Smithers Town Council is considering how to approach the B.C. Energy Step Code initiative, an energy efficiency program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Step Code is an amendment to the B.C. Building Code announced in 2017 that establishes performance-based energy efficiency requirements for new construction, with the ultimate goal that all new buildings will be “net-zero energy ready” by 2032.
Currently, the Step Code is a voluntary standard, but council could decide to encourage or require builders to meet one or more of the steps before the code becomes mandatory.
At their regular meeting on March 26, council heard a verbal presentation from building inspector Morgan Widen on the program.
Widen explained that the Step Code outlines a series of five steps, which begins with step one, with a slightly more energy efficient house, and ends with step five, a net-zero energy home.
For larger, multi-residential buildings, there are four steps.
Widen said the code is performance-based rather than prescriptive. It does not dictate what building techniques and materials to use, rather, it involves energy advisors testing whether or not a new build meets requirements, such as on-site testing of air tightness using blower fans.
He said he has heard anecdotally that testing for a basic home costs about $600.
Steps two and three, which make a typical single family residential home 10 and 20 per cent more efficient, are “easily achieved with conventional building techniques coupled with improved mechanical systems and better detailing on the air tightness,” he said.
“With just some high performance tapes and some detailing we were able to get a standard construction up to a step three level,” he said of some coursework he completed down at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Metro Vancouver.
The target to have all new homes meet step three is 2022.
Steps four and five “require advanced construction techniques and materials,” he said. At step five, the energy needs of the building are met internally, with the addition of some renewable energy sources.
Widen has added Step Code information to the town www.smithers.ca and is in the process of adopting a new draft building bylaw that will reference the code.
Updates to the BC Building Code, which will be made in about five years, he said, will be in line with Step Code energy efficiency requirements.
While Widen said other cities and districts have come on strong with the Step Code, such as Vancouver, Richmond, East Kootenay and Agassiz, “when [he looks] at where the B.C. Step Code is right now and [he looks] at the north, we have an issue of capacity.”
“Our closest energy advisors are at Prince George, we have untrained workforce, our suppliers aren’t bringing in the high tech materials yet,” he said, adding that he has talked to some northern contractors who have never heard of the code.
To move forward, Widen said a lot of education will be needed and he does not feel he has the resources to take that on, because building inspection is a full-time position.
He recommended that council pursue creating a position in the north, part-time or otherwise, to do community outreach on the code and training.
“I think that’s a really great piece,” Mayor Taylor Bachrach said in response to Widen’s recommendation, adding that another community helped people adjust to the transition by paying for residents to have their homes tested.
Bachrach later told The Interior News that Widen’s recommendation could come up at the next council meeting or in the new strategic plan.
“That plan includes reference to strategies around energy efficiency and greenhouse gases, and a Step Code facilitator would certainly fit into that realm of work,” he said.
Councillor Lorne Benson voiced concerns that adopting the code could raise the cost of affordable housing.
However, Widen said the cost increases are “not huge.”
Councillor Greg Brown urged his fellow councillors to ask themselves if the code is a hurdle or an opportunity, and consider that the code could result in better, more comfortable houses.