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.
| || ||2023-May-01||2024||2027||2030||2032|
|BC Energy Step Code||Part 9||Step 3|| ||Step 4|| ||Step 5|
| ||Part 3||Step 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%.
More costing studies can be found in the Documents section of this project page.