City’s ‘green’ bylaw will add more costs to new homes

Big windows, balconies could cost extra, but cheap natural gas not available at any price
Apartment buildings along the Marine Drive corridor near Cambie Street in Vancouver. The look and design of Vancouver highrises could change radically under a new city bylaw | Chung Chow

Vancouver’s new green buildings rezoning policy, which comes into force May 1, will drive new home prices higher. It could also change the look of highrise buildings and new houses: think fewer windows, few or smaller balconies and definitely no natural gas fireplaces, industry experts say.

“It is a dramatic change,” said Rod Yeoh, a principal with Dialog, which has designed many low-energy buildings, during a February 9 presentation on the new zoning bylaw at the Buildex show in Vancouver.

He added that the new standards become mandatory at rezoning, not when a building permit is issued, to allow time for the controversial regulations to be put in place.

The bylaw is part of the city’s Zero Emissions Building Plan meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings to zero by 2030.

Natural fireplaces and cooking elements have been popular in new homes, but only gas derived from renewable sources will be allowed under the bylaw.

According to natural gas utility FortisBC, gas from renewable sources, such as from landfills, produces less than 1% of the gas used in B.C.

“This really means a ban on natural gas for new Vancouver buildings,” said Jason Wolfe, director of energy solutions for FortisBC.

He noted that British Columbia is among the world leaders in natural gas production, and natural gas costs about one-third of what electric heat costs.

Concrete balconies, nearly ubiquitous on highrise condo buildings – and mandated by city building codes in certain neighbourhoods – could also become more expensive.

This is because the concrete extrusions allow too much heat to escape, according to Yeoh. Such balconies would require a thermal break to reduce heat transfer.

If a new condo buyer wants such an energy-efficient balcony he or she would likely have to pay extra for it, said Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, Pacific region, which represents mostly highrise condominium developers.

She said the same could be true for floor-to-ceiling windows, also widely used in new condo towers.

The bylaw recommends a reduction in the amount of glazing and requires the installation of high-performance frames and triple-pane windows.

It also requires some form of consistent mechanical heat-
recovery air ventilation in all living spaces.

Yeoh told the Buildex meeting the new bylaw could add 15% to 20% to the cost of a highrise condominium tower. McMullin said this would equate to at least $10,000 per new condo apartment.

But the new rules could nail even higher costs to new low-rise condominiums, townhouses, detached houses and substantial home renovations, said Bob de Wit, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association.

“Any additional cost is a big number,” said de Wit.

He estimated total new home construction costs over the past year have already gone up 10% to 20%.

“The cost of lumber is going up because of speculation around the [U.S.-Canada] softwood lumber agreement.”

De Wit added that a new tariff on drywall has increased prices 20%, rebar costs have risen, labour is more expensive and BC Hydro connection costs have increased.

Meanwhile, according to BC Assessment, the cost of residential land has doubled in the city of Vancouver in the past year.

McMullin said that it could be a long time before the new regulations truly hit the housing market because of the current backlog in rezoning applications.

“It can take four to seven years to get rezoning approval in the city of Vancouver,” she said. “It gives some time to figure this out.”

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