British Columbia’s Zero Carbon Step Code

building plans eco-friendly home

British Columba has recently begun discussing a new addition to the BC Building Code, the Zero Carbon Step Code. This code allows Authorities Having Jurisdiction to limit operational carbon from new buildings. This standard is currently optional, but the province aims to make operational carbon limits mandatory over time, with the ultimate goal of all new buildings being zero carbon by 2030.

Do Buildings Really Produce That Much Operational Carbon?

Currently, the day to day operation of buildings contributes to 12% of British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions. When looking at greenhouse gas emissions at the community level, buildings are typically the number one or number two source of greenhouse gas. In Kamloops, buildings constitute 29 percent of all community carbon pollution, in Prince George, they represent 38 percent of all emissions, and in Vancouver, buildings produce 57 percent of the community’s emissions. Many local governments have individual climate change goals, but without overarching policy tools it will prove to be challenging to reduce these numbers.

Where Do Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Buildings Originate?

Fossil fuel space and water heating equipment produce the majority of pollution in buildings. In homes, natural gas space and water heating contribute 98.6% of household emissions. In 2023, nearly one million households in British Columbia are subscribed to natural gas service, and with each single family home approximately 4.9 tonnes of CO2e is emitted. Those who are unable to connect to natural gas distribution systems often use propane or other fossil fuels. Despite the province setting targets to reduce carbon emissions across the province, emissions continue to rise at approximately 1.2% annually. 

What is the Clean Energy Alternative?

In British Columbia, grid electricity produces nearly zero emissions - 98% of our electricity is generated by clean or renewable resources. On top of that, the province has committed to a 100% Clean Electricity Delivery Standard that will ensure the grid is zero emissions. We are lucky enough to have access to a wide range of energy efficient equipment, as well as highly trained technicians who can install, repair and maintain said equipment. Although many homes are fitted with electric baseboard heat, these are not the most energy efficient. For that reason, many builders are building homes with energy efficient heat pump systems. There are also countless rebates available for homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

What Does the New Zero Carbon Step Code Entail?

The Zero Carbon Step Code is not part of the existing BC Energy Step Code, it is a secondary regulation. The existing BC Energy Step Code addresses the energy-efficiency performance of new buildings. Whereas the new Zero Carbon Step Code targets their carbon performance. As of May 1, 2023 the BC Energy Step Code was adopted into the BC Building Code and implemented province wide. For the time being, the Zero Carbon Step Code is optional at the discretion of the individual municipalities. The Zero Carbon Step Code addresses the emissions produced by buildings during their operation, not the emissions generated by building material manufacturing, transportation, and the carbon pollution that is produced by construction equipment. Finally, the Zero Carbon Step Code addresses new buildings only. This will reduce the number of buildings that will need to be retrofitted down the road.

The new Zero Carbon Step Code is a great step in the right direction for British Columbia and the country as a whole. Our team at Ecolibrium looks forward to working with more businesses, builders and homeowners who are looking to reduce their carbon footprint, save money and protect the environment! Contact us to find out more and to work with one of our advisors.