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Vancouver votes to amend building laws to address climate crisis
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Vancouver votes to amend building laws to address climate crisis

Vancouver council has voted to make significant changes to building bylaws to address the climate crisis.


The changes include the requirement for cooling systems in all new multi-family homes by 2025, and air filtration to protect residents against extreme heat waves and smoke pollution.

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Vancouver’s city council voted to make significant construction changes to reduce fossil fuel use and require cooling and air filtering for all new large buildings.

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All of the changes are aimed at addressing climate crisis and meeting targets to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

The new bylaws were predicted by city staff, which was approved by the council Vancouver’s annual carbon pollution reductions of 50,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent to removing 13,000 gasoline-powered cars from the roads, were announced last week.

The new rules require that greenhouse gas emissions from all new multi-family and commercial buildings must be 90% less than they were under the 2007 rules. Neal Wells, spokesperson for Vancouver said that electric heat pumps and electric water heaters will be required in new construction.

All new multi-family buildings will require cooling systems by 2025 and “best practice” (MERV 13) air filtration to protect residents from increasingly common and intense heat waves and fire smoke pollution. Wells said that MERV13 captures 85% of fine particulates resulting from vehicle pollution and fires.

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

He stated that Vancouver’s green building regulations are the most advanced in the province. Vancouver’s builders and developers are aware of this and have been able adjust to meet the requirements since the bylaws align with the plan.

“I don’t see why it would be any different with these upcoming bylaw amendments. We have a very competent 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 heating water for non-heating applications like showers and washing machines, said Pecora, adding that the bylaws don’t target gas range cooking.

“Nonetheless, using gas for cooking has some serious consequences for indoor air quality in homes,” he said. “A much more modern, safe and efficient way to cook is with an induction cooktop.”

Chris Hill, president of B Collective (a design, build, and consulting firm), believes that gas stoves are likely to go out of style soon.

“People feel like they need it right now. It’s such an important part of their lifestyle,” he said. “When we are talking about air quality and air filtration though, people are not going to want to burn gas in their house.”

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He said that although more developers are considering electric induction stoves for their homes, it is still very early days. Most people prefer gas stoves.

“But those with a climate conscious understand and, as they explore induction, quite often they are happy with the results.”

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

According to the city, this is the first North American initiative. All new constructions will have to reduce their use of so-called embodied carbon building materials. These are greenhouse gases that are caused by building materials like concrete, steel and foam insulation.

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Wells suggested that companies could either use less underground parking or other materials or better concrete mix.

Hill stated that there will be a push to reduce the use of materials with high carbon impacts like concrete and replace them with natural materials such as wood, while also considering sustainable forestry practices.

Rocky Sethi is Adera Development’s chief operating officers. However, he believes there should be more government support to provide timber as carbon sequestering materials.

“We would like to see support from the various levels of government, in particular the province, in supporting mass timber construction,” he said.

“We support commercially viable efforts to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint, however with construction costs at an all-time high, supply chain constraints negatively impacting our ability to deliver affordable housing, and a lack of skilled labour in the construction industry, we feel the industry is beyond a tipping point.”

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Sethi stated that there are increasing delays in obtaining permits and approvals in a timely fashion, which is driving up timber prices. This is at a time when inflation and interest rate pressure is creating problems for B.C. households.

Existing office and retail buildings larger than 100,000 square feet are subject to the city’s new requirements. They must emit zero greenhouse gases by 2040 and reduce heat use by 70-90 percent by 2040.

Pecora stated that the initial requirements are relatively low to start with or are gradually added to aid in the transition. For example, the proposal for regulating emissions from existing buildings would not become effective until 2026 and only 50 buildings would be affected.

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Wells stated that it is possible to reduce heat energy consumption in large office buildings and retail stores if the heating system is being replaced with a heat pump. Heating systems need to be replaced every 20-25 year. The city estimates that 30% to 40% of large office and retail buildings will make this switch by 2030.

Beginning in 2024, large existing commercial and multifamily buildings will be required to report their annual energy usage.

$2 million will be provided by the city to heat-pump existing below-market homes.

ZEBx was a leading global provider of information services in 2021. Cost analysisSeven high-performance buildings in B.C. that Vancouver seeks with its bylaw changes.

Two of the seven were 30 percent cheaper than similar code-minimum buildings constructed in the same region at the same time.

“It’s not a given that high-performance buildings cost more to build,” said Pecora. “I would argue that what’s affecting the cost of new construction more at the moment are labour shortages and supply chain disruptions.”

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