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Category: Coding

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)

Renovation or Building a New House: Ernest Story

Ernest is a 61 year young who lives with his wife in a spacious house which, at the moment they come to our story, has long begun to show signs of ageing. Little by little, problems kept getting bigger, and the house needed a major repair. The question was, how to decide between renovation and building a new house.

One day, Ernest had decided to finally do something about it. He asked himself: Is it a good idea to repair the old house? How much a full renovation would cost? Is there a better solution? What would be more beneficial – renovation, or building something new?

Ernest realized that it would be best to investigate all options first. He started by asking neighbours and friends for opinions. Naturally, everyone had their own idea about what should be done.

The problem here is an utterly personal perspective. People have good intentions, but they can’t know what’s best for you, especially when it comes to your home. It’s all about different lifestyles, different habits, different needs. And when it comes to the matter of aging in place—different health. 

One idea started to make sense, though. Why spending a significant budget on a renovation if it’s possible to build a new house instead? But then again, could such an investment really pay off? 

What Ernest didn’t think of, at first, was consulting a design professional. He did make a call to the municipal hall in order to find out regulations that would help him decide. Mostly he was interested in how many square feet of a new house he could build.

New-Westminster-Renovation
New-Westminster-Renovation

Renovation or Building New, Ernest Couldn’t Decide

He discovered that it was possible to build a duplex house with two laneway houses, and two secondary suites on each side (ADU). This way, he could live on one side of the duplex and have a laneway house and the suites for renting. Naturally, a secondary suite sounded like a great way to secure some passive income for his retirement. Ernest realized that if he could also manage to sell the other side of the duplex, it would pay off the construction cost.

But as we are getting older, we start craving more quietness, peace, and privacy. Ernest understood that, very soon, he might come into a situation to regret the original idea. Having too many people roaming around his property sounded tiring by itself. Having the same but with a bunch of strangers on top…well, let’s say he cooled off the idea pretty fast. 

Yes, it would be great to have a new house, and even better if the project could pay itself off—but not at the cost of his privacy. After reviewing all options once more, it was clear that he and his family would do better if they build a duplex without any ADU’s.

Once again, Ernest picked up his phone and called several local builders for an interview. He thought it would help him choose which one to hire. Then was the moment to meet Aryo, whom he found by filling an online form.

The first question he asked Aryo was if he had any experience building duplexes in the area. Of course, the answer was positive.

“But, before we go further about my experience, let’s talk about your project and your goals.”

Master Bedroom
North Vancouver home design

Aryo Knew Better

After a long conversation, Aryo found out a lot of interesting facts. First of all, it turned out that Ernest did not really think his project through, not nearly enough. He failed to consider the age he was approaching and too many difficulties it will gradually bring. Moreover, he planned to build a tri-story duplex on each side, featuring less than 600 square feet on each floor.

Like many others, Ernest believed that living in a brand new, beautiful, and shiny house would be enough. The truth beyond, however, was different. Just any kind of new, shiny house wouldn’t bring the kind of happiness he imagined.

Aryo explained to Ernest why it’s good to have a proper, thoughtful plan. He elaborated on the significance of hiring a professional designer – and not just any. What he needed was a designer who takes into consideration the occupant’s lifestyle so that the final project would maximize personalized functionality. That way, the outcome would be much more beneficial for Ernest and his wife in the long-term. 

Such kind of consultation is rarely, if ever, offered by a builder. Not that the builders don’t care—on the contrary. But there’s a difference in knowledge and approach. A good builder knows how to build a sturdy, reliable, good quality house that the homeowner has ordered. But what if the homeowner doesn’t know what he wants, or what is good for him/her in the first place? Then a proper consultation can make all the difference between a disaster and a happy ending.

Maple ridge modern architect renovating or building a new home
Maple ridge modern architect

Renovation or Building New: Deciding Together

Aryo and Ernest talked for many hours. Their brainstorming paid off, and the plan slowly started to come up. Ernest was surprised to find out just how many small but significant details he was missing to consider. 

The idea of having to climb endless stairs, many times a day, suddenly exploded in all colors. Indeed, his original ideas were very fashionable, and those floating staircases could have been gorgeous. But now Ernest also realized that he would probably end up establishing a mini studio on the ground level in just a couple of years, merely to eliminate the need for endless climbing. 

Aryo knew that sooner than later, the couple would probably regret the decision. When your knees are hurting, and your muscles are weak, the last thing you want is a challenge in maintaining personal hygiene. There was no reason why Ernest’s wife should give up her dream of a fancy new tub. The thing was to have a proper one, as functional and approachable as striking in design. 

In the end, Ernest decided to build a house quite different from what he originally intended. But he was delighted to do so. The new project was smart, thoughtfully designed, and full of handy amenities that would add to the quality of their lives in fifteen years just as much as they do now. 

senior living
senior living

What Can a Professional Designer Do, That I Can Not?!

An outstanding design professional will compose the house that fits the homeowner’s lifestyle of today, as well as ten years or more in the future.

A designer who thinks outside the box doesn’t focus solely on what a client desires today. Many times, the homeowner is simply not aware of what lies ahead or even what would be best for him/her. Both renovation or building a new home can bring significant overall improvements if done correctly.

A good designer should really get to know his client. He will think about the homeowners’ present lifestyle as much as about all changes that will come to their life. Often, these changes involve newcomers (babies, in-laws) or a need for rental income, lifestyle improvement, even upgrading to catch up with new trends.

As homeowners, we often think that we are the only ones who know what is best for us and our houses. Some even believe that a professional designer is a redundant category, who will do the same as we would, but also charge for it. The truth, though, is somewhat different. 

You certainly know what your needs are….right now. Aging brings challenges that we might not be aware of until we face them, and that moment might not be the best time to do something about it. Thinking ahead is the key, but how to think ahead if we don’t know what will come? And if we don’t know what is ahead of us, then how could we even think of preventing the issues?

modern-architecture-home1

Don’t Wait, Prevent!

That’s where a good designer comes to the scene in full glory. A good designer has abundant experience in preventing issues. Not because he faced all of them, but because his clients did. One by one, they kept facing and solving different problems, learning a lot in the process. That is why a designer might know some things better than you. In a certain way, he was already there.

Before you start a major renovation, building a new house, making a considerable investment, dig deep down all the challenges that might come to your life. Pinpoint them and design your house with the future in mind. And the moment you find an obstacle, ask for professional assistance that will help you determine all necessities and come up with the appropriate solution that matches not only your lifestyle but your personality as well. 

By Aryo Falakrou (My Home Designer)

Where to Start a Renovation: With a Contractor or a Designer?

“Remember that free advice, no matter from whom it is received, will bear the closest of examination before it is acted upon as safe. And, generally speaking, this sort of advice is worth exactly what it costs.” -Napoleon Hill 

If you only knew how many times I have heard from my clients that they asked a builder to give them a quotation or even a ballpark price for a remodeling job. It would have been an extension by adding a floor above the existing house or spreading existing footage to the yard. Sometimes it’s converting their unfinished basement to a suite, or anything like that. What do you think, how many times the received estimation was even remotely right?

Renovation professional
Renovation professional

When it comes to the game of guestimation, everyone has something to say, and everybody wants to give you free advice. In many cases, just like Napoleon Hill said, free advice is worth just as much you paid for it. It’s a risky game with your hard-earned money as the investment. Asking a contractor to give you a guesstimate quote without a clue about your plan, is not a good idea. To start a renovation without any professional input is even worse.

Don’t Trust Anything That Can Think, Until You See From Where Its Knowledge Comes

The best way to get a precise estimation is to hire a professional designer or architect familiar with local construction costs and building codes. What you’ll get is a professional opinion based on real knowledge, which includes checking the zoning and possibilities and potentials of your property. Remember, the contractors build whatever you tell them to build, and they are trained to produce well—but not to design. It will cost you more money and possibly a lifetime of regret, too, if you don’t take the wise direction.

Every property, as well as owners’ needs and the situation, is unique. If your idea is to ask questions and get free advice from a couple of contractors, and then hire one of them, be sure that he will eventually hire a professional to help him out. That way means you are heading to a long process, probably more expensive in the final outcome. 

Burnaby architect
Burnaby architect

If you hire a professional, make sure it’s a building designer, a home designer, or an architect. Sometimes an experienced interior designer can do the job as well. Start by asking them to prepare a report. It should provide you with the possibilities and scenarios that your property has to offer, together with your options based on the budget available. That kind of service is called Low-Cost Consultation, and its price depends on the project, ranging between $500- $1500.

Why Start a Renovation With an Architect/ Designer?

To make a simple comparison: the architects’ duty is to create designs that contractors will implement. Architect’s scope of work is a combination of artistry and engineering. Many of them will offer a whole range of convenient services, like building permit drawings for custom homes or renovation, city follow-ups for permit application, rezoning and subdivisions, and more. After that, contractors come to the scene to carry out the hands-on work defined by the architect’s plan.

You know what you want and need. An architect/ Designer will take those ideas to turn them into a design that meets the requirements. Moreover, he will know how to improve them. In the whole process, he will find solutions that can cost more or less, depending on what you prefer. The scope of the project can be small or massive, and the prices can change accordingly. This is exactly the place where the former game of guestimation becomes obsolete. 

start a renovation company surrey
Renovation Company Surrey

An architect or building designer must ensure to deliver a project that will not only satisfy your needs but comply with all building codes as well. He/she should also secure the appropriate permits for the project. The job doesn’t end there, as they will work along with contractors to ensure that the design solutions will be implemented according to plan. That means, by hiring an architect/ designer, you will secure the consistency of the whole remodeling process, having the same responsible person supervising the delivery from start to finish.

In short, an architect/ designer will upgrade the work of your contractors with industry credibility and technical expertise.

In the next blog we discuss more detail about: When Should a Contractor Join to Start a Renovation Task?

Meanwhile you can learn more about your project planning in the following links:

Project Planning Pack   
Ask The Expert   
Our Dream Team Directory  

By Aryo Falakrou (My Home Designer)