Taking steps toward energy-efficient homes


Originally published on January 23, 2o2o here

Looking at the renderings for Garcha Properties‘ newest enclave, Clayton Street, one sees homes showcased by marble, quartz and gourmet kitchens. However, Clayton Street is much more than its contemporary interiors. Once completed, it will achieve B.C.’s Energy Step Code’s level 3.

What does that mean?

Implemented in 2017, the voluntary B.C. Energy Step Code changes the way houses are built in order to make new homes more energy efficient.

“The B.C. Energy Step Code is a graduated process that is performance-based rather than prescriptive to arrive at an energy performance standard for new-home construction that would be Net Zero-ready by 2032,” explains Ron Rapp, CEO of HAVAN, the Homebuilders Association Vancouver. “Net Zero means that the home is effectively neutral in terms of energy consumption and GHG (greenhouse gas emissions) footprint.”

Rather than the prescriptive approach of the current building code, the Step Code doesn’t mandate how a builder constructs the home. Instead, the onus is on reaching the required energy-efficiency targets but lets builders figure out how to meet it.

The Step Code takes a gradual five-prong approach: Step 1 requires the home to perform 10 per cent better than a Base Code (prescriptive) house; Step 2 increases to 20 per cent; Step 3 at 30 per cent; Step 4 at 40 per cent; and the Step 5 house should be capable of meeting its heating needs with equipment equivalent to less than a third of the output of a typical gas fireplace.

“These steps are measurable, performance-based energy-efficiency requirements for construction that builders can follow and communities can adopt in bylaws and policies,” says Rapp, adding Steps can be achieved through better insulation, choices of windows, all the way to how a home is designed. “Not only will these net-zero energy-ready homes be more comfortable, they will be healthier, more affordable to heat and about 80 per cent more energy efficient than those built today.”

According to a July 2019 report by the B.C. Housing’s Research Centre and the Community Energy Association, 14 local governments have already adopted the B.C. Energy Step Code, while another 17 are in the process of enactment.

A proponent of the program, Justin Garcha, president of Garcha Properties, says its Clayton Street project, “Is built to Energy Star Standards, which is comparable to Step Code 3.

“This means there is an effective control of the flow of air, heat and moisture through the homes,” Garcha explains.

“Plus, these homes are 20 per cent more cost effective and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which is good for you and the environment.”

Adera Development has a long track record of sustainable building practices.

“We have embraced sustainability and have exceeded the Step Code requirements all along,” says Eric Andreasen, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Adera. “Since we began 50 years ago, we have focused on wood construction, wood that is sustainably harvested.”

Its newest project, North Shore’s Crest, will achieve Step 3 level.

“This is ahead of the Code, which in North Vancouver is at level two,” adds Andreasen.

Although Steve Mills, construction manager for Vesta Properties agrees with much of what Garcha and Andreasen say, he’s concerned the B.C. Step Code is moving along at a pace builders and homeowners might find too fast.

“It is a huge learning curve for builders who have been building the same way for years,” says Mills, adding Vesta Properties voluntarily went to Step Code 2 in Latimer Heights townhomes eight months prior to the Step Code being regulated in Langley.

“It is also more expensive. At Latimer Heights, the cost to reach Step Code 2 is an increase of $10 per square foot.”

In the end, all agree that the Step Code “is the right thing to do.”