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Step Code Five: Get Ready to Build Net-Zero Homes

Step code 5 is becoming obligatory in most municipalities in the Lower mainland.

Energy efficiency first became a part of the BC Building Code objective back in 2008. Designers’ options to comply with the requirements comprised “prescriptive” and “performance” approaches, the first being a more common choice. The specific requirements for insulation, windows, heaters, lighting, and other equipment and systems focused on individual elements rather than the whole building as a system. Such an approach led to the performance below the projected possibilities. 

In contrast to that, the “performance” approach starts from a goal. It defines the desired overall outcome and establishes a structure to achieve it. Designers and builders can use software modeling and on-site testing to check the design and demonstrate how the constructed building will meet the requirements. Then they can determine which materials or construction methods will bring optimal results. Many green-building certification programs now take this approach.

The five-step code regulation sets performance targets for new construction, grouping them into steps. The so-called Lower Steps are easy to meet, while the Upper Steps require proper knowledge and efforts. As general guidelines, these will apply across various building types and regions of the province. 

The BC Energy Step Code is meant to ensure that new buildings will perform at their best. Still, it leaves builders and homeowners more flexible options to comply with the legislation. It will support innovative and cost-effective solutions, motivating designers to incorporate cutting-edge technologies, following the progress closely. 

Expectations are that the new five-step Code will keep innovative designs, materials, and high-performance systems getting more affordable and available. The higher steps should turn to a minimum requirement by 2032 in the BC Building Code and 2030 in the National Building Code of Canada.

Vancouver architect five step code
Vancouver architect

Benefits of the Five-Step Code

In Vancouver, for instance, step 3 (lower steps) is already the minimum. But a fully efficient, net-zero level home – step 5 – is an excellent idea for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious, like downsizing bills and doing your part for environment protection, net-zero homes come with increased comfort and resale value, to mention just a few. 

Lower energy consumption reduces overall housekeeping costs and even provides protection from future increases in energy prices, up to a level. Better air quality, achieved by using mechanical ventilation and materials with lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), means a healthier indoor environment. 

An energy-efficient building envelope improves overall comfort by maintaining steady indoor temperatures with lower variations. It’s supported by the effective use of daylight, which further reduces your electricity bill.

Moreover, reduced energy use significantly lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Increased insulation levels also reduce sound transmission from outside. Combined with passive solar design, it prevents discomforts during power outages, maintaining stable indoor temperature levels.

Last but not least, net-zero homes feature increased resale value. They are also getting sold more quickly than conventional homes.

The Five Steps

  • STEP 1: EnerGuide Rating System, Built Green Bronze: Code requirements promote a learning process. This step makes the industry more familiar with energy modeling and airtightness testing.
  • STEP 2: Built Green Silver – Making improvements to the building systems based on lessons learned from Step 1
  • STEP 3: ENERGY STAR, Built Green Gold, and Platinum. Further improvements, developing better enclosures and potentially smaller mechanical systems
  • STEP 4: R2000 – Construction of high-performance buildings based on lessons learned from the Lower Steps and facilitated by a mature market.
  • STEP 5: Passive House, Net-Zero Energy Ready

The BC Energy Step Code defines a straightforward path to achieving net-zero energy ready buildings. It starts from the basics, the enclosure-first approach, and guides to progress by helping to minimize energy demand through the use of highly efficient mechanical equipment. 

A continuous air barrier should be considered throughout the design process, to eliminate or severely minimize air leakage. As a result, the heating and cooling demands of the space get significantly lower. Designers and builders learn in the process, including feedback from energy modeling and airtightness testing. Steps 1 -3 (lower Steps) should require little to no market transformation. 

As technology availability develops, together with growing demands for better products and more efficient systems, the capacity to improve will also increase. 

Maple ridge modern home designer
Maple ridge modern home designer

How the Five-Step Code Works

The BC Energy Step Code is a series of measurable requirements. Step 1 requires confirmation that new buildings meet the existing energy-efficiency requirements, while step 5 represents a fully energy-efficient home that is net-zero energy ready. A Step 5 home is the most energy-efficient home level achievable today, and it complies with the Passive House standard.

According to the BC Building Code, all buildings belong to the two basic categories – Part 9 and Part 3. Part 9 buildings are three-story or less with a footprint of no more than 600 square meters. This category includes single-family homes, small apartment buildings, duplexes, offices, and industrial shops. For small buildings, lower steps are achievable using construction techniques and products commonly available in today’s market.

Part 3 buildings are complex, four stories and taller, with a footprint of over 600 square meters. Those are condos, larger apartment buildings, office buildings, shopping malls, hospitals, theatres, restaurants, and more.

The regulation is fully performance-based. Therefore, it doesn’t specify the materials and strategies but rather sets measurable execution targets.

The five-step Code recognizes three categories to meet: airtightness, equipment and systems, and building enclosure. The airtightness and building enclosure metrics take the enclosure-first approach, essential for minimizing heating demand. The equipment and systems metrics then define the total energy consumption of the building to establish optimal performance.

Building Envelope

Adding more insulation to walls is easy to design, build, and maintain. While new technologies might be the first thing to come to mind when looking for an energy-efficient home, it’s a good base that will ensure their performance. 

Without excellent insulation and proper enclosure, complex technology systems will not be able to perform as expected, turning more costly to operate and maintain over time. The building envelope is not only the correct path to high energy savings but also to the improvement of overall comfort and reduced noise levels. However, making major changes to the building envelope during a renovation can be difficult and costly. Hence, it’s better and more cost-effective to insulate and make the home airtight during construction.

The minimum levels of insulation are defined by R-values by Code. The minimum effective insulation levels by the BC Building Code are between R-15.8 and R-21.9. The requirements vary based on climate conditions, region, and some accessories. The Vancouver Building Bylaw, for instance, requires R-22 effective insulation since January 1, 2015.

Determining the right amount of insulation for a high-performance house depends on several factors, including the local climate, budget, and elements specific to your building. Some studies show that the optimal range comprises R-0 to R-10 under the slab, R-24 in basement walls, R-30 to R-40 for main walls, and R-60 to R-80 in the roof. Lower values are suitable for warmer coastal climates, and the higher ones apply to colder interiors and northern regions of the province.

north vancouver architects five steps code
north vancouver architects

Airtightness Testing

Airtightness testing of the building as a whole is an absolute necessity in all steps of the BC Energy Step Code. Whole-building airtightness testing utilizes blower door fans to pressurize/depressurize the building. This includes fan airflow and the pressure difference across the enclosure. The results of testing determine the overall building airtightness characteristics. 

Building airtightness is an energy model input, both at the pre-construction stage and after building completion. The steps for airtightness vary regarding the building type and size, as well as the testing standard used. Airtightness testing should be conducted by an Energy Advisor or other qualified contractor.

Mechanical Equipment and Systems

The mechanical equipment and systems have an enormous impact on the building’s energy efficiency, directly impacting overall energy consumption. The required capacity varies with the performance of the enclosure and vice versa. Heating and cooling, ventilation, water-heating systems are all part of the metrics essential for achieving net-zero levels as Step 5 of the Code. 

Backyard renovation or building a new home, financing your construction project

Five-Step Code Is the Future

The BC Energy Step Code is a result of a desire to manage a consistent set of higher-efficiency standards for the building industry. It offers local governments a simple and effective set of guiding standards to meet energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Over the coming years, the Province of British Columbia will gradually align the base BC Building Code with the BC Energy Step Code standard, with the goal to make Lower Steps a standard practice for all new construction. 

The Energy Step Code Council encourages local governments by requiring the Upper Steps for any upcoming public-building project. These buildings are meant to serve as high-profile case studies. By referencing one or more steps of the standard, you are doing more for yourself and the community than just accessing co-benefits. It is a contribution to a growing effort to dramatically reduce energy demands across the country. 

By Aryo Falakrou (My Home Designer)

Passive Houses, the Concept for the Future

The best approach to modern housing is the one which saves both your money and energy. One of the ways to get there is to improve your home’s insulation. Energy-efficient design concepts, also known as passive houses or zero-emissions homes, are great for the environment and even better for your pocket.

While it’s well known that better insulation leads to less heat loss, the passive house concept takes that further, straight into the 21st century.

Air temperature flows from warmer to cooler until the difference equalizes. When you try to heat your room, the hot wave eventually reaches all adjacent unheated spaces, sometimes getting even outdoors. It will move through ceilings, walls, and floors, towards any place where the temperature is uneven. During the cooling season, you get the same effect, always the opposite of the one you want to achieve.

Proper insulation must work to decrease this flow by providing effective resistance. Perfect insulation works with the rest of the house to turn the whole process head-to-toe and make the house self-sufficient.

sunshine coast cabin, a passive house
sunshine coast cabin

What Is a Passive House?

The Passive House concept of isolation was established by the Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany in 1996, as a pioneering enterprise in building low-energy houses. The guiding idea was to use all common heating influences in a building – like sunshine and various daily life byproducts, as passive sources which can efficiently replace some active systems. When combined with superior insulation values, thermal bridges, and airtightness, such a system makes a significant difference, lowering typical energy consumption for over 90%.

Consistent temperatures and good air quality secure exceptional indoor comfort. Additionally, high levels of insulation reduce both external and internal noise. The vast number of benefits made the passive house concept a leading building standard of today.

Passivhaus Germany governs the global application of the concept, through the Passive House International with a subgroup organization in every country. The Passive House Canada takes care of certification, regulations, and standards for all approved buildings in its territory.

Passive house vancouver
Passive house Vancouver

Requirements for Building a Passive House

If you want a 100% successful project, you need to choose carefully. Every architect or engineer knows how to make a blueprint, but only some of them are familiar with the concept of passive objects. Even fewer know the rules and the ways to apply them.

How to know if your designer is the right one? Start by conversation. Make sure your chosen designer is not only knowledgeable but also ready to go back and forth with you and other associated parties, in order to achieve a satisfactory result.

Your designer must be able to demonstrate his knowledge in the field of passive houses. He or she has to keep all active factors in mind when designing your home, to secure the final result within the framework and PH standards. Besides that, your architect/designer will be the person responsible for coordination with all other consultants, so hiring a real expert is a crucial first step.

Who Else Involves in the Project?

  • Energy Modeler: to help with specific design details
  • Building Envelope Consultant: to oversee the building envelope details and installation
  • Passive House Certifier: to certify the valid Passive Housing process
  • Structure Engineer: to secure stability, take care of thermal bridges and other construction details
  • Survey Engineer: to collect, analyze, and manage the infrastructure details
  • Consultant Engineers: to take care of electrical, mechanical, geotechnical, and other aspects
  • Interior Designer: to adapt the layout in coordination with the concept
  • Contractors and Traders: to supply and execute, they need to be familiar with the requirements of the passive objects
Passive house West Vancouver
Passive House West Vancouver

Unlike conventional methods where contractors are chosen through tenders after the initial project phase, here it is better to have everyone engaged from the start. The design must go through energy modeling to ensure everything will meet the requirements. All the coordination with the city stuff happens within this stage. All the parties involved, including contractors and suppliers, should be informed about the details before finalizing project documentation. It will ensure that everyone knows its exact role, and help to avoid subsequent risks.

Several Phases

The final architectural construction details need adjustment by a knowledgeable structural engineer and revised to avoid any thermal bridges. In this phase, all consultants submit their drawings and calculations to the architect and ensure there’s no conflict. The final draft goes to the certifier for approval, together with all inspection reports. A person in charge of the process of getting building permits is usually the architect.

In order to assemble the proper project documentation file, coordination is essential. Not only will it secure the smooth process of getting a building permit, but also it will help in presenting the tasks to the contractor. If the interior designer, architectural designer, detail designer, and contractors manage to cover every single possible issue, it’s possible to achieve the premium (net-zero house) level of energy efficiency. That means you will receive a self-sufficient object, fully independent of a power grid.

Passive house North Vancouver
Passive House North Vancouver

Building a Passive House

The first meeting on-site happens prior to the beginning of the construction. All parties involved should be present to coordinate work and inspection schedules. After the excavation, the second meeting occurs, so that the builder can present a mock-up of the wall and roof assembly to the traders.

Upon completion of the framing, the architect should inspect the work, check for thermal bridges, and provide alternative solutions for any possible issue that occurred during this phase. Next comes the insulation with a vapor barrier installation, followed by the energy advisor performing a door blow test. Depending on the object size, this phase might stretch through several stages. This is only the first part of the test—the second one is necessary after the installation of drywall, cabinets, dry mirrors, and all finishings. The former one will confirm that all holes and penetrations have been adequately handled to minimize the possibility of leakage or the creation of new thermal bridges.

After that, all remaining tests and inspections are the same as for conventional buildings.

Passive Houses Certification Process

The central certification authority is in Germany. However, Passive House Canada will execute the whole process, and all you have to do is to show up to take over your new, future-proof, and market-friendly structure. You will receive a Certification Plaque to proudly showcase achievement and accomplishment. The plaque is like a gold medal in energy efficiency and environmental conscience. It secures the place for your passive building in the official worldwide register and adds a stamp on its market value.

Burnaby modern designer
Burnaby modern designer

Passive Houses vs Net-Zero Buildings

There are three levels of passive house standards. The first level is Standard or Classic, followed by Plus and topped with a premium, also known as Net-Zero. A Premium Passive House is independent of a power grid and entirely self-sufficient in its energy consumption.

However, not all Net Zero buildings are Passive Houses. It’s possible for a less efficient building to achieve Net Zero level as well. The key feature of a passive house is minimized/neutralized energy loss, followed by minimized energy requirements. A net-zero house is any building with self-sustainable energy production higher than its overall energy loss. 

sunshine coast modern homes
sunshine coast modern homes

Do I Have to Build an Entirely New Construction to Achieve a Passive/Net Zero Home?

Great news: you don’t! There is a program called EnterPHit, created specifically for retrofit projects and refurbishing. Through this program, it’s possible to achieve passive levels even with old objects. However, be ready for a bit more complicated process compared to the new construction. Even though all initial steps and phases are the same, the existing limits could represent obstacles that require additional solutions. All slab and wall insulation will pass through review and upgrade, in order to improve the object’s status. Windows and doors will probably have to be replaced, and any thermal bridges eliminated or at least minimized. You will have to prepare for significant changes in the interior, too.

Passive house burnaby
Passive House Burnaby

Passive Houses Price: Worth the Upfront Cost

The initial investment is, on average, up to 15-20% higher compared to the conventional building. Hiring specialized designers and workers, conducting tests and inspections, and acquiring certifications all come with additional costs. The HRV unit, functional doors, and windows are also more expensive than those commonly used.

However, there’s a different side to every coin. While all construction projects require some upfront investment, not all of them bring back some ROI. The passive house concept is a smart long-term investment which leads to lower energy consumption, less maintenance, and lower global expenses. It doesn’t improve just heating, but cooling and overall comfort, too. Last but not least, the market value of passive objects is projected to grow in the foreseeable future.

In short, the upfront cost will pay-off significantly and actually save you plenty of money in the long run.

Passive houses provide year-round stable indoor air temperature and quality. It doesn’t allow any discomfort during changing seasons. Simple and durable, this concept delivers more than a substantial reduction in energy use and operating costs—it gives you a peace of mind knowing that you do your part to save the environment and build a better world.

What Is A Passive House?

What Is A Passive House?

Why and How Can We Build One?

  1. Introduction to a Passive House
  2. The parties who need to be involved in the process?
  3. What incentives can a homeowner receive from municipalities? 
  4. The Passive House design-build process.
  5. Passive House costs
  6. Passive House Certification
  7. Net Zero Homes
  8. Passive House renovations

1- Introduction To Passive House

vancouver Passive house
vancouver Passive house

The Passive House movement started in Germany and is currently spreading all around the world because it offers builders and homeowners a chance to reduce their carbon footprint while saving energy.  

A Passive House is a building constructed to certain standards and details in order to minimize the building’s energy consumption and its dependency on outsourced energies like hydro or gas. The building can be an apartment building, an institutional building, a commercial building or a single-family house. 

There are many programs that lay out standards to construct better and more energy efficient buildings. These include Leed, Built Green, r2000 and Net Zero. Many use rating systems or standards that rate the material source, construction practices and recycling methods. Some of the standards set by these programs are similar. Generally, a Passive House concentrates specifically on a building’s performance including: airtightness, indoor air quality, thermal bridges and insulation values within the building. 

If a designer and a contractor follow the required standards, the building will ultimately need to show proof of performance during and after construction which will entail several stages of examination before the building can achieve a Passive House Certification. 

In a nutshell, anyone interested in saving on their energy bill while they reduce their carbon footprint can choose to build a Passive House or do a passive home renovation. It might look more costly at the beginning but the investment pays of in no time. 

2- Parties Who Need To Be Involved In The Process

When a developer or a homeowner decides to build a Passive House, first he or she needs to discuss the options with a home designer/architect who has some familiarity with Passive House. 

In a normal building the designer/architect can take the lead on the design process and hand the final permit drawing which includes the structural drawings to the homeowner/developer to call for tender, but in Passive House there should be co-ordinations between the designer/architect, contractor and city staff and all other consultants from the beginning. 

The following is the list of the parties who are involved: 

1- Designer/Architect who is familiar with the process and knows how to deal with other parties

2- Energy Modeler (Sometimes the Designer can do this part, sometimes not. Some Designers prefer to leave this part to a third party) 

3- Passive House Certifier. This person cannot be the same as Energy Modeler. 

4- Building Envelope Consultant. In some cases a Building Envelope Consultant needed to approve the details of the exterior walls.

5- A Structural Engineer who has some knowledge on Passive House and modern framing. It is important to have this knowledge, as the structural elements are a key point in avoiding thermal bridges.

6- Energy Auditor (advisor) to determine the building performance. 

Most of municipalities require this stage for new homes. For a Passive House this stage will be more comprehensive.

In addition, the following consultants are required for any constructions regardless of whether it is a Passive House or not. These include: a Survey engineer, a geotechnical engineer, and a landscape designer.

3- What Incentives Can A Homeowner Receive From Municipalities?

In the City of Vancouver a standard thirty-three foot size lot has a certain maximum floor area depends on where it is located and the zoning in that area. Many lots are narrow and by adding the side setbacks to the equation the remaining width might be too limited. 

In a Passive House the thickness of the exterior walls and roof will be increased due to the amount of insulation required to meet a Passive House standard requirement. The City of Vancouver has established a specific department within the Development Department to deal with these issues and will allow some relaxations to the zoning. The

North Shore municipalities on the other hand have their own unique approach and projects needed to be discussed on a case-by-case basis, as there are many different requirements.

BC Hydro and Fortis BC have a rebate program for Energy Star appliances and all appliances in a Passive House should be energy star. 

Insulation for passive house
Insulation for passive house

4- The Passive House Design-Build Process

There are two stages to consider: 

  • Pre-construction Stage.
  • Construction Stage.

A- Pre-construction. 

The idea to build a Passive House could be generated by a well-informed homeowner, developer or builder, or in many cases by a designer/architect. 

Regardless of who starts the conversation be sure your designer has the required knowledge to be able to design a Passive House.  There are set work frames and standards that must be designed into the Passive Home. Once the client has approved an initial concept, the design will need to move into the modeling stage to make sure it meets the necessary requirements of a Passive House. Co-ordinations between the designer and municipal staff need to take place, so the modeling design maybe tweaked to meet building requirements.

During the concept approval stage, the designer may start conversations with a builder who is familiar with Passive House construction and details. After the building details are discussed and approved the modeling of the project can be finalized. 

At this point all construction details need to be discussed, reviewed and perhaps revised by a knowledgeable structural engineer in order to avoid any thermal bridging. 

Finally, the designer and builder need to co-ordinate construction details making sure all materials will be available when the construction starts.

B- Construction Stage

After the building permit is issued and the utilities lines are located and the builder is ready to set their work, an initial site meeting between the consultants, contractors and the client is necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page and everyone understands each other’s role and responsibilities. 

In this meeting the builder can present his or her expected schedule so that each consultant and sub-contractor know their timelines and expected inspections. 

It is a good idea to schedule another meeting after the excavation is done and make a mockup of the wall and roof assembly so each and every trade knows the exact requirements, timeline and details of the project. Assuming everyone knows this can cause many problems down the road.

After the framing is done, the designer or Energy Advisor will inspect the framing to minimize thermal bridging in the framing. If there is an issue now will be the time to explore alternative solutions.

After the insulation and vapour barrier is installed the energy advisor will have to do a door blow test to determine the airtightness of the building. If the building is large or has multi stories tests can be done in multiple stages.

Any deficiencies have to be taken care of at this stage to make sure the building has the desire airtightness. If desired, the designer can request more testing prior to the drywall installation. 

After the drywall installation, all cabinets, mirrors and other finishings a second air blow test should be performed. 

At this stage the Passive House Certifier would need the reports and documentation to start the certification process. The designer or the modeler can help facilitate this step. 

The rest of building inspections related to final occupancy will be the same as any other buildings. 

Passive house builder
Passive house builder

5- Passive House Costs

Even though many people might think building a high performance house will be very costly the reality is it is not. Of course any higher quality product requires more upfront investment. But if you think about the house as a long term investment the Passive House will ultimately require less maintenance and less energy to operate and will therefore require less money in the long run.

Here are some rough approximations of costs you can expect.

  • Starting from pre-construction the cost of the designer and structural engineer will be fifteen percent over a regular house. 
  • The modeling, inspections, door blow tests, and certification will cost minimum of fifteen thousand (check with your designer).
  • During construction the extra material won’t be a huge cost but the trained labor to be able to build it will be more than regular construction. 
  • There are savings on heating and cooling system. The Hrv unit used in a Passive House is more costly than in a regular house but the heating system is way less costly.
  • The windows and exterior doors will be fifteen to twenty per cent more. 

Overall, the upfront cost of building a Passive House can be as little as fifteen percent above average construction prices. Think of it like buying an electric car, you pay more up front, but you save on monthly gasoline and maintenance charges.

If someone has a limited budget and wishes to build a Passive House, they can reduce the cost of their home’s finishing budget in order to recoup the cost of building a high performance Passive House. 

Energy saving homes
Energy saving homes

6- Passive House Certification. Why Certify?

The global certifying body for Passive Houses is located in Germany. But there are several identities in Canada who can do the certification of your house.

The designer/architect should take the lead and gather all the reports and documents to pass to the certifier so they have everything they need to issue the certification. 

Once a building is certified, the owner will receive a plaque to proudly hang on the wall.

The honour of hanging this plaque is almost like showcasing your Olympic gold medal to your friends, family or the public. It’s an honour to show the achievement the developer and all the team has accomplished. 

By doing so, the building will be register on the world wide directory of Passive Houses. 

Anyone who is thoughtful about:

  • Their investment
  • The environment
  • And the well being of the building’s occupants

will want to consider the advantages of building a Passive House as its high quality design delivers on all fronts.

7- Net Zero House

A Passive House has three different classes:

  • Standard or Classic,
  • Plus and
  • Premium.

The class a Passive House gets is determined by the dependency of the building on a power grid. A Premium Passive House will have no dependency on a power grid and will be self sufficient for all its energy consumption. 

The Premium Passive House is often referred to within the construction industry as a Net Zero building. Not all Net Zero buildings are Passive Houses as a less efficient building can be Net Zero as well. 

The difference is the energy production in a non-Passive House building needs to be higher to recover the energy loss of the building. Remember what makes a Passive House unique is that the overall energy loss in a Passive House is minimized so the occupants need less energy to keep the building running. If someone wants to have a Net Zero Passive House the cost of the energy production will be less as well. 

8-Passive House Renovations

It is possible to turn an existing building into a Passive House. A program called EnterPHit exists for retrofit projects and refurbishing components of an existing building.

These renovation projects have to go through the same steps as a new construction except it is often much more difficult because the existing foundation and wall insulation all has to be upgraded to meet the Passive House standards. In addition, to eliminate the thermal bridging, windows and exterior doors have to be replaced and the building modeling should make sure the building will perform after final inspection.

If you have questions please forward them to: Home Designer:

Aryo Falakrou at the following email: [email protected]

For more information on Passive Houses visit: passivehousecanada.com

For a free consult on building a Passive House or a Passive commercial building please give me a call: Aryo Falakrou at:

604-929-6696.

September 14, 2018 by [email protected] 0 Comments

North Shore Municipalities Adopt the Energy Step Code

North Shore Municipalities Adopt the Energy Step Code

North Shore municipalities adopted the Energy Step Code for new homes on July 1, 2018. What does this mean for homeowners or new home buyers?

The Step Code is an amendment to the existing BC Building Code and focuses on air tightness and insulation for new houses and is a five-step process. At this time, municipalities require homeowners to comply with step 3 of the code. That means houses that are built now on will be 20% more efficient and by the year 2032, all new homes will be required to implement all five steps. This will make the houses Net-Zero (or Net-Zero ready), which will be explained later in this article.

Under the new system, Architects/Designers will be free to recommend any wall/ roof or floor assembly for the house construction, as long as they can prove it meets the requirements of the Step of Energy Code they are aiming for.

Additionally, a certified government energy advisor will be required to advise on the assembly detail and run the tests to make sure the builder has achieved appropriate airtightness in the house.

What does airtightness do?

When our homes are heated or cooled by our mechanical systems installed in the house, the temperature difference between the inside and the outside the house will create a negative or positive pressure which forces the air inside or outside the house. This means any hole will cause a draft that pushes the conditioned (or heated) air outside. Think of the gap between your door and the floor; if we’re cooling the home in the summer, our cool air is seeping out under the door. The same happens in the winter with our heat, if we don’t block that gap between the door and the floor. This means we are cooling or heating the neighbourhood with the lost energy, which translates to money leaving our wallets.

Evolution in Building Techniques

Decades ago, home builders were building homes with a 2×4 structure, exterior clad with lath and plaster inside. Typically, the houses were smaller and occupancy was higher, but with the changes in our society, the houses have gotten bigger and bigger with occupancy shrinking.

Later, the Building Code came into force and required more insulation in the exterior envelope, which required houses to be constructed with a 2×6 structure. The lack of proper air barriers caused mold to develop and most windows, doors, floor junctions with walls and bay windows had a draft.

Now we are in new era of building techniques and technologies that helps us to build more comfortable homes.

The amount of insulation required for Step Three of the energy code is greater than the 5.5” cavity in a 2×6 structure. As a result, many designers have suggested adding a 2” insulation layer to the outer layer of the assembly before installing the siding. This method proves the required insulation value can be achieved.

Personally, my preference is to make the change from a 2×6 structure to a 2×8 one, which will provide enough room for the required insulation value. The reason for this is because when the insulation is installed on the outer layer of the house, rainscreen strips have to be installed to create airflow (to avoid water damage). The contractor has to screw the strips through 2” of insulation to 1/2”- 5/8” sheathing, which in my opinion, don’t have enough of a grip to hold on. More importantly, the building façade is connected to the building through these strips.

So that’s why I prefer the 2X8 structure which gives the total wall assembly the same thickness as the other method and provides stronger connection of facade to the structure.

Netzero home

Netzero home

Ventilation

Since the new buildings have very little air flow from outside because of airtight construction the indoor air has to maintain in high quality. That’s when HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) or ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation) systems come to the rescue. These systems work around the clock in our homes to make sure the right amount of fresh air is coming into the house and the indoor air is flowing to help prevent the growth of mold in a damp environment. They also help the heated or cooled air to be distributed evenly throughout the house, making the entire house comfortable.

This would be a little different for smaller or laneway houses, which might use passive ventilation by requiring the bathroom fan to operate 24/7 along with a fresh air intake to maintain the air flow in the house.

Certified Energy Adviser (CEA)

Prior to the submission of blueprints to the municipality, the Step Code requires a Certified Energy Adviser (CEA) to confirm the exterior walls, roof, and floor assembly meet the Step Code requirements. Additionally, during construction, the CEA will do a series of tests to make sure the builder is on track to meet the requirements.

In the City of Vancouver, it is required to have an air blow test done by the CEA after the insulation has been installed, but prior to drywall going up. The CEA is required to provide the final report to environment Canada after the house is built, but prior to the occupancy permit being issued.

Construction Standards

Over the last 50 years many different standards that have been established to provide guidelines and standards to build more energy efficient houses. R2000, Built Green, LEED and Passive House are some of the most recognizable ones and some of them are on a point system that considers the entire construction process and practice. Included in the points that can be collected is the way the builder runs his/her site in terms of efficiencies in manpower, equipment, and recycling, to name a few.

Passive House is the most recent standard that has been introduced to North America from Europe. It is focused on achieving net-zero homes by designing the house with the appropriate house direction toward to sun, windows and door sizes, locations, exterior shell assembly, and airtightness. The wall thickness of a Passive House reaches up to 12” and up.

What is a Net-Zero House and How Can it be Achieved?

Step three and four of the Energy Step Code provide guidelines to achieve higher airtightness and more insulation so we use less energy to heat or cool our homes. However, the ultimate goal is to build homes that can produce the energy it consumes.

That means the power to heat/cool, to provide domestic hot water, to run small and large appliances are produced by the solar panels installed on the house or by a windmill connected to the house or any other renewable energy methods.

Is it more expensive to build? Absolutely, but, in the long run, it pays for itself and at the same time it is more comfortable to live in.

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