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BC Step Code a Misstep

Municipalities are considering adopting the province’s Step Code, yet many do not understand the implications:

  1. Step Code is actually a Leap Code. While it appears increased energy efficiency is achieved in steps, in fact, municipalities may invoke very high levels of energy efficiency (1 – 5 Tiers ) without certified education, affordability or proven practice. Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria and North Saanich are leaping from Step Code 1 to 3 starting Jan 1, 2020. This is a recipe for leaky condo syndrome. In the province’s own words: “The BC Energy Step Code does not specify how to construct a building, but identifies an energy-efficiency target that must be met and lets the designer/builder decide how to meet it.” While the home may pass an initial target, building envelope failure may be fast-tracked using some code-approved materials/applications. Unlike the BC Step Code, the National Building Code being proposed in 2020 will offer a prescriptive path for more energy efficient construction.
  2. Step Code does not effectively address climate change. There is a reduction of only 1 or 2 air changes per hour (GHGs) in new, energy efficient homes. Renovation of older homes through a reno tax credit can save as much as 40 air changes.
  3. Step Code violates BC’s agreement to harmonize the provincial building code with Canada’s national code. National diligence is ignored, undermining consumer protection. For example, NRCan recently discovered flawed metrics in BC’s Step Code. In addition, a BC scientist has discovered radon gas may be prevalent in North Shore municipalities, and yet these municipalities have already started on Tier 3 of the Step Code without this knowledge. Homes with radon gas exposure need special venting, especially if they are very tight energy efficient structures like Step Code. Radon gas is linked to lung cancer and tightening homes without attention to radon mitigation may result in tragic unintended consequences. This demonstrates why municipalities are not qualified to invoke code standards outside of the National Building Code process.
  4. The BC govt’s estimates are too low. The govt says a Tier 5 (Passive Home) is only $17,450 more to build. Our survey of Built Green/Passive Home builders indicates costs of at least $55,000 to $110,000.
  5. Step Code has no certified education program. Built Green/Passive Home programs have certified education to avoid unintended consequences like leaky condo.
  6. Step Code enforcement is a significant responsibility. The Municipal Insurance Association says “Building bylaws are one of local governments’ greatest exposures to liability risks.” The City of Delta discovered this when ordered by a judge to pay $3 million in a leaky condo lawsuit in 2001.

Fast-tracking energy efficiency is both irresponsible and costly. The Step Code is the wrong way to achieve more energy efficiency in new homes.

Instead, support Built Green’s affordability, education and proven practice, National code diligence, and a reno tax credit for older homes.

Show this column to your city councilors before they take a misstep.

For more information on the Step Code visit http://www.vrba.ca/need-know-bc-step-code/

Visit us at www.vrba.ca and www.careawards.ca. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This column appears Wednesdays in the Times Colonist newspaper.

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