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Construction Standards

Information for organizations developing or renovating affordable housing.

Green building standards

BC Housing takes a leadership role in creating sustainable housing in British Columbia. When designing affordable housing developments, we implement energy and sustainability design standards. When designing affordable housing developments with funding from BC Housing, there are several third-party rating systems we recommend.

LEED™ stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This green rating system provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction in areas such as water savings, energy reduction and site plans.

Many of the buildings BC Housing contributes funding to are able to register for the LEED for Homes Program as opposed to the LEED Building Design and Construction. The former is cheaper, less complex and can lead to simpler designs.

LEED for Homes – Midrise is our LEED rating system of choice for most BC Housing-built buildings (generally less than 10 storeys). It differs from LEED Building Design and Construction in several ways. Check the LEED for Homes – Midrise cheat sheet, which details each of the potential points available in LEED for Homes and how easy or challenging they are to achieve.

The Energy Modeling cheat sheet defines energy modeling as it relates to housing providers and how it can be effectively used to evaluate buildings. Energy modeling is a requirement for LEED and helps with the integrated design process.

The LEED Construction Project Progress cheat sheet can be used to determine where a construction project should fit in relation to the LEED process and incentive documentation. This takes the project from pre-design through construction.

Passive House is a standard developed in Europe and has been in use for over 20 years. The standard combines a maximum heating energy intensity (heating energy per square metre) with maximum air leakage rate, and puts the majority of the emphasis on passive elements in building design.

Passive elements include the building envelope (for example, thick, highly insulated walls), high-performance windows and building orientation to optimize solar gain in the winter and solar shading in the summer.

Buildings built under this system are generally of a simple design and easier to operate. As this is a rating system based on energy use intensity, it does not suggest requirements for water use reduction or other sustainable elements. More information is available below.

We do require the use of a Passive House Planning Package to model the energy use of a building. This then allows designers to choose the appropriate wall design, window types and heating and ventilation systems required in the climate zone of construction.

Passive House certification requires that the building is air tight (0.6 ACH at 50 Pa), and does not use more than 15 kWh/m2 of heating/cooling energy, or more than 120 kWh/ m2 total primary energy.

Living Building Challenge is the most stringent sustainable building standard available. It requires that buildings produce at least 5 per cent more energy than they use, and that they are fully self-sufficient with regards to water (for example, they produce as much potable/usable water as used).

The Living Building Challenge relies significantly on indoor air quality and materials used, and maintains a “red list” of materials banned from any Living Building Challenge development.

While the incremental costs associated with pursuing this rating system are higher than those of LEED or Passive House, the benefits and savings you can realize are far greater. Read more about the Living Building Challenge standards.

In support of climate action and environmental initiatives, small single-unit buildings are required to reduce energy consumption as well, through one of several systems:

  • EnerGuide, a product of NRCan, is a simple rating system for a home based on the number of gigajoules of energy it will consume each year. The lower the number, the better — aim for 75 GJ or less.
  • R-2000 is a rating system developed by the Canadian government over 30 years ago. The newest version (2012) requires significant energy use reduction beyond what’s required by code. Like LEED, there are requirements for indoor air quality and waste savings. Like Passive House, there are requirements for energy intensity and air tightness. This standard involves a licensed R-2000 builder, maximum energy intensity, whole house ventilation, an environmental pick list (similar to LEED), water conservation and independent inspections upon construction completion.
  • LEED for Homes, as described above, is a rating system that can be used for single-family dwellings in addition to multi-unit residential buildings. Similar point categories to other LEED products include design, site, water, energy, materials, indoor air quality and education. The same cheat sheet as in the LEED section above can be used for LEED for Homes.

Energy standards & sustainability

Plans and legislation are in place to implement the Province of British Columbia's climate change strategy.

The BC Energy Plan, released in 2007, supports the goal to make all government operations carbon neutral and has called on government agencies to demonstrate best practices and lead the way by corporate example. BC Housing has been carbon neutral since 2010.

The Plan contains 55 policy actions targeting the areas of environmental leadership, energy conservation and efficiency, energy security and energy technology innovation. Some of these actions directly affect the development, administration and/or management of affordable housing, including direction to:

  • Reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 from current levels
  • Implement a public-sector green building plan using capital investments to finance the design and retrofit of government facilities to improve their energy efficiency and long-term sustainability
  • Integrate new energy-efficient technologies and environmental building design principles into all new construction projects that receive provincial funding

BC Housing has been carbon neutral since 2010, as required by the provincial climate action legislation — the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act and the Carbon Neutral Government Regulation. As required by this legislation, BC Housing has been working towards reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Working together with our construction vendors and contractors, we’re focused on keeping our commitments to the Act. Within our construction contracts, we’ve established aggressive waste diversion targets that our vendors must follow. Read about our targets for Sustainable Waste Management.

In 2015, 42 per cent of our procurement tenders focused on sustainable product specifications, waste reduction and diversion, efficiency and positive contributions to local communities. These actions are highlighted in our 2015/2016 Sustainability Report. Details related to our greenhouse gas emissions, reduction efforts, carbon offsets and plans for further actions are available in our Carbon Neutral Action Report.

The Act also establishes:

The government is also required to publish a report every two years outlining the progress made toward emission reduction targets.

  • B.C.'s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020
  • An emission reduction target of 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050

In November 2007, the provincial government and BC Hydro entered into a new Public Sector Energy Conservation Agreement to significantly reduce electricity consumption across more than 6,500 public-sector buildings.

The Agreement set ambitious conservation goals for all ministries and Crown agencies, including BC Housing — reducing electricity consumption in existing provincial buildings by 20 per cent by 2020.

The Agreement is in effect 2008 through 2020 and applies to provincial government office buildings, Crown corporations, schools, universities, colleges, hospitals and social housing.