Construction Standards & Guidelines for Renovating Affordable Housing

Information for organizations developing or renovating affordable housing.

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.

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.

Green building standards

We take a leadership role in creating sustainable housing in British Columbia. When designing affordable housing developments, we implement energy and sustainability design standards. When designing affordable housing developments with funding from BC Housing, there are several third-party rating systems we recommend.

The 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. This new standard sets performance targets for new construction and are grouped into “steps” that apply across various building types and regions of the province.

BC Housing aligned the BC Housing Design Guidelines and Construction Standards with the newly adapted BC Energy Step Code, to provide leadership in sustainability and residential construction. Projects receiving funding from BC Housing are required to meet upper steps of the BC Energy Step Code and other sustainability requirements. Check the BC Housing Sustainability Standard for further details.

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 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.

In support of climate action and environmental initiatives, small single-unit buildings are required to reduce energy consumption as well, through one of several systems:

  • EnerGuide, a product of NRCan (Natural Resources Canada), is a simple rating system for a home based on the number of gigajoules of energy it will consume each year. The lower the number, the better — aim for 75 GJ or less.
  • R-2000 is a rating system developed by the Canadian government over 30 years ago. The newest version (2012) requires significant energy use reduction beyond what’s required by code. Like LEED, there are requirements for indoor air quality and waste savings. Like Passive House, there are requirements for energy intensity and air tightness. This standard involves a licensed R-2000 builder, maximum energy intensity, whole house ventilation, an environmental pick list (similar to LEED), water conservation and independent inspections upon construction completion.
  • LEED for Homes Checklist , as described above, is a rating system that can be used for single-family dwellings in addition to multi-unit residential buildings. Similar point categories to other LEED products include design, site, water, energy, materials, indoor air quality and education. The same cheat sheet as in the LEED section above can be used for LEED for Homes.

Energy standards & sustainability

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

The BC Climate Leadership Plan, released in 2016, supports the goal to make all government operations carbon neutral and has called on government agencies to demonstrate best practices and lead the way by corporate example. 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.

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

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.

In 2016, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to energy use for heating and electricity in all buildings owned or leased by BC Housing were reduced by 31 percent compared to the 2005 baseline level. Details related to our greenhouse gas emissions, reduction efforts, carbon offsets and plans for further actions are available in our Carbon Neutral Action Report .


The Act also establishes:

  • B.C.'s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020;
  • An emission reduction target of 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050; and
  • The government's requirement to publish a report every two years outlining the progress made toward emission reduction targets.

In November 2007, the provincial government and BC Hydro entered into a new Public Sector Energy Conservation Agreement to significantly reduce electricity consumption across more than 6,500 public-sector buildings.

The Agreement set ambitious conservation goals for all ministries and Crown agencies, including BC Housing — reducing electricity consumption in existing provincial buildings by 20 per cent by 2020.

The Agreement is in effect 2008 through 2020 and applies to provincial government office buildings, Crown corporations, schools, universities, colleges, hospitals and social housing.