Vancouver votes to change building regulations to address climate crisis

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Among the changes, all new multi-family buildings will require cooling systems by 2025 and air filtration to protect residents from intense heat waves and smoke pollution from fires.

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Vancouver City Council has voted to make significant changes to building regulations to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to require cooling and air filtration in all new large buildings.

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The changes are all aimed at tackling the climate crisis and meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

City staff predict new bylaws, which council approved last week will result in an annual reduction of 50,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in Vancouver, the equivalent of taking 13,000 gas-powered cars off the road.

Under the amendments, greenhouse gas emissions in all new multi-family and commercial buildings must be 90% lower than under the old 2007 rules. This will be accomplished by requiring electric heating or heat pumps and electric water heaters in new construction, said City of Vancouver spokesman Neal Wells.

All new multi-family buildings will require cooling systems by 2025 and “best practice” air filtration (MERV 13) to protect residents from heat waves and increasing smoke pollution common and intense. MERV 13 captures 85% of fine particles from vehicle pollution and smoke from fires, Wells said.

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“I think the proposals are quite well crafted in that they strike a good balance between reflecting the urgency of the climate crisis and recognizing the realities of the property development industry,” said Roberto Pecora, director of programs at Zero. Building Exchange issues. (Zebx,) a local industry hub that helps developers, builders, architects and designers work towards zero-emission buildings.

He said developers and builders working in Vancouver are aware that the city has the most progressive green building regulations in the province and have been able to meet the requirements because the regulations are aligned with the plan.

“I don’t see why it would be any different with these upcoming changes to the bylaws. We have a very capable development, construction and design community in Metro Vancouver that can adapt to these changes,” said Pecora.

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The emissions reduction aspects of the proposed changes target space heating and water heating for non-heating applications like showers and washing machines, Pecora said, adding that the regulations do not target gas cooking. .

“Nevertheless, using gas for cooking has serious implications for indoor air quality in homes,” he said. “A a much more modern, safe and efficient way to cook is to use an induction cooktop.

Chris Hill, president of B Collective, a design, build and consultancy firm, thinks gas stoves will soon be out of fashion.

“People feel they need it right now. It’s such an important part of their way of life,” he said. “When we talk about air quality and air filtration, people won’t want to burn gas in their homes.”

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He said that although more and more developers are planning to build homes with electric induction cookers, it’s still very early days and most people are still fond of gas cookers.

“But those with climate awareness understand, and when they explore induction, they are often happy with the results.”

Hill also applauded the city’s decision to ensure all new buildings have air filtration and cooling systems, which will include low-income housing, as those on fixed incomes may be more vulnerable to heat waves and pollution.

In what the city says is the first in North America, all new construction will require a 10 to 20 percent reduction in so-called embodied carbon building materials, which are the emissions associated with building materials such as concrete, l steel and foam insulation. .

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So, for example, Wells said a company might build fewer underground parking lots or use other materials or better concrete mixes.

Hill said there would be a real push to use fewer high-carbon materials like concrete, replacing them with natural materials like wood, but also considering sustainable forestry practices.

Rocky Sethi, COO of Adera Development, agrees, but said more government support is needed to provide wood as a carbon sequestration material.

“We would like to see support from different levels of government, especially the province, to support massive wood construction,” he said. “We support commercially viable efforts to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint, but with construction costs at an all-time high, supply chain constraints negatively impacting our ability to provide affordable housing and a lack of skilled labor in the construction industry, we believe the industry is beyond a tipping point.

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Sethi said that on top of that, growing delays in getting timely approvals and permits are driving up the cost of timber, pushing up house prices at a time of interest rate pressure and inflation are creating challenges for British Columbia households.

For existing office and retail buildings over 100,000 square feet, the city now requires all regulated buildings to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and reduce consumption thermal energy by 70 to 90% by 2040.

Pecora said the initial requirements are either relatively light to start with or phased in to ease the transition. For example, the proposal to regulate emissions from existing buildings would only become effective in 2026 and would only affect around 50 buildings to start with.

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Reducing thermal energy consumption pays off in large office and retail buildings if done when an existing heating system needs replacing and is replaced with some form of heat pump, Wells said. . Heating systems are only replaced every 20-25 years, and the city estimates that 30-40% of large office and retail buildings are expected to make this change by 2030.

Existing large commercial and multi-family buildings will also have to report their annual energy consumption from 2024.

The city is providing $2 million in grants to add heat pumps to existing below-market housing.

In 2021, Zebx conducted a cost analysis of seven high-performance buildings in British Columbia, the kind Vancouver is looking for with its bylaw changes. Two of the seven came in at 30% less than the cost of similar minimum code buildings built in the same area around the same time.

“It’s unclear whether high-performance buildings cost more to build,” Pecora said. “I would say the biggest impact on the cost of new construction right now is labor shortages and supply chain disruptions.”

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