The Building Act that regulates health and safety standards for the construction industry in BC recently received more than just a cursory once-over.
Inspired by the Climate Leadership Plan, the Province just announced the pathway to Net-Zero buildings over the course of the next 1.5 decades. By 2032, the new plan prescribes that new buildings in BC will produce as much energy as they consume, and therefore are defined as “Net-Zero” buildings.
Entitled the “BC Energy Step Code”, this announcement underscores a genuine initiative to change our approach to building and, within a reasonable timeframe, lighten the energy burden on natural resources.
For the record, a “Net Zero” home is not to be confused with Passive House certification. The latter is an airtight home designed and built with highly insulated walls and roof, triple pane windows and adequate sun exposure or orientation.
Certified Passive Homes are able to eliminate a heating or cooling system, yet they require a source of energy to turn on lights and cook meals, for example.
By Canadian standards, this “Step Code” initiative is quite advanced and is starting to ripple through the local industry. Builders, contractors, consultants and developers are already organizing to cater to an accelerating consumer demand for performance homes.
At this point, it seems obvious that prerequisites for home buying and building are going to change.
Propelled by many diverse factors, the regulatory environment being one of them, home owner-builders and customers who embark on building a custom home will have the choice to future proof their home against the tide of new “Net-Zero” products arriving in the marketplace.
If indeed you are building a new home today, and you don’t consider what that real estate environment looks like in 15 years from now, your new home will look “not so new” compared to other new homes which opted for energy-efficient gains in light of the Step Code.
The know-how and technology to build these homes are already in place and available for home building, so the question it leaves us with is, “why wait to build these homes?”
Our current building code upholds the minimal legislative requirement for the health and safety of occupants and homeowners. From this perspective, it’s reasonable to say that advances made by the Step Code will be undermined by the omission of what this announcement did not bring.
The fact remains that this initiative missed an opportunity to be more progressive.
Why did our BC policy planners not take the extra step to prescript the building of healthy as well as performance homes?
One does not guarantee the other.
Insofar as the health of a home or working space, building material choices have a major role to play in the future of home building. Sustainable, renewable and natural building materials are all accessible now to deliver us from toxicity found in insulating foam and toxic resins and glues used in our conventional manufactured wood products.
Imagine you go to the trouble to build an airtight home that’s energy efficient and mould-free, but the toxicity from the off-gassing of substandard materials is locked into the home until the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) system can finally clear all the volatile organic compounds – which could take years or not at all in some cases.
The future of our buildings will also make a contribution to the health of the individuals who live and work in them and reduce the footprint of the building process too.
While one can recognize the “Step Code” as a significant and progressive change for our industry, it could have gone further. For now, a future of both healthy as well as energy-efficient buildings remains one of consumer choice.