The City of Vancouver is looking to reduce carbon emissions from new residential buildings three storeys and under to a level that is closer to the requirements mandated for larger multi-family buildings.
In a meeting next week, city council is scheduled to deliberate a series of changes that increase energy efficiency requirements for these low-storey structures, including single-family homes, laneway homes, and townhouses.
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There will be a new requirement for zero-emissions space and water heating, specifically the use of air to water heat pumps, which was the heating solution used for over 90% of typical single-family homes built in 2019.
The city acknowledges some re-education and re-training will be required in collaboration with the industry, which is currently more experienced with heating fuelled by natural gas.
Changes to this heating method will result in a 63% decrease in carbon pollution than the typical home constructed to the 2019 bylaw, and 86% less carbon pollution than a similar home built under the 2007 requirements.
Other new green building design standards entail improved building envelopes — roofs, windows, and air leakage — so that less energy is needed for space heating. For example, an additional six inches to the height of the roof structure will allow for additional roof insulation.
There will be streamlined regulations by offering a more flexible performance compliance, and an alignment with the national Energy Star program for windows, glass doors, heat recovery ventilation, and air tightness.
Moreover, new homes with a total floor area over 3,498 sq. ft. will be required to limit their carbon dioxide emissions to two tonnes per year — an increase from the existing three tonne cap. These larger homes are required to have improved design, better building envelopes, and improved equipment to ensure “equitable energy use.”
Changes will also be made to electric-battery vehicle charging infrastructure.
City staff claim the added construction costs for the new standards will be marginal. The incremental construction cost for a townhouse to adopt these new standards is estimated by local builders to be 0.1% of the average sale price, which is $1.40 per sq. ft. For single-family homes, the increased cost is estimated to be 0.3% of the sale price — $3.90 per sq. ft.
As a result of all of these changes, the municipal government anticipates 60% of the new homes will see savings made to the operating cost of the buildings.
Compared to similar structures built to the 2019 requirements, a 1,345-sq-ft townhouse will see savings of $35.00 to $50.00 per month compared to a townhouse, while a 2,900-sq-ft single-family home could see savings up to $8.00 per month. But they note some single-family homes may see little to no change to their operating costs.
Currently, monthly utility bills are in the $130.00 to $140.00 range for townhouses, and $140.00 to $170.00 range for single-family homes.
“The updates will reduce wasted energy, which in turn will make the transition to zero emissions space and water heating more affordable,” reads a staff report.
“In general, the average carbon pollution intensity of new Vancouver buildings is going down, but low rise housing as a category is falling behind. The current average carbon pollution of single family housing is 8 kg of carbon dioxide from every square metre of area, per year (CO2e/m2/yr.).”
If approved by city council, the two tonne carbon pollution cap for new single-family homes over 3,498 sq. ft. will begin on January 1, 2021, while the various energy efficiency changes will take effect on January 1, 2022, representing a six-month delay due to COVID-19.