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LETTER: Did the District of North Vancouver just outlaw breathing?

DNV's new building bylaw, up for adoption Dec. 7, presents all new residential builds and substantial rebuilds with a choice: build to BC Energy Step Code 5 or else.
District of North Vancouver
District of North Vancouver municipal hall. file photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

This letter has been amended since first posting.   

Dear Editor:

During the last moments of the Nov. 23 regular meeting of council, after narrowly escaping being labelled the Grinches of the North Shore, DNV Council turned around and passed a new building bylaw.

This change will present all new residential builds with a choice: build to BC Energy Step Code 5 or else.

Or else stop breathing? Well, no. But the choice is to build to Step Code 5 or to build to Step Code 3 with a LCES and a CO2 output limit that is less than the CO2 output of less than two average humans.

Despite being presented with evidence and opinions that these limits are tantamount to a ban on natural gas use, despite opinions presented by the one dissenting voice, Coun. Betty Forbes, that this Step Code is full of jargon and very difficult for the average citizen to understand. Despite Forbes’ motion to call a public hearing on the subject so the public could get informed and people could give their input on the matter, council rushed through in the last moments of the meeting and voted down Forbes’ motion and rammed this through pretty much without discussion.

Coun. Megan Curren, steering committee board member of the Climate Caucus Group, and original creator of the report that led to this change, stated that “we can talk about this after but we are up against a wall.”

Well now it is anyone who plans to build in future who is up against a wall: “Step Code 5 or else.”

So what is Step Code 5? A majority of council seem to think it pretty simple: For Part 3 and Part 9 buildings you either build to Step Code 5 or Step Code 3 with a LCES option and a CO2 Limit of 3kg/ CO2e/M2/Year. Got it? Good!

Had enough acronyms and jargon yet? Well try for yourself to read the BC Energy Step Code. The staff report that council voted on is full of jargon and acronyms and when you google them the definitions offered are more jargon and acronyms. What is a Part 3 Building? Why it’s a low-density MURB of course!

So what does it take to get to Step Code 5 and how much does that cost? Well that depends on which CZ you live in. (Climate Zone). Want a list of Climate Zones? Me too, but I couldn’t find one. I even spoke with someone I contacted through and the most understandable response he gave me that Step Code 5 isn’t so much a “thing” that you can read or write down – you have to hire an energy consultant who plugs your design into a computer model that develops a rating of your design’s improvement. “Improvement compared to what?” I asked. Improvement compared to the standard building code.

I still don’t “got it.”

Here is what I “got” – I calculated the natural gas use of my own home – one built in 2008 with high-efficiency furnace, electric air-to-air heat pump, on-demand hot water tank, triple-e windows, LED lighting, where my natural gas usage is 8.78 Gj per month average, resulting in an average Fortis BC Bill of $98.16 per month, and my output would be 13.69kg/ CO2e/M2/Year. I vetted my calculations with Fortis BC's experts.

To get to 3? My Fortis BC Bill would need to be $21.52 per average month including all taxes, etc. Anyone out there spending that little? If so, how much are your Hydro bills?

Two people just breathing would produce 4 kg/ CO2e/M2/Year in a 2,000-square-foot home.

Earlier in the meeting, Curren, whose profile on says “Hailing from Planet Earth, and with a background in being human, she seeks to unite with other humans who reject the degenerative, extractive, and exploitive system that’s causing mass suffering and death,” said the following: “We have to model the behaviour that we want.”

Previously I had challenged that same council to do two things: 1) to show us one home, anywhere, that has not themselves banned natural gas and manages to use less than $21 /month, and 2) Tell us, the citizens how you who vote yes are “modelling the behaviour that [you] want."

Still waiting. But they passed the new restriction 6-1 with only Forbes standing up saying “please tell us what this means.” I personally doubt any one of them who voted for it could explain it in simple terms. What I do understand: building my home with my $98 in Fortis billing will now be illegal in the District of North Vancouver.

The other thing I understand: If you choose to build or renovate your house, townhome or condo - your building cost and your monthly operating costs just went through the roof.

How does this square with trying to get more affordability into housing? Maybe this council is planning to pay your Hydro bills for you - maybe ask them?

Peter Teevan

Editor's note: The bylaw -- Construction Bylaw 8271, 2017 Amendment Bylaw 8475, 2020 (Amendment 1) -- is to be considered for adoption by District of North Vancouver council at the next regular meeting, Monday, Dec. 7, starting at 7 p.m. Click here to watch the meeting live.