Local politicians hit the pause button last month on promoting higher energy efficiency standards for new homes in the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
At its June meeting, the RDCK board voted to delay early implementation of stricter energy-code requirements for new homes. Staff had proposed making the changes effective at the end of July. The board will have another look at this at its December meeting.
“I voted against that with enthusiasm,” says Paul Peterson, the Area K politician who helped lead the push to delay. “In my opinion, the province has a one-size-fits-all rules for the whole province when it comes to building inspection, and with the building code changes they come out with every year, it seems to cost tens of thousands more dollars to build a new house.”
The changes were proposed to move the regional district’s building bylaws closer to matching upcoming provincial legislation, which sees a five-step process towards higher energy efficiency in new homes.
“Changes to the BC Building Code are coming,” staff noted in a written report for the board at its June 18 meeting. “The BC Energy Step Code has set a goal of Net Zero energy use buildings by 2032.”
To get to net zero energy emissions, the province has set deadlines for builders to meet progressively higher targets.
Step 1 would see builders having to hire an energy consultant to review their plans and make recommendations. The recommendations are not binding on the builder at that stage, though the builder still has to meet other energy requirements.
Staff were hoping for the board to adopt the new requirements 18 months early in order to ease the transition, the report to the board states.
“The RDCK can use this time and its leadership to support and prepare the construction community for this change through education and training,” the report says. “Builder workshops have been active since 2017 and continue to be offered through the Regional Energy Efficiency Program: New Home.”
Implementing the changes now also allows homeowners to access REEP, or the Regional Energy Efficiency Program, an effort to improve housing conditions for RDCK residents. The proposed motion from staff also suggested builders adopt an even higher level of energy efficiency – Step 3 – on a voluntary basis.
“Emphasizing energy efficiency and providing access to incentives for energy advisors enables homeowners to invest in a higher standard of construction that will build a legacy of energy efficient homes in our communities,” it adds. “BC Energy Step Code is an opportunity to build better homes.”
That may be, but the extra cost the requirement tacks onto the cost of a home made it a non-starter for most directors, says Peterson.
“It costs $400,000 to build a plain-Jane house nowadays, and in my estimation $100,000 of that is due to poor legislation,” he says. “And here we are in a housing shortage, and I don’t get it.
“I think there’s frustration among rural directors that know most of their folks, and frustration with the things the Province has come up with, that have made new housing starts so hard.”
The board report argues the cost of an energy adviser is about $1,000 to $1,200, and is offset partially by an energy grant. Staff say with the average home costing $250 per square foot to build, the consultant fee equals the cost “of a very small closet.”
Still, Peterson questions that figure.
“It think that’s what you pay the guy, but what happens if you don’t meet his approvals? You have to do this and that. I think it’s a bit misleading,” he says.
“Here we are with people out of work, we could be looking at going into a recession, if not a depression, very easily, so to add even more to all the rules doesn’t make sense.”
In the end, board directors overwhelmingly voted to put off the voluntary changes another six months.
The board is also bringing its concerns to its provincial organization. It passed a motion to bring forward to the annual Union of BC Municipalities convention, calling on the “BC Building and Safety Standards Division [to] assess regional financial disparities making building affordability and flexible low-cost building methods a priority for the revision of the BC Building Code in 2022.”
The motion goes on to ask that any additions to the building code that are beyond structural integrity and safety “be addressed through incentives, not punitive or prescriptive measures”.
But the RDCK decision only delays the inevitable. Barring major policy changes, provincial legislation mandating energy reviews of new homes and cuts to the carbon footprint will take effect on Dec. 31, 2021.
At that point, neither the RDCK nor homeowners will have a say on the matter.
— From the Valley Voice