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Prep for Step

The BC Energy Step Code is coming to the Shuswap. Here at Copper Island Fine Homes, we’ve been preparing for this for many years. But with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) moving to formally adopt the code this year, we think anyone considering building a new house needs to get themselves up to speed.

The BC Energy Step Code is an optional compliance path in the BC Building Code that local governments may implement to require a level of energy efficiency in new construction that goes above and beyond the requirements of the BC Building Code. The majority of municipalities and regional districts in BC already require new construction homes to adhere to the BC Energy Step Code, and it’s estimated that 70 percent of new homes in BC are currently being built in full compliance. We expect the CSRD to announce that it will finally be implementing the code in the months ahead, joining the nearby municipalities of Salmon Arm, Kamloops, and Vernon, and the North Okanagan Regional District.

Under the BC Energy Step Code, buildings must meet specific energy efficiency goals, using improvements in insulation, windows, furnaces, water heaters, lighting and other equipment and systems. It’s called a step code because it moves the industry towards higher efficiency in a series of steps. The lower steps are relatively straightforward to meet; the upper steps will be more ambitious. We expect the CSRD to move to step three of the code, which requires that homes be built to a standard that is 20 percent more efficient than what the basic BC Building Code prescribes. When it is fully deployed by 2032, the BC Energy Step Code will require a 100 percent improvement.

To comply with step three the BC Energy Step Code, builders will have to use energy software modelling and on-site testing to demonstrate that both their design and the constructed building meet the requirements of the standard. They may use any materials or construction methods to achieve this.

So what will this mean for our clients? There are certain required steps that will be required before a building permit will be issued, let any construction being allowed. First, an energy consultant will be needed to produce a report for the permit application, proving the theoretical thermal efficiency of a home. And in order to do this, certain information needs to be provided to base assumptions on. This means clients will have to be more proactive in the decision-making process to facilitate this. At the time the energy performance modelling is done, the following items will need to be known and finalized: full plans, window and door package, wall construction type, insulation specs, exterior wall and roof materials, and of course, HVAC system including furnace, heat recovery ventilation or HRV, A/C, fireplace, and hot water systems for in-floor heat if used.

“All this means that our clients will need to plan further ahead to make sure this doesn’t significantly increase the duration of the pre-construction phase,” says Marcus Picton, CIFH owner and CEO.

Meanwhile, we’re also stepping up our own game to ensure we’re ready for the BC Energy Step Code. We’ve been building energy efficient homes for many years that have exceeded building code requirements, where we have involved energy consultants and produced energy performance modelling reports. In fact, we have been routinely using the blower door test on projects to ensure efficiency and airtightness, and are used to doing what’s needed. But we know that we’ll need to do even more.

“We have a local energy consultant we will be working with on all new projects,” says Picton. “We have been pro-actively working with designers to ensure they’re paying attention to energy efficient design, and with sub-trades, especially HVAC, to ensure energy efficient options are being used and that we are well informed so we can educate our clients accordingly. We have also been speaking with our framers and insulators to ensure all steps are being taken to achieve superior airtightness, which is the most critical aspect in achieving high performing homes. All home builders have until the end of 2024 to complete step code training, but I have already completed all eight modules required.”

He adds that CIFH is looking further ahead to net zero homes and being able to build them now for those clients who want this, and not wait until they are mandated federally in 2030 or 2032 provincially.

There’s no doubt this will add to the cost to building new homes. We’d recommend to potential clients who wish to avoid those costs is to submit permit applications as soon as possible, as compliance is not yet mandatory. But we’d also suggest that we believe the BC Energy Step Code is a good thing, and that clients should understand that it brings important benefits.

“It will ensure a more energy efficient home which will result in cost savings in the long term and help protect the environment,” says Picton.