Saanich’s proposed building code changes come under fire

VRBA head says changes to energy efficiency standards will bring up to $100,000 in additional costs

The head of a group representing Greater Victoria builders publicly attacked the proposed building code changes that promise to reduce emissions responsible for climate change, but could also raise the net cost of housing.

“Fast tracking energy efficiency is both irresponsible and costly,” said Case Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association (VRBA).

Saanich last month asked staff to consult with builders and others about implementing the second phase of implementing the B.C. Energy Step Code.

It 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.

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) emissions — in the case of Saanich 30 per cent.

But Edge warned the code will undermine housing affordability, without addressing climate change.

At issue are competing claims from the provincial government and VRBA. Edge wrote in an earlier letter the additional cost of a genuine passive home meeting the highest standard of the Step Code (Step 5) would range between $55,410 and $110,820 — far above the government’s estimate of $17,450.

He repeated this claim during his presentation. “You know and everybody in this room knows that you cannot build a Tier 5, passive home for an additional $17,000 above code,” he said.

Edge said his own survey of “real builders” shows additional costs will range between at least $55,000 to $110,000. In this market, you can bet the higher number.”

Edge also predicted that the new code would not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “It doesn’t effectively address climate change,” he said.

The proposed code also violates the agreement to harmonize the provincial building code with national building code

“National diligence is therefore ignored, undermining consumer protection,” he said. “Step Code is enabling 161 municipalities to invoke their own level of energy efficiency outside the national building code, where diligence is done, and the expertise is. It is not [with] councils or their staff.”

The code also threatens to expose municipalities to additional legal liabilities, he said.

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, town-homes, and small apartment buildings.

Edge also called on Saanich to change its inspection fees.

Saanich, like other municipalities, calculates fees on the value of construction, which includes contractors’ profit, workers’ compensation liability insurance, and other factors not related to the cost of inspection services, a practice that has yielded big surpluses over the years, he said.

Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said Saanich is aware of this concern, but suggested Edge overstated his case.

“What council has to understand is that this is not a surplus generated by building permits,” he said. Service fees support awide range of services that go beyond inspection, he said.

Thorkelsson made these comments as council approved a report into the building permit process due back June 2017.

Concerns about this process broke into view a year ago, when the brother owners of Saanich company Islands West Produce urged others to skip Saanich for Langford because municipal staff had been slow in issuing permits over the course of at least five-and-a-half years.

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