How the BC Energy Step Code Works

How it Works

The Province of British Columbia first introduced energy efficiency as a BC Building Code requirement in 2008. Ever since, designers and builders have had the option to use either “prescriptive” or “performance” approaches to comply with the code’s efficiency requirements.

To date, the vast majority of builders in B.C. have pursued the prescriptive approach. Following this approach, buildings must meet specific requirements for insulation, windows, furnaces, water heaters, lighting and other equipment and systems. It focuses on individual elements, rather than ensuring the building functions well as a system. The result can be a building that does not perform as well as intended.

Builders have a second option to comply with the energy-efficiency requirements of the BC Building Code: the performance approach. The BC Energy Step Code offers a specific form of this approach.

The performance approach establishes a desired outcome, and leaves it to the design and building team to decide how to achieve it.

To comply with the BC Energy Step Code, builders must use energy modelling software and on-site testing to demonstrate that both their design and the constructed building meet the requirements of the standard. They may use any materials or construction methods to do so.

This approach echoes that taken by many green-building certification programs, including Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Star for New Homes™ and R-2000™ programs, and The Canadian Passive House Institute Passive House™ certification, as well as the Canadian Home Building Association’s Net Zero Home™ and Net Zero Ready Home™ programs.

Progressively Higher Steps

The new standard sets performance requirements for new construction and groups them into “steps” that apply across various building types and regions of the province. The lower steps are relatively straightforward to meet; the upper steps are more ambitious.

All authorities having jurisdiction to enforce the BC Building Codeincluding local governments—can choose to require or incentivize builders to meet one or more steps of the BC Energy Step Code as an alternative to the code’s prescriptive requirements.

Beyond the regulatory context, builders and developers can adopt a given step to use across all of their projects, if they wish. Builders have a more flexible option to comply with the energy-efficiency provisions of the provincial legislation. The new standard empowers builders to pursue innovative, creative, cost-effective solutions, and allows them to incorporate leading-edge technologies as they come available.

The BC Energy Step Code specifies ventilation requirements to ensure a steady supply of fresh air to occupants, but it doesn’t say anything about the sources of energy used to heat a building. Further, it doesn’t address appliances or how a building uses electricity.

Over time, as high-performance designs, materials, and systems become increasingly available and cost-effective, the building industry will integrate new techniques into all new buildings. By 2032, the BC Building Code will move towards the higher steps of the BC Energy Step Code as a minimum requirement. The National Building Code of Canada will similarly be moving towards this outcome by 2030.

Pathway to 2032: Part 9 Buildings (Homes)

Pathway to 2032: Part 3 (Wood-Frame Residential)

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

What is the BC Energy Step Code? The BC Energy Step Code is a provincial standard that aims to create healthier, more energy efficient, and more comfortable new buildings. It does so by establishing measurable performance-based energy-efficiency requirements for new construction.

What is a "net-zero energy ready" building? A net zero energy ready building can be defined as a building built to high energy-efficiency standards such that it could (with additional measures) generate enough onsite energy to meet its own energy needs.

How will the BC Energy Step Code help the Province reach its goal of net-zero energy ready new construction? The Province has set a target that every new building must be net-zero energy ready by 2032. But until now, builders and the industry haven’t had a good sense of how to work towards that goal. The BC Energy Step Code gives the building industry a clear sense of where the Province is heading on energy efficiency under the BC Building Code, and how it will get there.

Is the BC Energy Step Code mandatory? No. Local governments interested in better-than-code building energy efficiency have the option to reference the BC Energy Step Code in their policies and bylaws, but are not required to do so.

Builders anywhere in the province can voluntarily use the BC Energy Step Code as a new compliance path for meeting the energy-efficiency requirements of the BC Building Code. Builders may be required to build to a given “step” if a local government has required them to do so. Local governments can also offer incentives to encourage builders to build to a given step.

The BC Energy Step Code is available to all local governments across B.C. except the City of Vancouver, which has its own building bylaw and its own energy-efficiency strategy.

Does the BC Energy Step Code apply to renovations? No. The standard is intended to apply to new construction only.

How does it work? The BC Energy Step Code establishes a series of measurable energy-efficiency requirements that builders must meet in communities that adopt it. The code groups these performance targets into a series of “steps” of increasing energy efficiency. Step 1 is referred to as the “enhanced compliance” step—as it simply requires confirmation that new buildings meet the existing energy-efficiency requirements of the existing BC Building Code. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the scale, Step 5 for homes represents a home that is net-zero energy ready—the most energy-efficient home that can be built today.

How many steps are there? For houses and small residential buildings, there are five steps; larger and more complex residential buildings have four steps, while commercial buildings have three. Each step represents a more stringent set of energy-efficiency requirements. As communities climb the steps, they gradually increase the level of energy efficiency in their new buildings.

How easy is it to achieve the steps?  For small buildings, Steps 1 to 3 (called the lower steps) can be achieved using construction techniques and products readily understood and available in today’s market; homes built to Steps 4 and 5 (the upper steps) are more ambitious and may require more training and incentives to achieve. 

What makes a BC Energy Step Code building different than a conventional one? Many of the differences will be invisible to the naked eye, because the improvements are built into the very fabric of the building—the walls, windows, the heating system, and the attention to construction details. However, occupants will feel the differences via increased comfort and ultimately reduced energy bills.

It will also ultimately save occupants money on utility bills, while shielding them from potential future energy price increases. It will also be quieter, as higher quality doors and windows not only reduce the amount of energy getting out, they reduce the amount of noise getting in.

Who is behind the BC Energy Step Code? The Province's Building and Safety Standards Branch works with the independent and volunteer Energy Step Code Council to monitor how local governments are implementing the standard, including any potential impacts on housing affordability and technical building requirements.

The Energy Step Code Council is supported by contributions from its members, and chaired by a representative of the Province of British Columbia as an innovative, cross-sector collaboration focused on planned market transformation.

Financial Implications

What are the upfront costs of each step? To better understand the financial implications of the BC Energy Step Code, the Energy Step Code Council has commissioned one of the most sophisticated high-performance building costing assessments ever developed in Canada. The research is expected to be completed in the summer of 2017, and will be shared when it’s available.

For Local Governments

Do I have to use the BC Energy Step Code in my community? No. Local governments can voluntarily choose whether or not to reference any part of the BC Energy Step Code.

My community already has a green-building bylaw in force. What should I do next? As of December 15, 2017, under the BC Building Act, local government bylaws that set technical building requirements for energy efficiency will be of no legal force unless they reference the BC Energy Step Code. Local governments have the option of converting them to the BC Energy Step Code before December 15, 2017 if they want higher energy efficiency standards to remain in effect in their jurisdictions.

Many common green-building programs (such as Energy Star™ and Built Green™) convert very easily to the BC Energy Step Code, because is it based on these and other programs that are widely used in the province.

My local government is interested in developing new green buildings policy or bylaws. What should I do? The BC Energy Step Code allows local governments to move along the pathway to net-zero energy ready at their own pace, relative to industry capacity and community demand. The Best Practices Guide (PDF, 4.5MB) (A Guide to the BC Energy Step Code for Local Governments) will help you take stock and plan your approach.

How do I know which step my community is ready for? See the Best Practices Guide for Local Governments (PDF, 4.5MB) for guidance on how to plan your approach.

Where is the BC Energy Step Code available? The code is available now for use with simple residential buildings (those covered by Part 9 of the BC Building Code) across the province. Standards for larger residential and commercial buildings (Part 3 buildings) are to date only available to local governments in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island. The Energy Step Code Council is currently working to develop standards for all building types, and will share them here as they come available.

How would I know a builder has met the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code? The BC Energy Step Code is part of the BC Building Code, which outlines the specific information that builders must provide to a local government to demonstrate that they have satisfied the code’s requirements. Because the BC Energy Step Code relies on software modeling to evaluate a given building’s energy efficiency, a builder will submit a summary of the model of the building to the local government to demonstrate compliance. Every building will also be subject to an air-tightness test; such tests use a specialized fan to measure how tightly a building is sealed against heat loss.

For Builders and Developers

What is the key appeal of the BC Energy Step Code for builders and developers? The BC Energy Step Code gives the building industry a clear sense of where the Province is heading on energy efficiency. The Province has set a target that all new buildings must be net-zero energy ready by 2032. The new code creates predictable steps for builders and local governments to follow. It gives the building industry time to upgrade skills, learn new techniques, and identify new products and suppliers, before the Province mandates the changes as a minimum requirement.

What do builders need to do to meet the requirements of the BC Energy Step Code? Home builders will need to work with an energy advisor to check that their plans will meet the energy-performance requirements of a given step. An energy advisor uses software to analyze construction plans and determine the energy efficiency of a building. The builder then begins construction, paying special attention to walls, windows, doors, and insulation. The energy advisor also tests a building once it is built to see how well it performs.

Developers of large and complex buildings will need to work with an architect or engineer to ensure their building complies with the BC Energy Step Code.

I’m a builder. What training and resources will be available to help me bring my crews up to speed? The Energy Step Code Council is actively researching the state of market readiness, and will soon have a sense of where the gaps are and what kind of resources will be needed. Watch for more information in future. For now, check out our resources page and the presentations and webinars page.

How does the BC Energy Step Code align with other green-building certification programs? When it comes to energy-efficiency requirements, the BC Energy Step Code gives builders consistency across local governments. The Building Act requires local governments to replace any green-building bylaws with the Energy Step Code by December 15, 2017, creating a consistent approach throughout the province. Municipalities will be moving at different speeds on energy efficiency, but under the BC Energy Step Code, they will all be moving in the same direction and referencing the same technical approach.

What is the role of a certified energy advisor? Under Part 9—the section of the BC Building Code addressing simple buildings such as single-family homes—licensed energy advisors use their expertise, in combination with energy modelling software, to ensure a building complies with a given design. He or she also evaluates a building, during construction, to confirm it will perform according to spec.

For More Information

  • See the BC Energy Step Code resources page
  • View a live or recorded presentation
  • Check the website regularly for educational and training materials

The content on this page is periodically updated by the Province of British Columbia per the date noted on the page: September 11, 2017.