The BC Energy Step Code has now been in place for over a year. However, we find many clients are still confused about how the Step Code works and what level is in place for them, mostly because each City implements its own rules about how the Step Code applies to residential construction locally.

Here, we address which “Steps” are in place in several key cities within the Greater Vancouver Area.  

A brief introduction to the BC Energy Step Code

The federal government has already established that, by 2032, all residential buildings that are constructed in Canada and have seven or fewer storeys must meet Net-Zero standards. The BC Energy Step Code is a voluntary program to help build toward this requirement: it affects new houses that are built and existing houses where a significant portion is renovated.  

There are five levels in the Step Code, each with its own performance target. This gives Designers, Builders, and Homeowners options about what materials and techniques they use to reach the Step in question.  

Step 1: Improved energy efficiency above and beyond the BC Building Code

  • There is no requirement for Air Changes per Hour (ACH) – there is no limit to how many times the air leaks out per hour
  • There is no specific requirement for the Energy Use per Year – This means that if the Building was built in the last 10 Years then it’s probably performing at the average level of 75 -100 kWh/m2/year Energy Use per Year then the cost to heat the average 2000 sq. ft. home would be about $1,149 –  $1,532 each year*
    • This is basically what the City of Vancouver has been using for years and BC is just catching up

Step 2: 10% more energy efficiency

  • 3.0 Air Changes per Hour (ACH) – all of the air leaks out 3.0 times per hour
  • 35 kWh/m2/year Energy Use per Year  – This means the cost to heat the average 2000 sq. ft. home would be about $536 each year*
    • This is a 10% improvement over Step 1 and is pretty easy to achieve

Step 3: 20% more energy efficiency

  • 2.5 Air Changes per Hour (ACH) – all of the air leaks out 2.5 times per hour
  • 30 kWh/m2/year Energy Use per Year  – This means the cost to heat the average 2000 sq. ft. home would be about $460 each year*
    • This is a 20% improvement over Step 1 and is still pretty easy to achieve. It is achievable just by using some better quality materials, methods and equipment, hence the reason several BC Cities have made it their minimum standard

Step 4: 40% more energy efficiency

  • 1.5 Air Changes per Hour (ACH) – all of the air leaks out 1.5 times per hour
  • 20 kWh/m2/year Energy Use per Year – This means the cost to heat the average 2000 sq. ft. home would be about $306 each year*
    • This is about a 40% improvement over Step 1. This requires better quality materials and better installation methods, as well as equipment. It is still fairly simple to achieve, so long as your construction team is detail-oriented

Step 5: Net-Zero construction

  • 1.0 Air Changes per Hour (ACH) – all of the air leaks out 1.0 time per hour
  • 15 kWh/m2/year Energy Use per Year – This means the cost to heat the average 2000 sq. ft. home would be about $230 each year*
    • This is about a 70% improvement over Step 1 and is almost the same as the European Building Code standard used for many years in many countries. The main differences are that we require solar or other sustainable energy systems to offset energy usage and the Europeans require 0.6 ACH. Part of the reason for this is that less mould will form with a less drafty house, decreasing the number of health risks like asthma and increasing the comfort of the home

* For reference, houses built in the last century often used 150 kWh/m2/year or more of energy to heat and had on average about 10 ACH.
It costs:

150 kWh/m2/year
X $0.0829 per kWh
X 2000 sq.ft. (185 m2)
= about $2,300 each year to heat.
This is 10 times what it should cost to heat and cool a house built to Step 5. So the savings is about $2070 per year for a 2000 sq. ft. house.
That’s basically a saving of $1 per sq. ft. of house each year. This means that the average house would save more than $20,000 over the first 10 years. More once you consider increasing energy costs and other factors like surplus energy from solar or other sustainable options.

Currently, the required Step within all participating Cities in BC is Step 1. There will be four revisions to this between now and 2032. With each revision, the requirements will move up to the next Step, until Step 5 is finally required. Then, by 2050, all current homeowners will need to renovate to also meet Step 5 standards.

For the official information on this, click here.

How the BC Energy Step Code is implemented in various cities

This is where things can get a bit tricky.

As the BC Energy Step Code is voluntary, different cities choose whether they want to opt-in – and pick what Step they are setting in their area. Now, they cannot go below the Step that is currently required, which is now Step 1, but they can go above it. If they do go above it and you live in that area, you have to build to your City’s standard.

Here are the standards that are currently required in various Cities in the Greater Vancouver Area that have opted into the BC Energy Step Code. Before beginning any project, however, make sure that there have not been any changes to the requirements in your city.

1. Burnaby

Currently is in the process of developing a Step Code proposal under Part 9, but no start date has been declared. For now, there are no requirements in place but expect the City to put some in place shortly.

2. Richmond

Currently, the requirement is Step 3. Homes and low-rise apartment buildings constructed in Richmond will need to be 20% more energy efficient than the basic requirements in the BC Building Code.

3. Langley Township

As of January 1, 2019, Langley Township has begun participating in the Step Code. The Township requires Step 1 for buildings not inside a DPA (Development Permit Area) and Step 2 for buildings in a DPA.

4. Surrey

Surrey has not committed to a plan yet but has proposed Step 1 until the fourth quarter of 2019, when the City will move to Step 3.

5. District of North Vancouver

North Van District has opted for Step 3. Again, this means you will need your home to be 20% more energy efficient.

6. City of North Vancouver

Like North Van District, the City of North Van has opted for Step 3, with some neighbourhoods requiring Step 4. This Step was put into place on July 1, 2018.

7. West Vancouver

On July 1, 2018, West Vancouver enacted Step 3. This Step continues to be the standard there.

8. Belcarra

Belcarra will be using Step 3 as well. They have not put an effective date into place though. If you are going to be building in Belcarra, make sure to check with your Building Designer or the City to see what the current requirements are.

If you do not see your city on this list, that means they have not opted into the Step Code yet, or have implemented their own energy efficiency requirements for residential builds.

You can still build to the Step Code requirements, though – unless your City’s standards outpace those within the Step Code.

We strongly advise any new build meeting Step 5 requirements, if possible. Not only is that better for your health and the environment, but it will also save you from having to do renovations before 2050 to bring your home up to Net-Zero status.