If you’ve been reading about natural gas lately, chances are you’ve heard of the shift in Nanaimo away from gas in new home construction. The story has momentum, to say the least.
But as with any story, if it isn’t told well, it can lead to a lot of rumours and confusion. In this case, the story has become much bigger – and far more confusing - than expected.
On October 16, 2023, Nanaimo’s City Council made their final reading and approved the building bylaw amendment that limits the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a building is allowed to emit. As a result, this change restricts use of fossil fuels such as heating oil, natural gas and propane as primary heating sources in newly built homes. From the first mention of this as a possible change to its final acceptance, the rumoured story has been “the City of Nanaimo is banning gas!”
The emission restriction only applies to newly constructed buildings. As oil, natural gas and propane have higher GHG emissions factors than other sources like electricity, the bylaw will prevent the installation of any of them as a main heating source. Backup systems, such as wood and gas fireplaces, are still allowed in single family homes, duplexes and townhomes. In some cases, if the building is designed to be highly efficient, a gas cooking stove may also be allowed.
Existing homes with gas heating are not being forced to change to a different heat source because of this bylaw change either (the Zero Carbon Step Code does not apply to existing homes). Full disclosure though; the City will always support and encourage our homeowners to switch to energy efficient and low-carbon energy systems such as heat pumps. We heard loud and clear during the ReImagine Nanaimo process that our community is extremely concerned about the environment, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the best ways to mitigate climate change. If you do wish to improve the energy efficiency and lower the greenhouse gas emissions of your home, we have rebates for that.
With the national attention the City has garnered because of this change, it would be easy to think that the City of Nanaimo was the only community taking big steps toward reducing GHG emissions in new construction.
Again, we’re not.
The changes the City has made to the building code are all coming into play at the Provincial level by 2030 regardless. These changes are inevitable. BC’s Zero Carbon Step Code has a path to better home building laid out clearly. Nanaimo’s City Council has just implemented the changes early, which the Province of BC is supportive of. While we are excited to help lead the way, the City isn’t alone; nine municipalities have taken similar action, including Vancouver, Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich and most recently North Cowichan.
In the end, it’s expected that about 160 new homes annually could be affected by the change, but even then, that’s only if they would have chosen natural gas as a main heat source. As the best alternative, energy efficient heat pumps are growing in popularity as a primary heat source with the added benefit of cooling a home during those hot summer days.
If you are on the fence about the costs of retrofitting your current home or making your new home energy-efficient and low-carbon, check out the new Home Energy Navigator Program, provided by the City of Nanaimo and the Regional District of Nanaimo. This free service connects residents with an Energy Concierge, who will be available throughout your retrofit project to answer questions, provide support, and give local, expert advice.
Learn more on our BC Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Code webpage and, if you have any questions, please contact us at email@example.com.