The BC Step Code: Building for Net Zero

What is a Net Zero home?

A Net Zero home produces as much energy as it consumes. It is up to 80% more energy efficient than a typical new home, and uses renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal heating systems, to produce the energy it needs. Net Zero homes maintain a connection to the energy grid for periods when their self-generated energy supply isn’t enough, or their surplus energy can be sold.

Net Zero homes are the homes of the future. In 2032, the BC Building Code will change so that every new home in BC will be required to be built to a Net Zero energy-ready standard. This means that they will have the infrastructure in place to be able to access an onsite renewable energy system, with the goal of being fully Net Zero in the future.

Housing has been identified as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and changes to the Code are one of the ways the provincial government is working to meet its climate targets. The National Building Code is also in the process of being revised to meet new energy efficiency standards.

To help consumers and industry professionals prepare for the change, the provincial government has introduced the BC Step Code. We’ll explain more about the Step Code later, but first, a bit more about the benefits of Net Zero homes.

Net Zero: built better, feels better

Every part of a Net Zero home works together – as a system – to stabilize indoor temperatures, prevent drafts and cold spots, and provide fresh, filtered indoor air.  Net Zero homes help you breathe easy, are comfortable to live in, easy to manage, and have lower operating costs.

Building to a Net Zero standard 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. Builders can use a range of building methods and technologies to achieve the energy-efficiency goals, but they are subject to rigorous third-party testing and audits before a home can be labelled Net Zero, or Net Zero Ready by the CHBA, and receive an EnerGuide rating from the federal government. (For more on what it takes to become a Qualified Net Zero Builder and the design and testing process, please read our blog.)

As with any high-performance home, it’s the systems in a Net Zero home that have the biggest effect on the home’s performance: state-of-the-art wall systems, well-insulated roofs and foundations, triple-paned windows, heat/energy recovery ventilation systems (HRVs/ERVs), heat exchangers and heat pumps. (For more on some of Kemp’s favourite Net Zero solutions, plus a look at our Net Zero projects in progress, please read our blog.)

Why should I build or renovate to Net Zero now?

Net Zero homes are the future of housing – a future that’s coming fast. There are many reasons to build or renovate to Net Zero now, but here are four of the most compelling:

1. If you build a conventional new home today, your building will be out-of-date almost as soon as it is completed. By 2032, in less than a decade, that same home will be competing in the market with homes that are more cost-effective to operate, with superior heating and cooling systems, and the ability to adapt to new energy sources.

2. It is less expensive to build Net Zero features into your building envelope during a new build or major renovation, than to add them later.

3. With climate change posing an uncertain future, a home that requires less energy and can adapt to new sources will provide greater security and comfort for your family.

4. When you build a Net Zero home, you’re doing your part to protect against climate change and preserve natural resources for future generations.

A Net Zero home is:

  • Comfortable: superior heating, cooling, and ventilation systems deliver even temperatures throughout the house
  • Comfortable: superior heating, cooling, and ventilation systems deliver even temperatures throughout the house
  • Durable: it’s built to higher standards than typical new homes
  • Less expensive to operate: thanks to energy savings and lower maintenance costs
  • Healthy: high-performance ventilation systems reduce allergens and dust, and an airtight envelope helps to keep out dust and pollen.
  • Quiet: multi-pane windows, increased insulation, and an air-tight envelope reduce outside noise
  • Sustainable: it produces as much clean, renewable energy as it consumes, helping to prevent climate change and preserve natural resources for the next generation
  • Desirable: A US study found that an energy-efficient house with third-party certification sells, on average, for 5-8% more than a conventional house. In time, consumers will be asking to see the energy consumption of a home prior to purchasing it, much the same way they buy a car.
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What is the BC Step Code?

In 2017, the provincial government introduced the BC Energy Step Code. It’s a tiered set of changes to the BC Building Code aimed at gradually increasing the energy efficiency of new buildings until – by 2032 – all new buildings in BC will be built to a Net Zero energy-ready standard. This means that they will have the infrastructure in place to be able to access an onsite renewable energy system, with the goal of being fully Net Zero in the future.

The Step Code’s tiered approach gives builders, designers, architects, and local governments time to train in new building technologies and practices, source materials, and form networks with other qualified housing professionals, such as energy advisors, before the Code changes in 2032.

How does the BC Step Code work?

The new Step Code is voluntary – BC municipalities are implementing the steps at a pace that works for them. As of 2018, for example, North Vancouver required all new single-family homes to be built to Step 3 requirements. Most other major municipalities are also developing policies, knowing that all builders in BC will be required to build to the highest stage – Net Zero Ready – by 2032.

The first stages of the Step Code are fairly easy to attain – in Step 2, a new, single-family home must be 10% more energy efficient than a home built to the basic BC Building Code. Step 3 requires the home to be 20% more efficient, while Step 4 jumps to a 40% increase in efficiency. Step 5 is the last step for single-family homes, and it’s Net Zero energy-ready.

A Qualified Net Zero Builder can save you time and money

In early 2022, Kemp Construction became Delta BC’s first Qualified Net Zero Builder. To achieve this designation, we had to complete Net Zero training and then go through the complex process of building and labelling (certifying) a Net Zero Ready home. Since then, our Net Zero experience and expertise has grown with additional projects. (Visit our blog to learn more about the Net Zero certification process for homes, and our Custom Homes portfolio to see our Net Zero projects in progress.)

As of 2022, only a small number of homebuilders across BC have become Qualified Net Zero Builders. If you’re going to invest in a new Net Zero home or renovation, it only makes sense to hire a builder with hands-on building experience – like Kemp. We don’t just know what industry best practices are, and what the third-party testing process requires, we’ve been using and testing high-performance, energy-efficient solutions for years. (Our 2016 Georgie and Ovation finalist, for example, was a beautiful, 4,000 square foot, custom Platinum BuiltGreen® home.) We know how to build to Net Zero standards in ways that are innovative and cost-effective, and our expertise can save you time and money.

Equally important, in our view, is that we care deeply about creating sustainable, high-performance homes. This new shift in the building industry reflects our long-time values as “green” builders – and grandparents – who want a better world for the next generation.

"Well-built. Every time."