Changing building code brings challenges, rewards

Nina Winham

If you’re like most builders, you’re working hard daily to keep projects moving, costs down, and customers satisfied.  But it’s worth stepping back and taking a look at shifts in building code energy regulations.

Not only are they due for even more change, but you may already be further ahead than you realize. And that can mean good news for your bottom line.

“A lot of builders may have taken a look at energy rating systems in the past, and thought it was too costly, or the process was too complicated,” says Doug Overholt, representative for BC Hydro’s Power Smart New Home program. “But the changes over the past few years to the BC Building Code  mean that by default, everyone is building a more efficient home today.”

Building code amendments now require high efficiency furnaces (in gas homes), R-20 wall insulation, and energy efficient windows. With those changes, Overholt says there’s a good chance the homes you’re building could already qualify for Power Smart incentives and an improved Energuide rating.

It’s worth finding out now how your builds measure up: it can give you a marketing boost, as well as position you well for the future.

CMHC mortgage loan discount

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers a 10% discount on mortgage loan insurance for buyers who purchase an energy efficient home. As of April 1, 2010, however, the bar has been raised: the home must be Energuide 80 or better to qualify. Meanwhile, as of April 19, new requirements for 10% down and reduced amortization took effect, placing an additional squeeze on buyers.

Says Overholt: “The discount can save buyers quite a bit right when they’re crunched. If your homes rate Energuide 80 and you can save your buyer $1,500 or so on CMHC insurance, that’s a clear selling benefit you can promote to your customers, and it may not cost you anything to do it.”

Overholt says builders often don’t realize how close they are to achieving Energuide 80. “I was talking to a builder who participates in our Energy Star appliance incentive program – they install energy efficient appliances, lighting fixtures, and so on. We looked at a set of plans for one of their current builds, and it appears most of their townhouses are already eligible for Energuide 80," he says. "That means they could be getting the incentives and having their homes rated – for virtually zero cost.”

Next round of building code amendments

The next building code will bring another increase in energy efficiency requirements, possibly a move to an Energuide 80 requirement for all new homes. Overholt says that’s another good reason to assess your building plans now.

“To achieve these levels is not as simple as ‘plug in this window instead of that window’ – it’s a little bit more complicated and there’s a learning curve,” he says. “You have to do some additional measures, and you need to determine if your suppliers have what you need, and what your costs will be. So if you don’t want to disrupt your operations and production process, there’s a learning curve you want to spread out over a few months so it doesn’t catch you off guard.”

The Power Smart New Home program offers financial incentives to builders who build homes that meet or exceed Energuide 80, and incentives for installation of Energy Star appliances, lighting and ventilating equipment. The program also works with builders and energy advisors to provide on site training for trades in airsealing or other construction practices.

“The big thing for builders is they get a system down and they want to run with that system,” he says. “But the legislative environment is always pulling the rug out from under their feet. So we’ve been working to let them know the changes are coming, and help them define ways to meet them.

“Often, they’re just so busy building homes – they’ll say to me, ‘We’ll wait til the playing field is levelled by legislation and that’s when we’ll jump on it,” says Overholt. “But I keep cautioning, for your homes that aren’t meeting the standards, how are you going to get there, what are your costs, how are you going to make that happen? It’s a good time to get started now.”

Get more information about the Power Smart New Home program and new construction incentives, or contact Doug Overholt at 604 929 7408 or by email.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and frequent contributor to