BC Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Code Implementation Strategy

The City of Nanaimo was working with the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN), Town of Qualicum Beach, and District of Lantzville in developing a strategy to support energy efficient, low carbon buildings and localized energy generation in our region.  This work informed local government policy and action and resulted in City staff recommendations to City Council on an implementation strategy for higher steps of the Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Step Code, with recommended Step Levels and timing.

To learn more about the Regional Strategy for Net Zero Buildings visit the RDN’s Get Involved page here.

On 2023-OCT-16 Council gave the fourth and final reading to Building Bylaw Amendment Bylaw 2023 No. 7224.05.   The intent of the bylaw is to implement the Provincial Zero Carbon Step Code and advance the BC Energy Step Code for Part 3 Buildings only.   As of now, all new building permit applications will need to meet performance requirements specified in EL-1 (measure only) of the Zero Carbon Step Code.  In other words, new building applications will have to include the modeled greenhouse gas emissions for the proposed building.  As of 2024-JUL-01, a new building or structure to which Part 3 or Part 9 of the Building Code applies, and which is within the scope of the Zero Carbon Step Code, must be designed and constructed to meet performance requirements specified in EL-4 (Zero Carbon Performance) of the Zero Carbon Step Code.   

In addition, starting on 2026-JAN-01, all new Part 3 building applications will need to meet Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code


  • Progress

    On 2022-AUG-29, Council directed Staff to begin preparation for industry consultation on the implementation of the upper steps of the BC Energy Step Code and greenhouse gas emissions targets for new buildings. Following this direction, the City partnered with the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN), Town of Qualicum Beach, and District of Lantzville in early 2023 to develop a strategy to support energy efficient, low-carbon buildings through technical and policy analysis as well as industry and staff engagement 

    On 2023-MAY-09 the Regional District of Nanaimo and participating municipalities including the City of Nanaimo invited over 150 industry stakeholders to participate in an online workshop to consult on the Regional Strategy for Net Zero Buildings and Localized Energy Generation, which includes the consideration of implementing BC Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Step Code. During this workshop, the project team heard from 48 different industry stakeholders including developers, builders, architects, engineers, contractors and energy advisors. An online survey, hosted on the RDN Get Involved project website was shared directly with the stakeholders. You can watch a video recording of the stakeholder session here. A total of 26 surveys were completed. After reviewing the early engagement result, on 2023-MAY-26 City Staff shared a draft proposed policy pathway by email with all the stakeholders seeking additional feedback.  

    At the 2023-JUL-26 Special Governance and Priorities Committee Meeting Council reviewed a report with the following recommendation, "that the Governance and Priorities Committee recommend that Council direct Staff to prepare the necessary “Building Bylaw 2016 No. 7224” amendments in order to: a) adopt the Provincial Zero Carbon Step Code and require that all applicable building permit applications meet the Measure-only Level (EL-1) upon bylaw adoption; b) require all Part 3 and Part 9 applicable building types and occupancies meet the Zero Carbon Performance Level (EL-4) of the Zero Carbon Step Code by 2024-JUL-01; and c) require all applicable Part 3 building types and occupancies meet the Step 3 of the Energy Step Code by 2026-JAN-01." During the 2023-JUL-26 meeting the GPC voted to support the recommendation and move the report forward for Council consideration.

    On 2023-OCT-16 Council adopted Building Bylaw 2016 No. 7224 which requires building permit applications to:

    • Meet EL-1 (measure only) of the Zero Carbon Step Code immediately – builders must disclose their GHG emissions
    • Meet EL-4 (zero carbon performance) of the Zero Carbon Step Code after 2024-JUL-01-  This level exceeds the Step Code rezoning policy GHGi requirements and will generally require low carbon space heating/cooling and water heating.
    • Meet Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code for Part 3 building types after 2026-JAN-01

  • Documents
  • Details

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Why is the City of Nanaimo looking at energy and emissions in new buildings?

    In 2019, Nanaimo City Council declared a Climate Emergency and set community wide emissions targets to be 50% to 58% below 2010 levels by 2030, and 94% to 107% below 2010 levels by 2050.

    Buildings and Infrastructure accounted for 31% of the city’s community greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2017, second only to the mobility sector. The burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas and oil, for space heating and hot water is a primary contributor of building emissions. Reducing building emissions through new construction standards and supporting low carbon (electric) systems is recognized as an important part of the City’s strategy to reduce community GHG emissions. 

    The construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings produce emissions through energy use for heating, cooling, and lighting, as well as the production of building materials and waste. One approach to reducing energy and emissions in the building sector is to encourage the construction of energy-efficient and low-carbon new buildings. This contributes to a more sustainable future but also offers long-term cost savings for building owners and occupants.

    Using low emission/energy efficient design at the time of initial construction avoids the high cost of having to renovate the home for better efficiency or a different energy system later. The buildings we build today will last past our own lifetimes, meaning that the decisions made about them now will impact their energy and emissions far into the future.

    What is the difference between the BC Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code?

    The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial standard that sets energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, while the BC Zero Carbon Step Code sets greenhouse gas emissions targets for new buildings.

    Is there a demand for high efficiency homes?

    A high energy efficiency home is viewed as increasingly desirable by potential home buyers. In a 2020 survey by the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA), 9 out of 10 respondents said they either “really want” or “must have” an energy-efficient home. An “overall energy efficient home” was listed as the third most desirable feature prospective homeowners look for in a new home.  High-efficiency windows come in at number four. A high-efficiency, low-carbon heating system has also made it onto buyers’ top-ten list of priorities, at number nine.

    What happens when the power goes out?

    Higher performance buildings also improve resilience to climate change by safeguarding against increasing temperatures through mechanical cooling, and maintaining indoor temperatures for longer periods of time in the case of power outages. 

    A common misconception is that relying solely on electricity puts residents at greater risk in the case of a power outage (compared to having both natural gas and electricity). In general, gas heating systems will not operate during a power outage as they use components that require electricity to operate, including circuit boards, relays, and blower motors and fans. An exception is when homeowners can light a natural gas fireplace or stove with a match; the same is true for some older domestic hot water systems.

    What are other local governments doing?

    Despite that the Zero Carbon Code was only introduced on 2023-MAY-01, a number of local governments in BC have already taken action to restrict carbon emissions from new buildings. The District of Saanich and City of Victoria worked collaboratively to become the first municipalities to enact regulations referencing the Zero Carbon Step Code. As of 2023-MAY-01, both Saanich and Victoria require all new buildings to meet the Measure Only tier of the Zero Carbon Step Code. Part 9 buildings in both cities will need to meet the top level - Zero Carbon Performance Level (EL-4) on and after 2023-NOV-01, Part 3 residential buildings (4-6 storey) will need to meet EL-4 after on and after 2024-JUL-01, and the remaining Part 3 buildings will need to meet EL-4 on and after 2024-NOV-01.

    The Resort Municipality of Whistler quickly followed Saanich and Victoria in implementing the Zero Carbon Code.   Starting on 2024-JAN-01, Whistler will require Step 4 of the BC Energy Step Code (one step above minimum code) plus Strong Carbon Performance for all Part 9 homes; and Step 3 (one step above minimum code) with Strong Carbon Performance for Part 3 residential buildings.  Whistler will then progress to a Zero Carbon Performance by 2026.

    On 2023-MAY-23, District of Central Saanich Council supported the move to implement Zero Carbon Performance for Part 9 buildings by 2023-NOV-01. They also already require Step 3 (one step above minimum code) for Part 3 residential buildings (4-6 story).

    Prior to the Province announcing their intent to introduce the Zero Carbon Code, a number of Lower Mainland municipalities developed low carbon energy system requirements generally to be in lieu of advanced Step Code steps.   The Cities of Richmond, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver have developed a policy that allows developers to choose to either meet the top Step Code requirement or meet a lower Step Code requirement and a set emissions standard.  

    As of 2023-OCT-01, the City of Richmond will require Part 9 builders to either meet Step 5 of the BC Energy Step Code or meet Step 3 plus a low carbon energy standard equivalent to the Strong Carbon Standard.  Richmond has indicated they will increase the minimum step code requirement in conjunction with a LCES to Step 4 by 2025 and Step 5 by 2027.   They plan to follow a similar step up approach for Part 3 buildings. 

    Questions related to Zero Carbon Step Code:

    What is the Zero Carbon Step Code?

    The BC Zero Carbon Step Code is a provincial BC Building Code standard that local governments can choose to implement in their jurisdiction, starting May 1, 2023. The Zero Carbon Step Code sets a maximum annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions that each new building is allowed to emit.

    Local governments may reference the Zero Carbon Step Code in their building or zoning bylaws and may also apply different carbon performance levels, where each higher performance level further reduces building emissions. This allows local governments to find a carbon performance level that is feasible for their local context.

    The four Emissions Levels (ELs) are: 

    Measure-only (EL-1): requires measurement of a building’s emissions without reductions, and is intended to build knowledge and capacity;

    Moderate Carbon Performance (EL-2): in most cases, will require decarbonization of either space heating or domestic hot water systems;

    Strong Carbon Performance (EL-3): in most cases, will require decarbonization of both space heating and domestic hot water systems; and

    Zero Carbon Performance (EL-4): in most cases will require the full electrification of a building.

    Will the Zero Carbon Step Code ban natural gas?

    No. Zero Carbon Step Code sets a maximum annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions that a new building is allowed to emit. Development projects have the option to specify low emissions energy sources* (such as electricity) for space and hot water heating and cooking equipment, or include equipment powered by an energy source with a higher carbon emissions factor (such as natural gas) as long as the projects can demonstrate the anticipated carbon emissions are under the required threshold.

    Depending on how the building is designed, back up or redundant heating systems such as woodstoves, decorative fireplaces, and other heating equipment may not need to be included in determining an Emission Level (EL). This means those ancillary uses and appliances may still use an energy source with a higher emissions factor and be Zero Carbon Step Code compliant.

    What does meeting the highest level - Zero Carbon Performance Level (EL-4) look like?

    In practice, there are a variety of ways to meet the top level of the Zero Carbon Step Code. It is entirely at the designer or architect’s discretion to choose how the building will meet a target Emission Level (EL). Decisions on energy sources and equipment may affect requirements for other building systems and components (such as insulation, windows, etc.).

    Homes and small residential buildings (Part 9) have both performance and prescriptive compliance options available. Large complex buildings (Part 3) only have a performance pathway available, where compliance is determined by following the City of Vancouver Energy Modelling Guidelines.

    Under the performance pathway for Part 9, the EL is determined by modelling the building and its systems to meet certain metrics. These metrics are the same for all buildings that fall under the Zero Carbon Step Code, independent of the energy source chosen for building systems and equipment. This means that some trade-offs – such as a higher performing envelope – may have to be included in the building design if energy sources with a higher emissions factor* are used. The greenhouse gas emissions of ancillary equipment such as cooktops, fireplaces, and laundry drying equipment are not included in the modelling of a Part 9 building’s EL for determining compliance with the performance path. As it is a performance based compliance pathway, there is no simple archetype of an EL-4 building, as one can be different from the next depending on design decisions made for each building.

    The prescriptive pathway for Part 9 is a simplified option to meet an EL which may require energy sources with a low emission factor (≤0.011 kg CO2e/kWh) for building heating systems, service hot water systems, equipment, and/or appliances. An EL-4 prescriptive building uses low-carbon energy sources for all building systems, equipment, and appliances. Cooktops and laundry drying equipment are included in the prescriptive path compliance, and must use energy sources with a lower carbon emissions factor to meet EL-4 under this pathway.

    For Part 3 buildings the performance pathway is similar to Part 9, however building’s greenhouse gas emissions are calculated based on the use of all energy utilities on site regardless of what equipment/appliances are being served. This would include all building systems, equipment, and appliances in the performance model. Like Part 9, there may be design trade-offs required if energy sources with a higher emissions factor are predominantly used throughout the building. As it is performance based compliance there is no simple archetype of an EL-4 building, as one can be different than the next depending on design decisions made for each building.

    *The emissions factors associated with the use of energy utilities consumed by the building’s systems are published in the BC Building Code as follows:

    1) 0.011 kg CO2e/kWh for electricity, and

    2) 0.180 kg CO2e/kWh for natural gas.

    Further detailed information on the Zero Carbon Step Code can be found in Technical Bulletin No. B23-03 from the provincial Building and Safety Standards Branch, including emissions factors for other energy sources.

    Does BC Hydro have the capacity to support all electric building systems?

    BC Hydro is planning for the rapid scale up of building, vehicle, and industry electrification and has developed near- and long-term actions to meet the scale of electrification required for achieving the provincial government’s climate targets.

    BC Hydro Staff attended the May 1, 2023 Council meeting as a delegation, and confirmed BC Hydro is currently in an energy surplus and have the capacity to meet projected demand.   BC Hydro were partners in the development of the BC Energy Step Code and are aware of, and supportive of, the Zero Carbon Code.  Click here to watch the BC Hydro Council presentation.

    What type of buildings would be regulated by the Zero Carbon Step Code? Would it affect restaurants and daycares?

    The Zero Carbon Step Code applies to buildings that fall under the “performance” path of the Energy Step Code, namely residential (Group C), business and personal services (Group D), and mercantile (Group E) occupancies as defined in the BC Building Code. These primarily include – but are not limited to – small and large residential buildings, retail stores, hotels, and offices. Both restaurants and daycares would be considered a Group A, Division 2 occupancy, but Group A occupancies are not currently under the scope of the Zero Carbon Step Code. Please refer to Section 9.37. and 10.3. of the BC Building Code for more information.

    Will the Zero Carbon Code result in higher utility bills for new homes?

    While heating a home with a natural gas furnace is generally more affordable than using electric baseboards, homes heated with a heat pump generally have similar or lower utility bills than those heated with natural gas.  A recent study of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland heat pump users who recently switched from natural gas noted “at current utility costs and carbon tax rates, heat pumps resulted in the same or lower costs in the majority (70%) of participating homes. With only 12% of homes experiencing a utility cost increase of more than 10%.”

    Like capital costs, utility costs can vary widely, primary due to the type of equipment installed, fluctuating energy costs, and user preferences.  Due to efficiency of electric systems for large buildings, modeling suggests utility costs would decrease between 9% to 24% (depending on Step Code levels and the size of the building) for multiple-family dwellings built to the Zero Carbon Step Code standard. For single-family dwellings, utility costs for a Zero Carbon Performance home range from a decrease of 12% to an increase of 7% compared to a baseline gas heated home. 

    What impact would the Zero Carbon Step Code have on construction costs?

    Costing studies estimate the incremental cost increase for implementing the Zero Carbon Performance standard are between 0 to 2% for both single-family homes and multiple-family residential buildings compared to a Step 3 building heated with gas.

    Questions related to Energy Step Code:

    What is the BC Energy Step Code?

    The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial standard for energy efficiency requirements for new buildings. It was first introduced in 2017 as an optional compliance pathway for local governments to encourage or require a certain level of energy efficiency in new construction. As of May 1, 2023, Part 9 buildings (homes and small buildings) must meet Step 3 of the Energy Step Code, while Part 3 buildings (larger, complex buildings) must meet Step 2.

    What is the Provincial timeline for implementing the Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Code?

    The Province has announced anticipated dates for the implementation of both the BC Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code. 

    BC Energy Step CodePart 9Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
     Part 3Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
    Zero Carbon Step Code  TBD*TBD*Zero Carbon Performance 

    *The Province has indicated they plan to enact amendments to the BC Building Code in 2024 and 2027 but have not yet identified what step will be required.  

    Will the BC Energy Step Code result in increased construction costs or impact housing affordability?

    The cost of complying with energy efficiency and low carbon regulations will vary from building to building and project to project, depending on the project type, goals of the project, product availability and cost, and the decisions made during design.

    As noted in the 2018 and 2022 Provincial BC Energy Step Code Metrics reports, historically, the cost premiums of high-performance building components have gone down over time, as the technology develops and as the market matures.  

    Overall, the expected cost increase from the baseline National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB 2017) standard ranges from 1 to 8% for single-family homes constructed to Step 5 and 1 to 6% for multiple-family dwellings constructed to Step 4 of BC Energy Step Code.  As currently in BC, single-family homes are required to meet Step 3 and large multi-family dwellings Step 2, the cost increase will likely be less than the above noted ranges. The cost increase for single-family homes is greater in small homes (less than 200m2) than large or medium sized homes over 200m2.  For large and medium sized homes, the cost increase ranged from 1 to 3%.  

    What is the role of Renewable Natural Gas?

    Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) refers to biomethane derived from captured and cleaned biogas. Biogas is produced from decomposing organic waste from landfills, agricultural waste and wastewater from treatment facilities. RNG has a lower emission factor than the conventional natural gas on a life cycle basis. However, there is currently no mechanism to ensure RNG will be used for the life of the building. Also, the amount of RNG that can be produced from landfills, agricultural waste and wastewater treatment facilities in BC is limited and is best reserved for hard-to-decarbonize sectors (e.g. heavy industry) and not used in buildings where alternative solutions are readily available. In the BC Building Code, RNG is not listed with an emission factor. For these reasons, RNG is currently not considered an option for Zero Carbon Step Code compliance.


    More costing studies can be found in the Documents section of this project page.

  • Background
    Rezoning Policy

    On 2021-JUN-29, the City’s BC Energy Step Code Rezoning Policy came into effect. The policy requires all new buildings that require rezoning to be either one step above the BC Energy Step Code prescribed for that building or subject to a legal commitment to install a low-carbon energy system (LCES) that satisfies a greenhouse gas intensity limit of 3kgCO2e per m2 per year. At the time the rezoning policy was developed, the LCES path was not officially included in the BC Energy Step Code. The Province has now advised local governments that a LCES path will be included in the next round of BC Building Code updates, expected in December 2022.

    On July 9, 2018, Council received and endorsed the City’s “BC Energy Step Code Implementation Strategy”. The Strategy recommended the BC Energy Step Code be implemented through a combination of building industry outreach and training, public incentives, and regulatory measures and included recommended approaches to implement.

    The City of Nanaimo adopted a phased in approach to the Step Code in 2019, with the following implementation dates:

    Effective DateBuilding Code PartStep
    April 21, 2020Part 3 and Part 9One
    January 1, 2021Part 9Two
    January 1, 2022Part 3Two
    January 1, 2022Part 9Three

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