Step 2 for Part 3 buildings (larger apartment buildings, commercial, mixed-use, office)
North Cowichan is adopting Zero Emission Step Code EL-3, as per the new Building Bylaw which was amended in October, with EL-4 effective July 1, 2024. North Cowichan turned down the motion brought forth by Councillor Findlay to engage with the building industry before they voted this acceleration program in.
North Cowichan is progressing to the highest steps to reach its carbon emissions goal of 80% reduction of emissions. Already, more than half of new homes built in North Cowichan use electric energy for space and water heating.
The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial set of standards for constructing energy-efficient and airtight buildings. These compliance standards ensure that the province will be Net-Zero energy-ready by 2032. To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with space and water heating in buildings, the Province has developed the Zero Carbon Step Code.
With a full house at the Oct 4th Council meeting, all but one speaker was against this acceleration bylaw put forth by the council, but they were all dismissed. Councillor Justice reiterated that Natural Gas can still be used in step three and indicated it was not a “ban”, however without consulting with developers, the lack of understanding may have played a part when not realizing that Fortis will not bring gas to a building as a secondary source of heating as that does not make economical sense for their company. It is functionally and practically a ban as eliminating gas as an option for primary heating or any meaningful load will make it cost-preclusive for developers to include a system in new developments or attachments for single homes.
Councillor Istace tried to dismiss all the speakers who were worried about cancelling all Natural Gas by saying this was not a retroactive bylaw. While he is correct, the Climate Action Plan states that old houses should be renovated to meet certain standards and at the end of the life of gas furnaces, they should be replaced with heat pumps.
And if climate action is really a priority what is North Cowichan prepared to do about the methane associated with their waste? They will not turn our yardside waste into Renewable Natural Gas so that FortisBC can buy it and make it available to heat homes or businesses. What about wastewater treatment? Garbage? If new homes are responsible for lowering already low emissions, should they not be responsible for responsibly managing organic waste? a source of methane. Or if they are making homes responsible for emissions, but not transportation, which is a much higher emitter, are they supporting Compressed Natural Gas for diesel fleet vehicles? Or signing the letter from Fortis to the BC Utilities Commission asking that all new builds consist of Renewable Natural Gas?
It raises questions that this push to accelerate the building step code well before the Province implements these regulations comes on the heels of the Councillors attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual meeting in Vancouver. Union of BC Municipalities Megan Lohmann, Head, Community Energy Management, Community Energy Association Maxwell Sykes, Climate and Energy Manager, City of Surrey are all on the energy step code ‘Council’. From the Website: “As an advisory body, the Council does not have any formal regulatory or administrative authority. Instead, it provides a venue for stakeholders to gather and share information, and work collaboratively to resolve issues as they arise. Informally, it serves as a “bridge” between the provincial government, utilities, local governments, and the building, development and design sectors, to help local governments adopt the BC Energy Step Code in a prudent and coordinated manner.”
So a “bridge” between bigger government and smaller. Does your voice even matter these days?