Construction Standards & Guidelines

Information for organizations developing or renovating subsidized housing. Learn about construction standards and energy-efficiency strategies.

Design guidelines and construction standards

The BC Housing Design Guidelines & Construction Standards provide guidelines and standards for affordable housing projects whose capital and/or operating budgets are funded or financed by BC Housing regardless of project type.

BC Housing Design Guidelines and Construction Standards Technical Bulletin No. 1 (2020) is an update to Section 2 Energy and Environmental Design, to align BC Housing’s energy performance targets with BC Building Code 2018 Revision 2 and BC Housing’s GHG reduction target with the provincial Climate Change Accountability Act.

BC Housing Design Guidelines and Construction Standards Technical Bulletin No. 2 Sections 1, 4 and 5 (2022) includes updates, revisions and corrections to Sections 1, 4 and 5.  The purpose is to enhance the efficiency, functionality, durability, health and safety, and livability aspects of housing units, and to optimize maintenance and operating aspects.

BC Housing Design Guidelines and Construction Standards Technical Bulletin No. 3: Sections 2 and 4 (2023) is an update to Section 2 Energy and Environmental Design, and 4 Construction Standard - to address climate risks, such as extreme heat and wildfire smoke, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Shelter Design Guidelines

Shelter Design Guidelines assist non-profit societies and development teams with the planning, design, and development process for upgrading existing shelters, or constructing new emergency shelters.

Energy and Sustainability Standard

BC Housing takes a leadership role in creating sustainable and affordable housing in British Columbia. When designing affordable housing developments, BC Housing aligned the BC Housing Design Guidelines and Construction Standards with the BC Energy Step Code regulation and Clean BC target.

Projects sponsored by BC Housing are required to meet upper steps of the BC Energy Step Code with low greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI) and other sustainability requirements.  For more details, see below or check the BC Housing Sustainability Checklist

BC Energy Step Code

BC Energy Step Code regulation – a part of the BC Building Code – was enacted in April 2017 with the goal of making all buildings net-zero energy ready by 2032. Projects sponsored by BC Housing are required to meet upper steps of the BC Energy Step Code and other sustainability requirements. As of May 2023, the minimum BC building code requirement will be step 2 (part 3) and step 3 (part 9) with greenhouse gas emission target.

Projects are required to submit a series of energy modelling reports completed by experienced energy modeller.

Refer to following references:

Passive House

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. Read more about the Passive House standard on their website.

Living Building Challenge

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.

Climate Change Mitigation Strategies

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

Clean BC Plan

The Clean BC, released in 2021, supports the goal to reach net-zero carbon pollution by 2050 and make all government operations carbon neutral. BC Housing has been carbon neutral since 2010.

The plan includes 21 action items 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 80 per cent by 2050 below 2007 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; and
  • Integrate new energy-efficient technologies and environmental building design principles into all new construction projects that receive provincial funding.
Climate Change Accountability Act (Formerly titled as Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act)

BC Housing has been carbon neutral since 2010, as required by the provincial climate action legislation – the Climate Change Accountability Act and the Carbon Neutral Government Regulation. As required by this legislation, BC Housing has been working towards reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

The Act also establishes B.C.'s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050. Provincial public sector organizations including BC Housing are required to report its emission and achieve carbon neutrality every year. Details related to our greenhouse gas emissions, reduction efforts, carbon offsets and plans for further actions are available in our Carbon Neutral Action Report.

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.