How Kemp is using the BC Step Code to build better custom homes

Kemp is at the forefront of BC Energy Step Code homebuilders

2021 is shaping up to be a busy year for Kemp. Homeowners are seeing the value of building to a higher BC Step Code standard – for energy-efficiency, environmental, and lifestyle benefits now, and resale value later – and, as usual, we’re taking the opportunity to raise our technical knowledge and skills to the next level.

As of summer 2021, we’re at the permitting stage for two Net Zero custom homes in White Rock and Tsawwassen, and earlier this year we completed work on the first Step Code 5 custom home in Burnaby! In early August, we also poured the slab for a Step Code 4 modern farmhouse in South Delta.

Since the process of building to the upper levels of the Step Code is a mystery to most homeowners, and a steep learning curve for the majority of builders, we’ve created project pages for these custom homes, so that you can follow our progress throughout the year, and see what our solutions are.

Our Step Code custom home projects come in all styles and sizes

step code 5 home in burnaby

Step Code 5 high-performance, custom home in Burnaby:

Burnaby’s first Net Zero-ready home fits right into the neighbourhood, and at 6,200 sq. ft. offers ample room for living with a home theatre, gym, wine room, vaulted ceiling in the great room, and legal suite. Yet, when this luxury home is hooked up to solar power, it will produce as much energy as it consumes, with zero emissions! Learn more about this project…

Net Zero oceanview, custom home in White Rock:

Work on this multi-storey home designed by Sarah Gallop Design will start mid to late fall 2021. From the road, the home looks like a modern bungalow, but the steep slope allows for a 3-storey design at the back of the home, with a walk-out basement and panoramic ocean views. The homeowners are committed to a “green build” and we’ll start this one with the full deconstruction process – which will take a couple of months. We’re working on how to use some of the original timber from the existing home in the new build. Rainy weather won’t threaten our build, because it will be constructed using a panelized wall system that will be built in-factory and assembled on-site in days. The home will use solar energy. Read the story of the build.

Step Code 4 modern farmhouse in Tsawwassen:

step code 4 custom homeKemp originally planned to build this home to Step Code 3, but the cost to increase the home’s energy efficiency to Step Code 4 (40% more energy efficient than the current building code) was relatively low, compared to the comfort, energy savings, and resale value the homeowners would gain.

As of summer 2021, site preparation is underway for this modern farmhouse designed by Büro47 architecture. You can follow the project and learn more about how the existing home was deconstructed by hand to recycle building materials and fixtures. It earned the homeowners a tax credit that substantially offset the cost of deconstruction. Read the story of the build.

Net Zero modern, custom home in Tsawwassen:

Construction will start on this home, designed by Jack Falk Design Studio, in April 2022. Located at the top of a steep cliff with stunning ocean views, the home required geo-technical drilling to determine the stability of the slope, and will include an elevator. Read the story of the build.

Got a project in mind?

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A Quick Refresher on the BC Step Code

What is the BC Energy Step Code?

The BC Energy Step Code is a tiered set of changes to the BC Building Code that gradually increases the energy efficiency requirements of all new buildings until, by 2032, they will all be built to Step Code 5, the highest level. Step Code 5 is also known as Net Zero-ready. It means that the building has all of the systems in place to connect to an alternative form of energy – like solar panels. Once it’s connected and using alternative energy, it’s a Net Zero home, producing as much energy as it consumes.

Why do we need to increase the energy-efficiency of our homes?

Housing has been identified as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – and, therefore, climate change. Changes to the building code are one of the ways the provincial government is working to meet its climate targets.

What step do I need to build to today?

It depends on which municipality you live in – but by 2022, all new homes will have to be built to at least Step Code 3 (20% more energy efficient than the current BC Building Code).

According to the BC Government, new homes will have to be:

  • 20 per cent more energy efficient by 2022 (Step 3)
  • 40 per cent more energy efficient by 2027 (Step 4)
  • 80 per cent more energy efficient by 2032 (Step 5/Net Zero-ready)

Something important to think about: When you build an energy-efficient home, not only are you doing your part to combat climate change, you’re ensuring that your home will be competitive in future resale markets. At some point in the near future, the energy efficiency of a home will be one of its selling features – a home that requires less energy, with superior cooling and heating systems, clean air, and the ability to adapt to new energy sources will be perceived as providing greater security, comfort and value for homeowners.

How do homebuilders achieve the Step Code goals?

The BC Step Code sets energy-efficiency goals, rather than prescribing a set of systems and materials that builders must use to achieve them. Builders can use their preferred building methods and technologies – as long as they achieve the desired level of energy efficiency.

How is this changing homebuilding?

When it comes to new homes, building up to Step Code 2 is relatively easy, using construction techniques and products readily understood and available in today’s market. Homes built to Steps 3 to 5 are more complex, and require more training and expertise to achieve.

Homebuilders must work with a certified energy advisor to have a home certified to a specific Step Code level. The advisor checks that the building plans meet the energy-performance requirements of a given step, using software to analyze the construction plans and determine how well the resulting building will perform on energy efficiency.

The builder then begins construction, paying special attention to the building envelope: walls, windows, doors, and insulation. Once the building is ready for drywall, but before the drywall is installed, the energy advisor conducts a blower door test to assess the airtightness of the build to date and identify areas of air leakage that can be sealed prior to installation of the drywall.

Each Step Code level has an energy objective. The minimum score for a Step Code 5 home blower door test is 1 (the lower the score, the better). We’re proud to report that mid-construction, the results for our Step Code 5 custom home in Burnaby exceeded this requirement with a score of 0.670! The home will undergo a final blower door test after its final inspection.

The future of homebuilding is collaborative

When Kemp builds to a higher Step Code level, we don’t just engage an energy advisor, we also involve mechanical systems experts, and any experts in the new technologies we’re using. We’ve learned that the ideal project involves everyone at the start: the architect, designer, energy advisor, builder, and mechanical systems expert. Early collaboration means that all of the ideas and expertise are integrated into the design and planning process, so that the home has a superb balance of aesthetics and performance.

Step Code building is complex

Technologies and building methods are changing so rapidly in the world of energy-efficiency that it’s hard to keep up – even for someone like our owner, Steve Kemp, who’s been studying and applying energy-efficient technologies and methods, along with green building solutions, for years. That’s why Steve regularly attends Home Performance Stakeholder Council meetings, where energy-efficiency professionals from Metro Vancouver and across BC get together to exchange information and ideas.

Some of our Step Code Solutions

Some of our Step Code Solutions

Building to a higher Step Code level requires the design and building team to think of the whole home as a single system whose components work together to achieve energy-efficiency, rather than as a collection of different parts under one roof. Below, are some of the areas we’ve learned to focus on when building to the upper levels of the Step Code. You’ll be able to see how we apply solutions in each area as we build our projects over the next year.

house foundation with insulated concrete formsFoundation + insulation:

Building a high-performance home begins with the foundation. Ideally, we start with an underslab insulation, pour the footings, and then build Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF). ICF’s are the builder’s choice for energy efficiency – they form an insulate layer around the concrete, contributing to a warmer but less humid home. You can see how we used ICF’s in the Step Code 5 Burnaby custom home project.

house construction with wall panel system

Walls + insulation:

Our preferred solution is a panellized wall system due to its superior energy efficiency, production in factory-controlled conditions, and speed of installation – we can assemble walls on-site in days, instead of months. In our 6,200 sq. ft. Step Code 5 Burnaby home, the first floor walls were installed within a day, and the second storey walls in another full day!

Our supplier can configure any wall system to any level of energy efficiency, for any floor plan or style. The manufacturing process is fully automated for precision, and is constructed indoors so that your walls stay dry and your home can be assembled in any season. Smaller crews are required to install these systems, compared to a full framing crew, so the labour costs are lower.

energy efficient windows


Windows represent a huge energy loss in the average home, so it’s important to choose energy-efficient windows that will cut out heat in the summer, and keep you warm in winter. The Innotech windows that we used in the Burnaby project are rated for a Passive House, which consumes up to 90% less energy than a conventional home. Automated window coverings that can be timed to raise and lower with light and heat levels can also make an enormous difference in the energy performance and comfort of a home.

Mechanical systems:

Homes built from Step Code 3 to 5 have airtight envelopes, so energy efficient heat recovery ventilation systems (HRVs), heat exchangers, and heat pumps are necessary to provide a constant supply of clean, fresh air, and to achieve a high level of performance. The new generation of heat pumps are smaller than the originals and very quiet –BC Hydro is a good source for information on heat pumps, including why they are a solution to extreme summer heat.

If you’re thinking of building a new home

Building to any level of the Step Code isn’t just a matter of adding new technology and some insulation to a home and expecting it to perform well. It takes a skilled team with training and experience in the right building methods and technologies. It takes a team that’s staying educated and informed about what’s working – and what’s not – in the rapidly changing field of energy efficiency.

At Kemp, we’re that team. If you’ve got a dream, we’ve got the skills. Please get in touch – we’d love to talk.

If a new home or renovation is in your future, you should still stay in touch. Follow our Step Code projects as we build to keep yourself informed about the range of ways you can build to a Step Code standard. If you’d like to be updated whenever we add something new to the project pages – or post new blogs about high-performance homebuilding solutions – you can sign up for our quarterly newsletters below.


Kemp Construction is thrilled to hear this project -  "Boundary Bay Beachside"  - has been selected as a finalist in the 2019 Homebuilders Association of Vancouver (HAVAN) Ovation Awards.

Read more about the award
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