B.C. needs 'net-zero' building revolution to combat climate change

Buildings account for 29 per cent of B.C.'s energy use and 12 per cent of greenhouse gases.

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  • Better enforcement of building codes
  • Incentives and financing solutions to offset costs and motivate developers
  • Options for municipalities to voluntarily adopt stricter energy requirements for buildings
  • Leading by example with super energy-efficient public sector buildings
  • Increasing the rate of the carbon tax to reflect real costs of carbon pollution
  • Knowledge and skills training for construction and operation of net-zero buildings
  • Energy reduction strategies for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances
  • Benchmarking energy use in buildings

A net-zero builder uses an air source heat pump heating and cooling system that runs on solar electricity produced right on the home. Photo David Dodge/ GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Local net-zero movement already underway

According to the Pembina Institute, buildings account for 29 per cent of B.C.'s energy use and 12 per cent of greenhouse gases. Total building floor space is expected to double between now and 2050, which makes net-zero buildings more crucial than ever. 

Several developers have already recognized this need, and in 2010, Vancouver became home to the first multi-residential net-zero dwelling in Canada — a seniors development in Southeast False Creek with solar panels, natural cross-ventilation, and triple-glazed windows.

Micheal Sawyer, president of Net-Zero Structures Ltd., estimates there are around 1,000 net-zero homes and buildings in B.C., and said the demand for them is constantly growing.

There’s a growing number of sophisticated buyers out there who are looking for energy-efficient features for practical, aesthetic, and ethical reasons," he told the Vancouver Observer. "Having said that, only a very small percentage of all the homes built in our region, British Columbia or Canada as a whole are currently at the net-zero standard."

Adding a covered porch on a popular suburban home design and solar panels on both roofs is an easy change toward achieving net-zero homes. Photo by David Dodge/ GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Sawyer's team has built roughly 25 net-zero and close-to-net-zero homes over the last five years, but seconded the Pembina Institute and PICS reports. He said a city or provide-wide net-zero standard can't be accomplished without stronger government and industry support.

"The idea of an entire jurisdiction going to a net-zero standard is not so outlandish," he explained, referencing a recent State of California decision to have 100 per cent of new homes achieve net-zero status beginning in 2020.

"We’re not going to be able to achieve that unless we have leadership from government in terms of public policies — changing the building code to reflect the things we have to do — and we’re not going to do it unless we have leadership from the construction industry."

To petition the province to incorporate tighter net-zero commitments in its upcoming Climate Leadership Plan, visit the government website.

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