Thicker walls, not thicker sweaters recommended for warmth in new Vancouver construction report

The construction of townhouses and buildings under six storeys is the focus of a staff report recommending updates to the city's building bylaw in a bid to lower energy use and greenhouse gas consumption.

The goal is to reduce energy consumption by super-insulating units that can still use typical fuels

The Heights, at 388 Skeena St., is one of two Vancouver complexes already being built to be super-insulated and easier to keep warm. (Christer Waara/CBC )

The construction of townhouses and buildings under six storeys is the focus of a staff report recommending updates to the city's building bylaw in order to lower energy use and greenhouse gas consumption.  

"The updates are envelope focused, meaning walls, windows, doors and roofs as opposed to fuel focused," said Chris Higgins, green building planner with the city of Vancouver. 

The report recommends that the current width of outside walls be increased by an inch-and-a-half so more insulation can be added to the structure. 

The proposal is part of the city's plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from new constructions by 2030.

Cost of super-insulating 

The cost to super-insulate new residential complexes will range between $2 and $4.08 per square foot depending on what construction technique is used, according to Higgins. 

"The average construction is an additional $3.50 per square foot," he said. 

But, he says, savings by homeowners or tenants will pay off in the long run. 

"The energy use reductions will save occupants a minimum $10 a month," said Higgins. 

The city's green building manager Sean Pander says paying more to build super-insulated units won't hamper housing affordability. 

"Sale price is not related to the cost of producing a good product. Sale price relates to what the market is willing to pay for it," said Pander. 

Even if the sale price of these units went up because of the cost of building thicker walls, Pander says, the utility savings would be greater than that incremental cost. 

"The homeowner or the renter moving in would save money from the day they move in," he said. 

The Heights is aiming for passive house certification which is an international standard of energy efficiency. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Already building 

Peak Construction is already putting up two buildings in Vancouver that will be more energy sufficient. 

"We're being asked every day to look at more projects that are super-insulated or very energy efficient and sustainable," said Doug Wilson of Peak Construction. 

"It doesn't rely on a lot of high tech systems. It's just very good insulation, very good windows and very good roofing." 

The report is scheduled to go to city council on Feb. 7. 

If approved, the recommendations would be implemented in March 2018.