B.C.’s New “Clean Commerce Engine”

Here is the official version of the story: The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial regulation that local governments may use, if they wish, to incentivize or require a level of energy efficiency in new construction that goes above and beyond the requirements of the BC Building Code.

The BC Energy Step Code comes into force this month; to date, 14 B.C. local governments have advised the provincial government that they plan to use it to lower energy use in their communities. (One, the City of North Vancouver, has already passed a bylaw allowing it to do so.) It consists of a series of steps, representing increasing levels of energy-efficiency performance. By gradually adopting one or more steps of the standard, local governments can increase building performance requirements in their communities.

But at a recent one-day workshop in Abbotsford, one speaker after another predicted that the BC Energy Step Code will do much more than reduce energy use.

“It’s safe to say, this is not just a building standard,” said Greg Steves, assistant deputy minister with the Province of British Columbia’s Office of Housing and Construction Standards. “It is a driver of the clean economy.”

Steves delivered a keynote address at High-Performance Profits: How Builders, Manufacturers and Service Providers Can Find Opportunity in the BC Energy Step Code. QUEST Canada organized the workshop; some 80 builders, engineers, manufacturers, utility and nonprofit leaders joined local government staff.

A heat-recovery ventilator provides fresh air to occupants of buildings that are otherwise tightly sealed against heat loss. You would typically find one of these units in a building built to comply with the Upper Steps of the BC Energy Step Code. Photo: Mark Bernhardt.

The Province of British Columbia has set a goal that all new buildings must reach a “net-zero energy ready” level of performance by 2032 — the highest level of efficiency achievable today. The BC Energy Step Code provides a ‘technical road map’ that will allow local governments and industry, working with utilities, to reach that goal.

Steves said that the regulation is just a regulation — it’s what others do with it that matters. “It is the marketplace that responds to the [net-zero-energy] challenge, and it is the market that will ultimately get us to that future. And that’s where we expect to see those economic development opportunity start to grow.”

Steves predicted that, as more communities adopt the standard, British Columbia manufacturers of high-performance building materials — think manufacturers of insulation, windows, doors, wall assemblies, ventilation equipment, and even modular buildings — will begin to retool to develop products that will help builders meet the standard’s requirements.

“That, in turn, opens up export opportunities,” he said.

Workers assemble passive house units at Metric Modular in Agassiz, B.C. These homes would approximate Step 5 of the BC Energy Step Code for simple buildings. Photo: Monte Paulson.

Research shows that the global “green-building” market doubles every three years and the value of the green building materials market is expected to reach $234 billion by 2019.

British Columbia is already a green building design and construction leader, boasting some of highest-performing buildings in North America. According to recent research, almost 12,000 people work in green architecture and related construction services in B.C., while close to 9,000 work in clean energy services.

Steves also said that, because the BC Energy Step Code places an emphasis on a building’s physical structure — its walls, roof, foundation, and so on — that it designs high energy-efficiency performance into the very fabric of our buildings. In this way, the standard “future proofs” buildings to protect their owners and occupants against future rising energy costs, ensuring they remain affordable for decades to come, Steves said.

To stay informed about the BC Energy Step Code, visit energystepcode.ca. Also, be sure to sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter.

Glave Communications produced this post on behalf of the Training and Communications Subcommittee of the Energy Step Code Council, with resource support from BC Hydro. In an effort to increase awareness and understanding of the BC Energy Step Code, the Energy Step Code Council is sharing information on how and why builders and communities are using the new standard. Local governments may use the BC Energy Step Code, if they wish, to incentivize or require a level of energy efficiency in new construction that goes above and beyond the requirements of the BC Building Code.