Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve set up this FAQ to centralize answers to common questions about the BC Energy Step Code.
What is the BC Energy Step Code?
The BC Energy Step Code is an optional compliance path in the BC Building Code 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 base BC Building Code. It consists of a series of steps, representing increasing levels of energy-efficiency performance. By gradually adopting one or more steps, local governments can increase building performance requirements in their communities. In addition, builders have the option of building to the BC Energy Step Code, even if it is not required by a local government. The Province of British Columbia has set a goal that all new buildings must reach a net-zero energy ready level of efficiency by 2032; the BC Energy Step Code serves as the policy pathway to reach that goal.
What is a “net-zero energy ready” building?
Net-zero energy buildings produce as much clean energy as they consume. They are up to 80 percent more energy efficient than a typical new building, and use on-site (or near-site) renewable energy systems to produce the remaining energy they need.
A net-zero energy ready building is one that has been designed and built to a level of performance such that it could, with the addition of solar panels or other renewable energy technologies, achieve net-zero energy performance.
Is the BC Energy Step Code mandatory?
The BC Energy Step Code is an optional compliance path in the BC Building Code.
British Columbia local governments interested in better-than-code building energy efficiency have the option of referencing the BC Energy Step Code in their policies, but are not required to do so.
Builders anywhere in the province may voluntarily use the BC Energy Step Code as a new compliance path for meeting the energy-efficiency requirements of the BC Building Code. Builders may be required to build to a given “step” if a local government has required them to do so. Local governments can also offer incentives to encourage builders to build to a given step.
The BC Energy Step Code is available to all local governments across British Columbia.
How easy is it to achieve the steps in new home building?
With respect to small buildings, builders can achieve Steps 1 to 3 (we call them the “Lower Steps”) using construction techniques and products readily understood and available in today’s market. Homes built to Steps 4 and 5 (the “Upper Steps”) are more ambitious and, at least in the early years, will require more training and incentives to achieve.
How does it work?
The BC Energy Step Code establishes a series of measurable energy-efficiency requirements that builders must meet in communities that adopt it. The BC Energy Step Code groups these performance requirements into a series of “steps” of increasing energy efficiency.
We classify Step 1 as “enhanced compliance” as it simply requires builders to confirm that their new building meets the existing energy-efficiency requirements of the existing BC Building Code. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the scale, Step 5 for homes represents a home that is net-zero energy ready—the most energy-efficient home that can be built today. (For more, see our How It Works page.)
What makes a BC Energy Step Code building different from a conventional one?
Many of the differences will be invisible to the naked eye because the improvements are built into the very fabric of the building—the walls, windows, the heating system, and the attention to construction details. However, occupants will feel the differences via increased comfort – for example, it will be quieter, as higher quality doors and windows not only reduce the amount of energy getting out, they reduce the amount of noise getting in.
A building built to one of the steps of the BC Energy Step Code will require less energy for heating and cooling which can help home and business owners reduce their energy bills.
Does the BC Energy Step Code apply to renovations?
The standard is intended for new construction. Because the standard evaluates the building as a system, it is impractical to apply it to most renovations where existing portions of the building are not being upgraded.
How will the BC Energy Step Code help the province reach its goal of “net zero energy ready” new construction?
The Province has set a target that every new building must be net-zero energy ready by 2032. But until now, builders and the industry haven’t had a good sense of how to work toward that goal. The BC Energy Step Code gives the building industry a clear sense of where the Province is heading on energy efficiency under the BC Building Code, and how it will get there.
Who is behind the BC Energy Step Code?
The Government of British Columbia works with the independent and volunteer Energy Step Code Council to monitor how local governments are referencing the standard, including any potential impacts on housing affordability and technical building requirements.
The Energy Step Code Council is supported by contributions from its members, and chaired by a representative of the Province of British Columbia as an innovative, cross-sector collaboration focused on planned market transformation.
As an advisory body, the multi-sector Council does not have any formal regulatory or administrative authority. Instead, it provides a venue for stakeholders to gather and share information, and work collaboratively to resolve issues as they arise. Informally, it serves as a “bridge” between the provincial government, utilities, local governments, and the building, development and design sectors, to ensure local governments adopt steps of the BC Energy Step Code in a prudent and coordinated manner.
Why is it important to have policy that targets energy-efficiency investments?
The most cost-effective time to invest in a building’s energy efficiency is when it is first built. Policy and regulation can help ensure that new buildings will be designed and built, from the ground up, to be as energy efficient as possible.
What are the upfront costs of each step?
To better understand the financial implications of the BC Energy Step Code, BC Housing commissioned the Metrics Research Report–one of the most sophisticated high-performance building costing assessments ever developed in Canada. The study shows how the various steps impact construction costs in various building types, and in different climate zones across the province.
The Metrics Research report is available via All Resource. We share some findings here.
What did the Metrics Report find?
General findings include:
- It is generally easier and more cost-effective to achieve the steps in buildings that have simple forms and that share common walls, such as townhomes and apartments.
- A building’s form and orientation significantly impact its performance. A simple, south-facing design will have an easier time meeting the requirements than the same building facing north.
- It is generally easier for very large homes to meet the Upper Steps than for smaller homes, and it may be challenging for very small homes—such as coach houses and laneway homes—to meet the Upper Steps.
- In the province’s colder northern regions, it may be challenging for homes to meet the Upper Steps altogether, without significant changes to building design.
Over time, as industry gains experience with these practices and energy-efficient products become more prevalent, cost discrepancies are likely to decrease. But the transition will not happen overnight.
The Metrics Report is available via All Resources.
For Local Governments
Do I have to use the BC Energy Step Code in my community?
No. Local governments can voluntarily choose whether or not to reference any part of the BC Energy Step Code in their policies.
The BC Energy Step Code is available to communities that wish to increase the energy efficiency of their building stock. It is a powerful yet nimble tool. A local government may reference the steps in many ways, including as a requirement in its building bylaws, during rezonings, or through an incentive program. For guidance and sample implementation examples, please see the BC Energy Step Code Best Practices Guide for Local Governments.
My local government is interested in developing new green buildings policy or bylaws. What should I do?
BC Energy Step Code Best Practices Guide for Local Governments outlines everything local governments need to know to design and implement a BC Energy Step Code strategy.
How do I know which step my community is ready for?
The BC Energy Step Code allows local governments to move along the pathway to net-zero energy ready buildings at their own pace, relative to industry capacity and community demand. The Best Practices Guide will help you plan an approach that works for you.
What is the economic development opportunity?
The BC Energy Step Code could open up new local economic development opportunities while allowing the province to tap into the growing global market in energy-efficiency education, technology, and expertise. B.C. is already a green-building design and construction leader, boasting some of highest-performing buildings in North America.
According to recent research on the clean economy, almost 92,000 people work in green architecture and construction services in British Columbia, while another 28,000 work in energy services.
The global green-building market doubles every three years. The BC Energy Step Code could help unlock this export opportunity. It could also yield the highest-skilled workforce in North America.
Where can the BC Energy Step Code be used?
The BC Energy Step Code is available now for use with simple residential buildings (those covered by Part 9 of the BC Building Code) across the province. Standards for larger residential and commercial buildings (Part 3 buildings) are to date only available to local governments in the Lower Mainland and on Southern Vancouver Island. The Energy Step Code Council is currently working to develop requirements for all building types, and will share them here as they come available.
How would I know a builder has met the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code?
The BC Energy Step Code is a part of the British Columbia Building Code, which outlines the specific information that builders must provide to a local government to demonstrate that they have satisfied the BC Energy Step Code’s requirements. Because the BC Energy Step Code relies on software modeling to evaluate a given building’s energy efficiency, a builder will submit a summary of the model of the building to the local government to demonstrate compliance. Every building will also be subject to an air-tightness test; such tests use a specialized fan to measure how tightly a building is sealed against air leakage.
For Builders and Developers
What is the key appeal of the BC Energy Step Code for builders and developers?
The BC Energy Step Code gives industry a clear sense of where the province is broadly heading on energy efficiency. The province has set a target that all new buildings must be net-zero energy ready by 2032—but until now, industry hasn’t had a good sense of how we will meet that goal. The BC Energy Step Code creates predictable steps for builders and local governments to follow. It gives industry time to upgrade skills, learn new techniques, and identify new products and suppliers, before the provincial government mandates the changes.
What do builders need to do to meet the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code?
Part 9 builders will need to work with an energy advisor to check that their plans will meet the energy-performance requirements of a given step. An energy advisor uses software to analyze construction plans and determine how well the resulting building will perform on energy efficiency. The builder then begins construction, paying special attention to walls, windows, doors, and insulation. Once the building is built, the energy advisor conducts an airtightness test to confirm it performs to the required level.
Part 3 builders will need to work with an architect or engineer to ensure their building complies with the BC Energy Step Code.
What incentives are local governments offering builders and developers to build to the steps of the BC Energy Step Code?
Municipalities could offer a wide array of incentives, including density bonusing, permit fee rebates, rezoning consideration, expedited permitting, reductions in development cost charges, tax exemptions or reductions, to name a few.
Visit Implementation Updates for more information about how local governments are referencing the BC Energy Step Code and their use of incentives.
I’m a builder: what training and resources are available to help me bring my crews up to speed?
How does the BC Energy Step Code align with other green-building certification programs?
The BC Energy Step Code gives builders a welcome level of consistency between local governments on energy efficiency. Prior to December 2017, many municipalities required builders to work with a hodgepodge of different green-building bylaws. A key objective of the Building Act is to bring greater consistency to the technical building requirements in force across B.C. Municipalities will be moving at different speeds on energy efficiency, but under the BC Energy Step Code, they will all be moving in the same direction and referencing the same technical requirements.
What is an energy advisor?
Under Part 9—the section of the BC Building Code addressing simple buildings such as single-detached dwellings—energy advisors use their expertise, in combination with energy modelling software, to ensure a building meets the requirements of a given step. They also evaluate buildings during construction to confirm they will perform as needed.
For more information:
- Visit the Canadian Association of Consulting Energy Advisors
- Visit Natural Resources Canada for information about energy modelling and energy advisors