Utilities and home builders team up to chart a path through change

Image of wood-framed house under construction

Local Energy Efficiency Partnership will identify high performance building solutions suited to Lower Mainland needs

A process that helps home builders identify the best energy efficiency solutions for their local circumstances has come to B.C.

Called "LEEP" (Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships), the process was developed by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). LEEP has been delivered in several other regions, particularly in Ontario.

LEEP helps builders reduce their time and risk in determining what innovations they should adopt to keep up with changing Code requirements and other shifts in building technology.

The LEEP process is builder-driven. A group of 12 builders from a local region meet four times over several months to determine what technologies are most relevant and to review technical information about them. Then, each commits to field-test one or more of the technologies and share their findings through case studies.

Builders say the process saves them time and money in adopting new technologies, offers support through access to NRCan's technical know-how, and raises home-buyers' confidence that new technologies are well established.

B.C.'s LEEP launched in April for builders in the Lower Mainland. The process is supported by funding from BC Hydro, FortisBC, the Homeowners Protection Office, City of Vancouver and City of New Westminster, with facilitation provided by NRCan.

Builder-driven process weighs options for energy efficiency at varying levels

Gary Hamer is a specialist engineer representing BC Hydro in the Lower Mainland LEEP. He says the funders' goal is to find a solution to reduce the space heating requirements for an archetypal home in Vancouver.

"We're supporting higher performance housing through our programs, so we're really excited about working with builders to come up with what makes sense from their perspective, as well as ours," he says. "This collaborative approach is unique."

Hamer says the Lower Mainland LEEP will examine solutions that could allow builders to hit several different tiers of energy efficiency, such as ENERGY STAR® (approximately EnerGuide 81), the City of Vancouver green rezoning policy (approximately EnerGuide 84), and a level 25 per cent more efficient than that. (The B.C. Building Code requires an energy-efficiency level of approximately EnerGuide 78.)

Technologies under review include envelope products (for example, self-sealing vapour-permeable air barrier wrap), gas and electric mechanical system options, and combinations of technologies, such as an integrated mechanical system that provides both space and water heating and heat recovery. From an initial list of about 40 technologies, the LEEP builder group will choose 12 to investigate closely.

"We're trying to optimize the solutions," says Hamer. "There are many ways of getting to the target we've set, but some solutions are better than others. We're trying to find the optimal energy savings package."

LEEP could provide consistency for 'above-Code' requirements across municipalities

Hamer says a number of municipalities are beginning to reward builders to achieve energy efficiency levels higher than Code. For builders, understanding variations in requirements between jurisdictions can be confusing and costly.

The learnings from LEEP could help provide a clearer path from basic Code-compliant building to nearly-net-zero building in the Lower Mainland, with the goal of improving consistency and predictability as standards continue to become more stringent.

"We want to make sure if one municipality adopts one approach, that the neighbouring municipality can adopt something similar," says Hamer. "That way, when builders move from one municipality to another they're not met with a whole host of different requirements."

Hamer says BC Hydro supports a long-term net zero housing strategy, so the LEEP initiative is a step towards eventually reaching net zero building practices.

Once the Lower Mainland LEEP completes its process, Hamer hopes LEEP groups in both the South Interior and Northern Interior may be launched to address building practices specific to those regions.