Energy benchmarking in Canada

Energy code compliance

New switched receptacle control requirement is stirring up controversy
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
by Sunny Ghataurah

Energy standards in North America have been around for a very long time. For example, in the US, ASHRAE 90.1 has been a standard referenced for energy efficiency in buildings. The document was created in 1975 with many revisions since then.

In some states, local building codes and bylaws have referenced ASHRAE 90.1 making it mandatory for compliance and as such, being enforceable by law. The state of California has Title 24 and the new The California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) requirements that contain similar provisions.

In Canada, energy standards have not been as advanced, and this subject was first time addressed in 1997, when a group of industry stakeholders, government and National Research Council Canada (NRCC) got together and developed the first Model National Energy Code for Buildings (MNECB) which provided a standard for building energy performance. This model code was revised and reintroduced as the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) 2011.

In British Columbia, the BC Building Code (BCBC) has always referenced the ASHRAE 90.1 energy standard within table of Division B. By referring to the standard within the code, B.C. has made it a legal requirement, and therefore – made it legally enforceable.

In March 2013, the province issued an order by revising this standard to be ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010 and by adding a second compliance option, NECB 2011, with an enforceable date of December 20, 2013. The City of Vancouver, having its own bylaw, Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL), adopted both of these documents within VBBL effective January 20, 2014, overriding previously referenced standards, similar to BCBC. Industry stakeholders are currently working through the logistics of bringing CALCTP to B.C.

In Alberta, the Alberta Building Code (ABC) 2014 was adopted on May 1, 2015 and will be legally enforced on November 1, 2015. For the first time, the ABC will reference NECB 2011 as the new energy code in the province, and the energy code will be officially adopted on November 1, 2015 and legally enforced on May 1, 2016.

While B.C. has always had energy codes and standards, this change is completely new to Alberta, and energy efficiency requirements typically have not been applied to buildings unless they pursued registration with rating systems, such as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).

The energy standards, referenced by provincial codes and municipal by-laws, have been around for a long time, yet only over the past two years has there been an uproar in the B.C. construction industry around compliance. Why? Well, this is because in the past two decades, building codes have required tighter envelope, vestibules or better insulation and more efficient HVAC and domestic water systems, which we are accustomed to do. Now, we actually have to do something with the lighting and the uncontrolled loads such as the receptacles and elevators. And yes, we have to turn them off when they are not being used.

This is such a basic (and logical) concept of conservation, and yet the entire industry is up in arms because nobody was required to do it, except only those that ventured into the LEED Platinum or Living Building world.

So why is turning the unused loads off such a big deal? Because it was always included in design for lighting systems but would get “value engineered” to afford other systems. Although this value engineering is a great concept, it may not always provide value in the entire lifecycle of a building, and as such, it can no longer be done. In addition to having automatic controls and daylight harvesting requirements for lighting, we now have to do something about those “pesky” receptacle loads.

It appears that the biggest controversy is around switched receptacle control. Many are of the opinion that their computers will turn off. That may be the case but if done properly, it can be designed such that computers are on and all other loads are controlled via the switched receptacle. Other loads are monitors, task lights, all the chargers for all the smart devices, etc.

If a person is out of the office for few hours in the middle of the day, there is absolutely no reason for any power to be consumed within the office, including lighting, receptacles and HVAC. (The only exception being the computer, as we may be working remotely via cloud or other network solutions). The cost of such design is no more than the cost of traditional systems and we designed our own office space in 2012 with the installation occurring early 2013.

The savings are very easy to notice. Our metering system with a real-time energy tracking dashboard displays the energy consumption of AES’ head office. This data is available for anyone to view via the energy icon, at the top right corner of our website ( On a sunny or bright overcast day in Vancouver, around 1 or 2pm onwards, our daylight sensors activate and the energy consumption for lighting drops to under 10 per cent for the entire office, as compared to maximum allowed by ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010. It is the same for HVAC and receptacles that all operate around vacancy. We see the reduction on our utility bills every month.

Leading by example through initiatives such as our energy metering system described above, we showcase how we walk the walk, but also take pride in talking the talk, educating the industry on the complexities of building codes.

In summary, practical benefits of energy efficient designs are undeniable. Therefore, mandatory compliance with this requirement should be embraced by the industry without any fear or regrets. This is the future of design and installation, and this future is here. Let’s be ready for it.

Sunny Ghataurah, P.Eng., P.E., CTS, LEED AP BD+C, is the managing director of Applied Engineering Solutions Ltd. and leads the firm in addition to the studio in Vancouver. He has a strong passion for sustainability and has been leading the efforts in Western Canada around implementation of ASHRAE and NECB.

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