The head of the association representing Greater Victoria builders questions the use of climate change as a pretext to introduce a new building code that would raise housing costs without addressing climate change while increasing liability.
Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association (VRBA), said a climate mitigation workshop organized by Saanich for key stakeholders this week was a “[waste] of time” because it had the purpose to support what he called the “ill-advised” Step Code, an optional building code designed to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings.
Edge — who “briefly attended” the workshop — said it was not the appropriate venue to make recommendations on major building code changes like Step Code, because it lacks expertise.
“Saanich’s Climate Action Workshop is a classic case of bad policy development,” he said. “[Government] often does this by assembling people with little knowledge of a subject like building envelope construction and then asks if the group wants to change construction practices, citing benefits like energy efficiency. If the group decides it’s a good idea, then ‘consensus’ determines support for the new policy, regardless if one person in the group with actual subject knowledge disagrees.”
The District of Saanich late last year launched an ongoing consultation process into Step Code, and the City of Victoria earlier this year adopted the code, which works like a ladder, with each of the five steps representing a higher level of energy efficiency. A single-family home at Step 5 would have net-zero emissions of greenhouses gases (GHG) responsible for climate change.
Local builders are already constructing energy-efficient homes at affordable prices, said Edge, in questioning claims the code will not significantly increase housing costs.
“Step Code estimates are much too low,” he said. “The [provincial government] claims a Tier 5 [home] costs only $17,450 more to build. Our survey of builders reveals costs of at least $55,000 to $110,000. In this market, bet on the high side.”
These additional costs will not pay off in lower GHGs emissions.
“The real gains in GHG reduction are made from retrofits to older homes, the vast majority of Saanich’s housing stock,” he said. “Step Code applies to new construction only.
Step Code also exposes municipalities – and by extension citizens – to “significant” liabilities, he said.
If the Step Code, a voluntary, rather than a mandatory building code, leads to problems, courts could hold municipalities and their taxpayers responsible, he said, citing recent rulings.
Rebecca Newlove, Saanich’s manager of sustainability, said the workshop represents only one part of a comprehensive engagement strategy for the development of Saanich’s climate action plan. It calls on Saanich to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent in 2050, as part of a larger response.
She said the workshop included experts in a diverse range of climate topics covering transportation, buildings, waste and environment.
“We have received some very positive feedback on the engagement event to date,” she said.
Buildings account for approximately 30 per cent of Saanich’s GHGs, with transportation accounting for 58 per cent, waste and others being 11 per cent, she said. “As such, the [workshop] focused on a multitude of actions to address GHG emissions in each of these sectors, buildings being only part of the conversation,” she said.