Postcards from Tomorrow

The Heights: Multi-Unit Residential Passive House
July 4, 2019

A group of British Columbia building-industry leaders wanted a sneak peek of their province’s net-zero energy-ready future. So they went to Belgium.

Written by: BC Energy Step Code


In 2007, Brussels, Belgium, had some of the most inefficient buildings in Europe. Just seven years later, architects, builders, and developers had utterly transformed the city—building or retrofitting more than 240 buildings, of all types and sizes, to meet the highest possible level of energy efficiency performance.

What happened? In 2009, the regional government passed a law requiring all construction of new public buildings to follow the rigorous Passive House standard by 2010, and all new construction to follow those standards by 2015. They launched a series of six competitions under an incentive program called Exemplary Buildings (also known as Batex), and introduced extensive training programs. (For more, see “From Brussels to British Columbia,” the Pembina Institute, June 2015.)

“They basically told their industry, ‘In seven years, we are going to be at the Passive House standard,” says Christian Cianfrone, executive director of the Zero Emissions Building Centre for Excellence (ZEBx), which organized the trip to the Belgian capital. “Now, as of 2015, everything built in Brussels has been built at that level,” he says. “For four years now, they have been building at a performance level British Columbia will be requiring in 13 years.”

By that he means that by 2032, new construction in British Columbia will, under the base BC Building code, reach a net-zero energy-ready performance level. The BC Energy Step Code is the policy pathway that local governments are using to deliver on that goal—along with the City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan. The key difference? The province expects BC’s industry will reach net-zero energy-ready new construction in 15 years; Brussels’ regulators told their builders to do it in less than half that time.


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