On September 25, 2013, Vancouver City Council approved in principle a new City of Vancouver Building Bylaw (VBBL). The goal of the new by-law was to improve access for seniors and people with disabilities, and to incorporate its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.
Vancouver Building Bylaw 10908, effective as of January 2015, was considered at the time as the most stringent in North America, leading the continent in requirements for accessibility and green building materials and design.
Green provisions included upgrades to window performance, an increase in insulation levels, greater air tightness and mandatory installation of a 240-volt electrical vehicle outlet in each carport or garage.
Accessibility requirements included replacing doorknobs and knobs on bathrooms and kitchen taps with levered handles, a ban on small powder rooms on the main floor of a multi-storey house, and wider doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs.
The bylaw also included leading building regulations in the areas of artist live/work studios, rain-screen cladding and sprinkler systems.
The green and accessibility provisions cover new home construction and substantial home renovation projects for detached houses and low-rise residential buildings.
Vancouver’s ability to adopt its own building bylaw is unique in British Columbia. The British Columbia Building Code applies throughout the province. All municipalities except Vancouver must use the provincial code, in whole.
Under the Vancouver Charter, the city has the option of adopting the British Columbia Building Code in whole, adopting it with revisions, or creating its own regulations. (Sections 306(a) and 306(w).
Vancouver’s building bylaw regulates the design and construction requirements for buildings as well as the administrative provisions for permitting, inspection, and enforcement of these requirements. Vancouver has been a leader in adopting building code requirements that been accepted provincially or nationally.
Upgrades to window performance were the most controversial aspects of the bylaw changes approved in 2013. Manufacturers said at the time the new provisions would add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of new housing.
The new provisions required windows in new one- and two-family homes and residential buildings of three storeys or fewer to have a U-value of 1.4. (U-value measures the heat escaping through a window. The lower the U-value, the better a window is at keeping heat inside the building. City standards at that time called for a U-value of 2.0.)
Vancouver’s windows are mostly double panes of glass. A study done of all windows in the Energy Star Canada database by Vancouver-based RDH Building Engineering showed that fewer than one percent of double-pane windows met a U-value of 1.4.
The new requirements were comparable to standards of northern B.C. towns such as Dawson Creek, although under climate zones outlined by Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Star program for windows, Vancouver falls under the most temperate zone.
Windows being replaced were also required to conform to the new building bylaw. Vancouver’s heritage-designated houses were exempt from the standard.
The new bylaw incorporated provisions of the 2012 BC Building Code that did not conflict with specific direction adopted by City Council.
Vancouver’s building bylaw has been in the forefront of innovation since 1999, when Vancouver amended provisions related to building envelope two years before the provincial code was changed. Similarly Vancouver led the way with introduction of energy conservation regulations that did not exist in the British Columbia Building Code, on universal fire sprinklers, and on building security requirements for parking garages.
Vancouver was the first in Canada to set standards for alterations, renovations, additions and change of major occupancy in existing buildings, approving changes that were not found in the British Columbia Building Code or the National Building Code. These alternative requirements were used as guidelines by other lower mainland municipalities. These provisions were important in Vancouver in order to ensure appropriate safety standards while allowing for the re-use of existing building stock.
The construction industry and manufacturers have resisted unilateral changes by Vancouver, urging a uniform building code for the entire province. Developers and designers have said they found it cumbersome and inefficient to deal with different building standards in different municipalities. Building safety issues did not change when crossing a municipal boundary. They also cite additional costs of manufacturing building products when standards differ by jurisdiction.
In an effort to co-ordinate requirements with other municipalities, Vancouver in 1999 adopted the British Columbia Building Code, released in 1998, as its base document and only inserted changes where Council specifically adopted new policy directions. The work began following a City Council resolution in 1995.
Frank O’Brien, Business in Vancouver. Vancouver extends building bylaw Again. July 1, 2014. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2018.
Frank O’Brien, Business in Vancouver. Window makers say Vancouver’s green building bylaw is clouding their future. Nov. 3, 2014. Retrieved Sept 6, 2018.
Conrad Rego, McCarthy Tetrault. New Building Bylaw: No More Door Knobs. Sept. 15, 2014. Retrieved Sept 7, 2018.
Justin McElroy, Global News. Vancouver home builders say changes to building code ramp up prices. Jan. 22, 2015. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2018.
Engineers & Geoscientists BC. 2014 Vancouver Building Bylaw Now Available Online. Dec. 18, 2014. Retrieved Sept 7, 2018.
City of Vancouver. City Building Inspector Report. June 17, 1999. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2018.
City of Vancouver. Vancouver Building Bylaw 10908. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2018.
Prepared by: Robert Matas, Vancouver City Planning Commission
Last Revised: Monday, September 10, 2018