Proposed changes to building bylaw could raise the cost of housing in Saanich. Derek Ford / District of Saanich

Building code changes could raise housing costs in Saanich

Measures designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions could make housing more expensive in Saanich

Saanich is moving ahead with plans for a program that promises to reduce emissions responsible for climate change, but could also raise the net cost of housing.

Council last week asked staff to consult with builders and others about implementing the second phase of implementing the B.C. Energy Step Code. The code consists out of five steps designed to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings with the stated goal of making all new buildings by 2032 net-zero energy ready. Net zero energy ready buildings are buildings that could (with additional measures) generate enough energy onsite to meet their own energy needs.

Subject to final council approval later this year following input, all new Part 9 buildings would have to achieve Step 1 of the code by November 1, 2018. Part 9 buildings include single family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings.

All new Part 9 buildings excluding small single-family houses less than 1,200 square-foot in area would have to achieve Step 3 of the Step Code by January 1, 2020. Step 3 requires impacted buildings to be at least 20 per cent more energy efficient than the current building code stipulates. Houses less than 1,200 square-foot in area would have to achieve energy efficiencies of at least 10 per cent above and beyond the building code by January 1, 2020.

While council approved these proposed changes 8-1 with Coun. Fred Haynes opposed, several councillors sounded an ambivalent note.

Mayor Richard Atwell said he supports moving ahead for now. “But I’m definitely withholding my support for the next stage until we can advance to the point where we have a better understanding of it,” he said.

He (like other council members) wanted to see how the code would specifically impact the bottom line of future home owners both in terms of additional costs and savings.

Haynes said he voted against moving forward beceause of the uncertainty and the prospect of rising housing costs.

“These numbers should be available, and I’m a bit disappointed because for two years, I have been trying to find these numbers, when I talk to people who are promoting the Step Code at UBCM, and recently here,” he said. “I struggle with this one because of the urgency around affordability of housing.”

According to a staff report, moving to Step 3 would have “very low cost implications” for large and medium single-family, as Saanich moves towards Step 1 and Step 3. Moving to Step 2 for houses less than 1,200 square-foot in area would result in cost increases of around 2.4 per cent.

As for savings by way of energy efficiences, they depend on the type of development and energy use, said Rebecca Newlove, Saanich’s manager of sustainability.

“We can certainly include that information in the second phase of engagement to demonstrate what a 10 per cent or a 20 per cent efficiency improvement equates to in terms of savings on utility bills,” she said. “We do have data that is available for EnerGuide evaluations for households within the region, so we are able to put some of those cost estimates together.”

The provincial government introduced the code in 2017 and Saanich staff have identified it as an attractive tool in reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions, as buildings account for a sizable share of community greenhouse gas (GHGs) emisions — in the case of Saanich 30 per cent.

This said, the code applies to new buildings — about one per cent of Saanich’s total housing stock, prompting questions about whether the code would actually reduce GHGs, since most new homes would use hydro-electricity considered carbon-neutral.

While Newlove acknowledged the point that new homes account for asmall share of the total housing stock, they will still be around in 2050, contributing to GHGs. She also added not all Saanich homes use hydro-electricity.

“We do see it [the Step Code] as an approach to move us towards our climate targets,” she said. “The other thing to note is that we have a multitude of programs in place…for existing building stocks. So this is Step Code project is not done in isolation or seen as an silver bullet for addressing our building emissions inventory. It is one piece of the puzzle.”

It is a piece of the puzzle though that threatens to pit environmental sustainability against economic affordability, a tension that also appears in industry reactions.

The Vancouver Island chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) has broadly endorsed the Step Code, while the Victoria Residential Builders’ Association (VRBA) has withdrawn its initial support, predicting that the additional cost of a genuine passive home meeting the highest standard of the Step Code would range between $55,410 and $110,820 — far above the government’s estimate of $17,450. Overall, VRBA believes the higher steps of the code would “marginally” reduce GHGs, while “significantly” increase the costs of new homes.

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