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Net Zero Without Glitches or Hitches: Putting the B.C. Energy Step Code into Practice

Session leaders

  • Bob Deeks, President, RDC Fine Homes Inc. (Presentation)
  • Zachary May, Acting Director, Policy and Codes Development- Building and Safety Standards Branch, Government of British Columbia (Presentation)
  • Rory Tooke, Community Energy Planner, City of Surrey (Presentation)
  • Robyn Wark, Team Lead- Sustainable Community Program, BC Hydro (Presentation

Presentations

This session focused on a new energy performance standard that was designed to help builders improve their construction practices by working collaboratively with municipalities. The Energy Step Code is written to work with the B.C. Building Code but is transferable to jurisdictions outside B.C. and is currently being considered for integration with Canada’s National Building Code.

This tool was developed by consensus through the Energy Step Code Advisory Committee, which is made up of local governments, NGOs, utilities, tradespeople, professionals, builders, and developers. A subset of this cross-section of stakeholders led this session: Robyn Wark, BC Hydro (Facilitator) with Zachary May, Government of B.C.; Bob Deeks, RDC Fine Homes, and Rory Tooke, City of Surrey, British Columbia.

The impetus for the Energy Step Code stemmed from the 2015 B.C. Building Act and the B.C. Climate Leadership Plan, according to Zachary May. Both call for improving consistency in how energy efficiency is defined and measured by jurisdictions across the province and to be net-zero ready by 2032, respectively. The Energy Step Code measures energy performance of building envelope and mechanical systems and airtightness for both Part 9 and 3 (single-family/low-rise and multi-urban residential buildings, respectively) construction (See Figure 1 and Figure 2).

Figure 1: Steps for single-family homes and small buildings. To the left are jurisdictions implementing programs that meet the equivalents to these steps. Existing labels correspond to each step and Step 5 aims for Net-Zero Ready by 2032.

Figure 2: The Energy Step Code also applies to Part 3, low-rise residential and commercial buildings but only has 4 Steps.

“The BC Energy Step Code’s flexible framework allows each local government to select appropriate steps, policy mechanisms, scale, and level of incentive to achieve multiple community objectives, including energy efficiency in new buildings.” ~ Zachary May

Bob Deeks shared a builder’s perspective on the Energy Step Code; he is the Vice Chair of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) Net Zero Council. Deeks said that the Energy Step Code is designed for today’s technology and the challenge is how disseminate the practice across the industry, making capacity building a top priority. He pointed out that builders who work with energy advisors reduce their costs and that some builders are unwittingly building to Step 3 already without realizing it. Deeks presented survey results that list energy efficiency among the top “must haves” among home buyers. He called for real estate agents, appraisers, and financial institutions to develop mechanisms to facilitate that consumer demand.

Speaking from the local government perspective, Rory Tooke said the Energy Step Code eases the constraints on local governments to stimulate market transformation. He described buildings with better building envelopes as more resilient and having better indoor air quality. He contrasted the envelope, a passive contributor to a building’s energy performance, with mechanical systems that require sophisticated operators to help them perform efficiently. Empowered with the “flexible consistency” provided by the Energy Step Code, combined with tools to verify performance, local governments can contribute:

  • Market signals that give industry the confidence it needs to build better;
  • Incentives, such as density bonuses, permit fast-tracking, and energy advisor offsets;
  • Design guidance;
  • Demonstration projects that help build supply chains; and
  • Coordination of knowledge sharing and interjurisdictional partnerships.

Dialogue

Before breaking out into small groups, participants discussed what is meant by “net zero ready,” which the session leaders explained: A Net Zero Ready house could produce as much energy as it uses and it operates as modeled during the design stage (per CHBA definition). There was also concern about skill capacity within certain jurisdictions and the session leaders indicated their intent to engage the Canadian Alliance of Certified Energy Advisors to address those issues.

In small groups, participants explored key challenges currently in front of the Energy Step Code Advisory Committee:

  1. The Goldilocks Dilemma: How can the BC Energy Step Code Council best advise local governments on the right pace of roll-out, not “too fast,” not “too slow” to ensure affordability is protected?
  2. Thinking Strategically: What needs to happen for local governments to undertake Strategic Step Code Plans with builder engagement, multi-stage roll-out, with different policy tools, and building typologies?
  3. Change Management: How to raise the industry and building official quality of energy efficiency work across the entire spectrum of experience and skillsets?
  4. Replicating Success: Energy Step Code Council. How can we take this multi-stakeholder success and spin it out at a local and regional level?
  5. Costs Versus Benefits: How do we shift thinking towards intangible benefits such as comfort, quiet, health, and attach real monetary value to them?

Each group addressed all the questions, as time permitted. Figure 3 is photo of two mind maps one group developed to better understand the challenge of rolling out the Energy Step Code and possible solutions.

Figure 3: Tensions and solutions suggested by one group

Recommendations

Participants broke out into groups and developed several ideas they thought would make the roll-out successful. Their suggestions have been grouped according to themes the ideas have in common and are included below:

Communications

  • Develop a highly visible profile.
  • Tell success stories (e.g. communicate the feeling of living in high performance buildings, perhaps through grassroots networks of people who can speak from experience).
  • Tailor stories to motivate different groups with different interests but aim for a multi-faceted approach to create demand for all benefits across all stakeholder groups.
  • Feature benefits other than energy efficiency (e.g. improvements to quality of life and operational savings).
  • Foster public understanding about market readiness; needs to be easily understood.
  • Communicate early and heavily to draw out critics and respond (e.g. get ahead of the “natural gas ban” narrative) before losing the industry’s support.

Metrics

  • Develop community-scale baselines for communities to be able to compare (spur on healthy competitiveness!) and focus their efforts.
  • Measure success and track targets.
  • Develop energy labeling (e.g. benchmarking; Energy Star rating; walkability).
  • Understand Life Cycle Analyses and total economics (Note: water use, materials sourcing, local/circular economies will be included in future codes).
  • Combine benchmarking with energy modeling data for evidence-based policy frameworks.

Implementation support

  • Develop implementation process that is consistent.
  • Provide implementation support (e.g. financial mechanisms) that is more systematic than project-to-project.
  • Allow for innovation.
  • Leverage existing working groups in the region.
  • Provide incentives for early adopters.
  • Provide mobile air tightness lab that can reach remote areas.

Education

  • Connect leaders with learners.
  • Discourage urban-rural divide.
  • Foster collaboration at local and regional levels.
  • Integrate training of all stakeholders, such as this session, including all groups that sell houses and create demand (e.g. community energy manager with real estate agents, appraisers, and bankers).
  • Mandate Energy Step Code training (e.g. a licensing requirement for builders).

Additional recommendations not shared during the plenary report back are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: An example of a detailed set of ideas proposed for ensuring successful roll out of the Energy Step Code.

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