December 18, 2013

Two paths for energy efficiency in updated B.C. Building Code

On Dec. 20, developers in B.C. will have two choices when it comes to how they attain energy efficiency in new complex buildings, which are large residential, industrial, commercial and institutional structures.

The B.C. Building Code now requires that either the 2011 National Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) or the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1(2010) standards be used.

The standards cannot be combined. Either the Canadian-made NECB or the U.S. ASHRAE 90.1 must be used.

The standards address electrical, building envelope, heating and ventilation requirements.

According to Maura Gatensby, a B.C architect and a practice advisor with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, the two standards are similar.

But, the NECB has better climate information for Canadian locations and has a greater focus on the needs of Canadians, such as heating standards.

Alternatively, the American ASHRAE 90.1 must address severe cooling loads, which are particular to the U.S., Gatensby said.

Regarding trade-offs, ASHRAE has trade-off paths in the building envelope portion only, while NECB has trade-off paths in the building envelope as well as in the lighting, HVAC and hot water heating systems sections.

Deciding which standard to use is normally not a builder’s choice.

The choice of standard is made by designers, in consultation with owners.

All buildings, which must be designed to these standards, require architects and professional engineers to prepare the documents for construction.

The choice of which standard is made long before a builder is brought on board, starting at the earliest design stages, Gatensby said.

Figuring out how to apply the standards is a complex procedure.

There are various software programs to assist architects and engineers.

Because there are many more resources (software, guides, courses) for ASHRAE 90.1 available to designers, it will likely remain the preferred standard for awhile, Gatensby said.

But, many in the Canadian industry would like to see ASHRAE 90.1 phased-out now that a Made-in-Canada solution exists, she said.

Over the next while, application of the NECB standards, which specifically address Canadian climate zones, will be closely watched.

Already, the federal government uses NECB standards for construction of federal buildings.

B.C. is the first jurisdiction in the country to adopt the new energy standards for complex buildings, also known as Part 3 structures.

But, the current changes are an upgrade of standards that were in the 2006 BC Building Code, Gatensby said.

The City of Vancouver has had energy requirements in their building bylaws since the 1980s. Prior to reference of ASHRAE 90.1 being put in the B.C. Building Code in 2009, there were prescriptive energy requirements.

Additionally, all buildings in B.C. that are not required to meet the ASHRAE 90.1 are required to comply with the B.C. Energy Efficiency Act, which has a much broader scope than just building construction.

Before the rigorous application of standards, buildings were completed on a less prescribed basis.

The amount of insulation used, for example, was typically based on estimates or past practice.

Now, using window installation as an example, the building’s windows must be tested and verified for their energy efficiency, Gatensby said.

Builders have choices which windows they use, as long as they agree with the requirements. It’s a big task because builders have to meet both the specifications and get the best price to keep the project on-budget, Gatensby said.

She admitted that the new energy efficiency requirements, with their higher construction levels, carry added costs.

In these early stages, it’s difficult to estimate price increases, but Gatensby expects about a 10 per cent jump.

The upside is that over time, the buildings will have lower heating costs and, thus, extra construction costs will be recovered.

Builders and developers are welcoming the new energy requirements because they’re creating a level playing field for the industry, Gatensby added.

According to the Ministry of Natural Gas Development and Housing, on average, each standard can increase energy savings up to 15 per cent over the previous requirements.

By December 2014, energy efficiency standards for houses and small buildings will come into effect, according to Sandra Steilo, ministry spokesperson.

For now, houses and small buildings are required to meet the energy provisions in the 2012 B.C. Building Code, which are similar to the 2006 B.C. Building Code.

It was Gatensby’s understanding that the housing and small building sector needed additional time to adjust.

For example, the window and door industry needed more time to modify manufacturing and testing processes to comply with the North American Fenestration Standard (NAFS).

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