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Whistler builders react to new Step Code bylaw

Is 2024 enough time? ‘Probably not, but the technology is out there’
A house under construction in Whistler Cay.

Whistler builders are mostly receptive to changes to the resort’s Energy Step Code requirements, but are wary of added costs and delays.

On June 6, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) adopted its amended building and plumbing bylaw, which contains new requirements around the BC Energy Step Code (ESC) that bring the municipality in line with new provincial regulations that came into effect May 1.

The new bylaw also sets the course for the RMOW to opt-in to the Zero Carbon Step Code (ZCSC) beginning Jan. 1.

The RMOW will also increase the ESC step for both Part 9 and residential Part 3 buildings on that day.

With those changes, Part 9 builds (single-family, duplex or townhomes) will be required to meet Step 4 of the ESC, with strong carbon performance, while residential Part 3 builds must hit Step 3 with strong carbon performance.

According to Tom McColm, president of the Sea to Sky branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA), builders in Whistler are generally open to the changes, but are concerned that the ZCSC will create additional costs and delays for builders. There is also worry that the electrical infrastructure in the municipality isn’t ready for the transition.

“We’re not against getting there, but the target is to get there by 2030, I believe, and it sounds like Whistler’s just pushing it a little too early. The infrastructure is not really there. There’s concern that the education isn’t there yet,” McColm said.

“We told the RMOW this when they asked to show our support for the ZCSC. We had many questions that we felt weren’t really answered, and they told us to go to the province to figure out the details. So we do feel like that one’s being pushed ahead prematurely.”

The RMOW is providing time for the building industry in Whistler to adapt to the ZCSC, with the change taking place on Jan. 1, but McColm is concerned that the timeline is too short for constructing the necessary BC Hydro infrastructure, and for people in the trades to learn the new systems.

“It’s not building it that’s a problem for most of us; we can get it done. And we’re onboard to move to [lower]-emission buildings—it’s obviously the way we need to go,” McColm said. “We feel that it’s just been dumped on us, and we don’t have the infrastructure in place, and it’s going to lead to some delays and additional costs.”

According to CHBA board member Axel Schreyer, president and founder of Schreyer Construction, the Whistler building industry is looking for ways to improve cost efficiency in building more energy-efficient homes.

“It does make construction more expensive, but I think the industry is also very forward-thinking about trying to find ways to be more energy efficient and do it a little bit cheaper, right? We’re pretty inventive that way,” Schreyer said.

RDC Fine Homes owner Bob Deeks believes the transition to the ZCSC is a relatively simple technology conversion. His main concern is the need for experienced tradespeople, and the time it will take for people to get the necessary education.

“It’s not very difficult [to transition to the ZCSC]. You go into an all-electric solution. So you’re using cold climate air source heat pumps instead of a gas furnace. So, the technology works,” Deeks said.

“The only problem that we do have is a shortage of skilled heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractors or installers. The refrigeration technology needs a slightly elevated level of experience, and you have to have experience in refrigeration for these things. Is 2024 enough time? Probably not, but the technology is out there.”

Whistler builders also spoke of the potential increased workload for RMOW staff to enforce the new regulations, highlighting the building department’s already lengthy permitting wait times as one of the significant issues facing construction in the resort.

“What I’m not on board with is when the muni makes decisions that increase their workload, and they have no way [to handle the increased workload],” Schreyer said. “I would say to the muni, ‘yes, do whatever you want in increasing the Step Code if you can give us a building permit within three weeks.’ But they make those decisions, and they don’t have the manpower to actually deal with this stuff. And they’re slowing us down. That’s my beef.”

According to an RMOW communications official, the updated bylaw will not impact workflow or workload at municipal hall, as it amounts to mostly a “paperwork change.”

“With this said, designers will need to learn the changes and adapt how they are designing, so it is possible there could be longer timelines for the industry itself,” the official said.

As for infrastructure, Mayor Jack Crompton pointed out that BC Hydro doesn’t share those concerns.

“I have high confidence we have the capacities available for the growing demands in our community and others,” Crompton said.

“According to BC Hydro, we’re ready for the demands that we’re going to put on the grid by an increasing number of electric cars.”

The mayor added that it’s important to take the time to get the new processes right.

“We want better-performing buildings. We want a community that takes seriously the challenge that we all face together. We’ve decided to push off adoption for a year so that we can work closely with the local building community and get it right,” Crompton said.

“We want to get it right, and one of the ways we get it right is by working with builders to ensure that their experience and knowledge is incorporated into the processes we do.”