Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

California’s 2020 target for NZE will impact all of North America

Canadian Contractor

U.S. West Coast gives us a peak at NZE building codes to come

The old saying, “As California goes, so goes the nation,” has rung true for years, the result of innovations originating from the U.S. West Coast that have impacted North American culture both socially and politically.  The state that gave us catalytic converters in automobiles back in the 1970’s is once again ahead of the herd when it comes to Net Zero Energy (NZE) building codes. By 2020, California wants new homes producing as much energy as they consume. Ambitious? Yes. Canada will be at least 10 years behind this target. However, Canadian contractors looking to thrive in the future would do well to pay attention. Developments in California are giving us a peak of what to expect and are already impacting the home construction industry across the continent.

Canada is already preparing for the NZE world
In fact, some provinces, notably British Columbia with its voluntary BC Energy Step Code, have set NZE building code targets inside of 2030 by establishing progressive performance targets in support of market transformation from the current energy-efficiency requirements to NZE ready buildings even sooner.  Policies and directives like this will add regulatory pressure on those builders slow to adapt, adding to the pressure already being exerted from home-buying consumers who are becoming better educated about energy efficiency.

Key elements of California’s NZE building code changes
Here are some of the building code changes in California that may be a precursor of what we will see in Canada. They are both surprisingly easy to understand and easy to include in current standard building practices.

  1. Super-insulated attics and under roof decks to reduce temperatures in summer and retain heat in winter.
  2. High performance walls assemblies that better defeat thermal bridging. Options currently range from ICF to external foam panels, not to mention new façade fasteners and assemblies for sheeting and brick that can act as thermal breaks.
  3. High quality lighting systems (LED for example) that include programmable controls that can halve the energy required for lights in new homes.
  4. Tankless water heaters that reduce energy requirements up to 35 percent.

The supply chain is already being impacted
Products that fall in line with California’s 2020 target are already beginning to impact the building material supply chain. For example, state-wide demand for tankless water heaters have increased to approximately 50 per cent of the market, according to some experts. LED lighting standards enacted in California are having a national effect. In many parts of Canada of course, it’s already difficult to find traditional incandescent light bulbs since they can no longer be imported or manufactured in this country. Screw-in and bayonet mount LED’s and halogens dominant the shelves. Even roofing materials are changing, with insulated roof shingles now becoming a marketable product rather than a specialty niche product. These are coupled with moves away from steel and concrete and their associated heavy carbon foot print, and towards processed wood products like Cross Laminated Timbers (CLT’s) and parallel strand lumber products which are finding favor with forward-looking designers and architects.


These code changes are focused on the energy-savings aspects of the building itself.The other part of the equation is the generation of power in order to achieve true Net Zero Energy compliance. The next step for California comes in 2019, less than two years from now, when new homes must move beyond the energy efficient envelope itself (NZE ready) to actually producing energy through solar systems.

Contractors; on your mark!
The good news is that builders will, as a result, find more and more energy-efficient building materials at increasingly reasonable prices as demand picks up through regulation. Material manufacturers will be eager to be at or near the leading edge of the supply chain. Ready or not, contractors! California taking the lead will result in a steady shift towards the NZE objectives of government all across the continent.


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2 Comments » for California’s 2020 target for NZE will impact all of North America
  1. Casey Edge says:

    The Step Code is not voluntary, municipalities may require it for all new construction. In Dec 2017 municipalities will be given the option of invoking one of five tiers of energy efficiency beyond the existing National Building Code. The highest Step is Net Zero which will add significant costs and undermine the concept of a code standard. For more info visit: and and

    • Avatar photo John Bleasby says:

      Hi Casey,
      Direct cut and paste from the BC Energy Step Code website….”The BC Energy Step Code is a voluntary roadmap that establishes progressive performance targets (i.e., steps) that support market transformation from the current energy-efficiency requirements in the BC Building Code to net zero energy ready buildings.”
      Note the word voluntary…..
      I will read the links you sent.

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