Nelson city council decided at its Monday meeting to increase the energy efficiency requirements for new homes in the city, but it turns out most local builders are already voluntarily building to the new standard.
The requirement will change from minimum Step 1 to Step 3 in the BC Energy Step Code by December 31.
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.
City building inspector Sam Ellison told council that most new homes being built in Nelson are already reaching at least a Step 3 standard.
“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 said.
The province’s goal is to have all new residential buildings at net zero 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.
“What I have been hearing from builders and owners,” Ellison said, “is that people are interested in making their homes energy efficient for both the environment and for energy costs. The feedback I have been getting from anyone who has had a home built for them to a higher level is they get that first electricity bill and it’s $40 and they are flabbergasted.”
The increase from Step 1 to Step 3 applies only to residences and some small commercial buildings. Council decided that more complex commercial buildings will move just to Step 2. The Step Code does not apply to institutional or industrial buildings.
The province has estimated that residential building costs resulting from a move from Step 1 to Step 3 would increase by up to two per cent, and from Step 1 to Step 4 by four per cent.
Councillor Brittny Anderson asked Ellison about embodied carbon, which is the carbon footprint of the extraction, manufacture and transport of building materials including such things as foam insulation and concrete. A building can be energy efficient (airtight) but still have a high environmental footprint if embodied carbon is included.
The Step Code currently does not take embodied carbon into account but the province is grappling with how to incorporate it, and Ellison said the city will explore this before making any further increases in standards.