Local governments focus on energy efficient new homes

Wood-framed house under construction

Traditionally in B.C., the regulations relating to building quality regulations, such as energy efficiency, are defined by the provincial government. So when builders deal with municipal-level governments, they're mostly talking about land use planning, such as zoning and density issues.

Now, municipal governments are widening the discussion.

With a 2008 provincial regulation that requires all municipalities to establish greenhouse gas inventories and reduction targets, local governments have been working to creating Community Energy and Emissions Plans (CEEP) to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases, and foster green development.

Initially, developing a CEEP places an emphasis on a municipality's operations, such as fleets, waste disposal, and transit. Then they start to focus on new building, since buildings are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In some cases, this has led to municipal building incentives that offer good value to motivated builders. And in many places, it's starting new conversations.

"Through the introduction of Power Smart's Sustainable Communities group, we've participated in builder-developer workshops in the cities of City of Surrey, City of Vancouver, City of North Vancouver, Township of Langley and District of Maple Ridge," says Doug Overholt, representative for the BC Hydro Power Smart New Home Program. "And City of Colwood and District of Saanich either have a program in place or are exploring options relating to builders. It's grown exponentially."

North Vancouver density bonus rewards energy-efficient building

To curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are tallied in their community emissions inventory, some municipalities have already passed bylaws or offer options that encourage energy efficient building and practices. For example, the City of Vancouver requires builders to install a heat recovery ventilator in all new homes, and to EnerGuide rate every detached home or duplex, including a blower door test.

Many municipalities are exploring a range of incentives that may interest builders and developers. City of North Vancouver's density bonus option allows builders who achieve an EnerGuide 80 score or better to leverage the full floor-space ratio (FSR) included in the municipality's Official Community Plan. For single family, duplex and townhomes, achieving EG80 allows the builder to not include basement floor space in the FSR.

"There's little vacant land in the City of North Vancouver; it's all pretty much infill housing," says Overholt. "So using density bonusing, allowing the builder to do a little more detail on a site and in effect build a bigger home, means the home is worth more money — that's a real bonus for the builder." Other municipalities are considering similar measures, such as allowing additional units per acre for builders who incorporate energy efficiency.

Costs of energy efficiency lower than believed — and incentives sweeten the deal

So far, only a few local governments have fully enacted new development options for energy efficiency. But many are now holding workshops for builders to help them begin to change practices.

BC Hydro Power Smart, FortisBC and certified energy advisors, are often invited to such meetings, to bring experience with energy efficient homes gained from builders across the province.

"Often, builders will say, 'It's going to cost me $15,000 or $20,000 to do this,'" he says. "I can say 'We're working with developers in your community who are achieving an EG80 rating, and they can do it for $5,000.'"

Helping both builders and municipal staff understand the many different "green building" labels and standards is also part of Power Smart's role. And finally, ensuring that builders realize they can qualify for incentives of up to $3,000 from BC Hydro and FortisBC when they opt for efficiency.

"A lot of municipalities are now thinking about [energy efficiency] bonusing options — and that's where there's a big carrot for developers," says Overholt. "Some aren't there yet, but they're collecting builders and developers together to help them think these issues through. With the push of greenhouse gas regulations, and the pull of additional FSR or density bonusing incentives, there are a lot of things driving the shift to green."