Divided RDCK board approves move to STEP Code

·5 min read

Builders working in the Regional District of Central Kootenay will have to meet new energy-efficient construction standards starting in the new year.

The RDCK’s board of directors voted last month to adopt the provincial Energy STEP Code as of December 31.

Under Step 1, all new residential buildings have to have a certified energy advisor confirm its design meets the energy requirements of the current building code. Future steps will see buildings having to meet more and more requirements. The final step, Step 5, due to be introduced in 2032, will demand all new buildings to be net-zero in energy use.

Step 1 is voluntary, but Step 3 will be provincially mandated in 2022.

Staff have been recommending adopting the voluntary level of compliance for more than a year.

“Not adopting Step 1 in December 2020 will inhibit the ability of builders and Building Officials to suitably prepare for the jump to Step 3 in 2022,” wrote Paul Faulkner, the RDCK’s Energy Specialist, in a report to the November 19 board meeting. “This lack of preparedness may increase the likelihood of failure to achieve compliance to the Step 3 for builders unfamiliar with the requirements, processes, and techniques to achieve Step 3.”

If that happens, Faulkner warned home builders (and buyers) could see delays and extra costs to redo work that fails inspections, a shortage of trades workers familiar with the standards, inappropriate or inefficient systems being installed, and missed rebate opportunities to save construction costs.

Cost not a concern

Concerns have been raised around the perceived additional costs of Step Code and the impact on the affordability of homes within the RDCK. But Faulkner told directors research has showed Step 1 increases costs by less than 1%, and the next two steps only add another percentage point.

“This finding suggests that improved energy efficiency and affordability can go hand-in-hand,” he wrote. The report also notes that more energy-efficient homes reduce homeowner costs, saving more money to be spent locally.

Some areas of the RDCK have already adopted higher standards. The City of Nelson requires builders to construct housing to Step 3 standards, and Castlegar and Creston adopted Step 1 this fall.

Mixed feelings

But the board, which has debated the move for more than a year, was divided in its final vote. Nearly a third of the directors, many from the Slocan and Arrow Lakes, voted against the motion.

“It’s my feeling out there the majority of people are tired of being told what to do, tired of government taking a heavy-hand approach and telling them what to do,” said New Denver board rep Colin Moss. “To me the Step Code is coming and we know it… it feels to me we’re being asked to do something the provincial government should be doing. Why should the provincial government not make Step 1 mandatory?”

“I understand the desire for improved efficiency. But I will not give support for this because it’s the only option,” added Nakusp representative Joseph Hughes. “I think that improvements in building should be done through the Code book.

“Ninety percent of our homes are pre-existing. If we want to improve efficiency, we should be looking at retrofitting old houses,” he continued. “I think it is restrictive, it’s another layer of oversight, and that always leads to more and more oversight of that layer, and I can’t get behind it for what it represents to the industry.”

Even board Chair Aimee Watson, who ultimately voted in favour of the program, questioned if the industry had the capacity to serve the whole RDCK, especially in her more rural areas.

“I signed up to the REEP program for an energy advisor… and it took me two years to get one,” she said. “… I don’t think our rural areas are ready. I have no issue with Step Code, I have an issue with early adoption before we are ready.”

Watson said only some builders she’s spoken with in her Area D are familiar with the new requirements, and energy advisers are overwhelmed in the region just to meet current needs.

“So what I hear is they’re not ready. And access to them – especially in the very north end of the lake – is very, very challenging. While I think capacity is sufficient for more centralized locations, what I’m hearing from builders at that end [of Kootenay Lake] is that the capacity is not yet there.”

But the majority of directors felt it was important the RDCK get moving on preparing for higher steps.

“We’ve have had this in place in the City of Nelson for some time,” said Nelson rep Janice Morrison, who moved adoption. “We’ve had only positive feedback from builders in our area.”

“It’s not new, it’s not out of the blue, much of it is common sense,” said Area A Director Garry Jackman, who seconded the motion. “I don’t look at this as much as early adoption as putting in place incrementally the education, instead of just hitting the wall and all of a sudden you’re at Step 3. I don’t see this as harmful.”

In the end, the motion passed. But Hughes, Moss, Area K Director Paul Peterson and Area H Director Walter Popoff – all from the Arrow Lakes/ Slocan Valley – and two other directors were in opposition.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice