At a Dec. 18 meeting, Nelson council’s plan to step up its requirements for energy efficiency in new buildings as of Jan. 1 was put off until March.
The move would require new houses and small commercial buildings to be built to Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code.
The delay was sparked by Councillor Cal Renwick, who said he had been approached by a contractor who was concerned that the move would increase building costs.
“Where I struggle with this,” Renwick said, “is if we say you must build to Step 3 this makes things unaffordable for people who build ‘spec homes’ [houses built and owned by the contractor for eventual sale].”
The BC Energy Step Code is a series of five steps, each with increasingly advanced energy saving standards. Step 1 is the status quo, Step 2 means increasing efficiency above the status quo by 10 per cent, Step 3 by 20 per cent, and Step 4 by 40 per cent. The fifth step is a net-zero building that produces as much energy as it uses.
The province’s goal is to have all new residential buildings at zero heat loss by 2032, but for the time being the province has made it voluntary for municipalities to adopt the Step Code. Many, including Nelson, have incorporated it into their building bylaws.
But there are deadlines. According to provincial legislation all residential buildings in B.C. must be at Step 3 by 2022. So after a certain point, the city will no longer have a choice.
Until now, all new residences in Nelson have had to be built to Step 1.
In September, council passed three readings of a bylaw to require Step 3 in all new Nelson buildings starting in 2021, but left final adoption of the bylaw to its Dec. 18 meeting, where it was met with Renwick’s objection.
Mayor John Dooley agreed with Renwick, suggesting the bylaw be put off for three months to have a meeting with Nelson contractors to hear their concerns, and to consult the city’s advisory planning committee and its housing committee.
He and Renwick said they had heard rumours about moisture problems in buildings in Kimberley that were related to Step Code increases.
“They [contractors] are learning on your house as they go,” Renwick said, “and they might get it right and they might not, and if they don’t, who will pay? And what if your insurance company says it should not have been done that way and they aren’t going to cover you?”
City building inspector Sam Ellison told council that houses can be built to Step 3 at virtually no extra cost because most of the extra expense involves improving the airtightness of the home.
To get certified as Step 3, a home has to undergo a blower-door test that measures air leakage from the home. The test must be done by a certified energy auditor, and Ellison said he is applying for a grant from Fortis that would cover that expense.
Ellison said most new houses in Nelson are already being built to Step 3 standards.
“We have some good builders in town and even without trying very hard they are already building these houses, and it seems to be what people want,” Ellison told council at a September meeting
The bylaw, which will now come back to council in March, would also require large commercial buildings to meet the standards of Step 2.