Heating and Hot Water Equipment

    What equipment is in my home?

    Every house has some type of equipment to heat the rooms you live in and the hot water you use.

    Space heating

    Space heating is the largest energy use in the home, demanding over 65 % of total household energy use.

    In Vancouver, the majority of homes are heated by burning natural gas to heat either air or water. Common systems include:

    1) Furnace

    A furnace typically burns gas (electric furnaces are available but less common) to heat outside air. This heated air is then distributed via a fan and ductwork throughout your house. 

    Gas furnace (left) and gas hot water tank (right)

    2) Boiler

    A boiler typically burns gas (though electric boilers are also available) to heat water. This water is distributed throughout the house to radiators (in older homes) or in-floor piping. 

    3) Baseboard heaters

    Electric baseboard heaters have resistance coils similar to a toaster, to heat up a room's air.  They are relatively cheap to install, and a clean heating option in BC. But they are expensive to operate due to the relative cost of electricity. 

    4) Indoor fireplaces

    (**our proposed regulations will not impact indoor fireplaces**)

    Some homes rely on gas or wood fireplaces for heating on cold days. There are also however, electric fireplaces that provide heat. Fireplaces are a nice visual feature, but are not typically the most efficient means of home heating. 

    5) Heat pumps

    A heat pump uses electricity to 'move' heat from outside to the inside, or vice versa. It uses a refrigeration cycle, just like a refrigerator. Because it moves heat, it can achieve very high levels of efficiency (300% and above!) and can also provide summer air conditioning

    Domestic hot water

    Hot water heating is the second largest energy use in the home (after space heating energy use), demanding approximately 23% of total household energy use.

    In Vancouver, the majority of hot water is heated with natural gas, but electric systems are widely available and cost-effective.

    1) Hot water tank

    A tank system is relatively simple. It burns gas, or similar to a large tea kettle, uses electricity to heat water in a tank. They range in efficiency from 60% (older models) to nearly 100%. 

    2) Tankless (on-demand) hot water

    Tankless systems are becoming more common, as they don't require the space for a large tank, and provide continuous hot water. It burns gas or uses electricity to heat water instantaneously. They can achieve 90% efficiency and above. 

    Both gas and electric tankless systems are widely available.

    3) Heat pump water heaters

    • Heat pump water heater (HPWH) technology does not generate heat directly. It moves heat from one place to another. Heat is taken from the air in the basement or utility room (or sometimes from outside) and transferred to a tank of water.
    • Some HPWHs can be added to a conventional electric storage tank water heater. (source: NRCan 2021)
    • They are more expensive typically, but offer very high efficiencies well above 100%

    Image Sources

    What is a heat pump?

    While the term ‘electric heating’ may conjure the thought of inefficient electric baseboard heaters, there is also another device that uses electricity for heating called a heat pump.

    A heat pump is like a two-way air conditioner. A single system uses electricity to both heat and cool your house year-round. There is a wide range of products available to supplement or fully replace your existing heating or hot water systems.

    Depending on the age and efficiency of the home, and the current natural gas heating system, the upgrade of a natural gas heating system to a heat pump may deliver 1 to 9.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions for an upgrade cost of approximately $12,000 to $18,000 (minus rebates)

    Learn more about heat pumps:

    What permits might I need?

    Any time you replace a heating or hot water system, a city permit is required. The city typically issues gas, plumbing and/or electric permits depending on what is involved. 

    Learn more:

    Do heat pumps work in cold weather?

    Cold climate heat pumps are built to work efficiently in conditions down to -25°C, with some systems maintaining an efficiency of over 200% at -18°C. Since the air outside will always contain some heat, a heat pump can supply heat to a house even on cold winter days. 

    In fact, according to this Clean Energy Fund report, air at -18°C contains about 85% of the heat it contained at 21°C. In most climate zones in BC, especially for the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Coastal regions, there would be no need to install a back- up heating system if the right heat pump is selected.

    (source: Building 2 Electrification FAQ)

    Are heat pumps quiet or loud?

    While old heat pumps and air conditioning systems may have been loud, new systems from reputable manufacturers are very quiet. Coupled with vibration pads, and located as to minimize disturbance to residents and neighbours, a good installation can further minimize sound levels  That said, sound is subjective. 

    • To see a heat pump in operation, the City of Vancouver has a demonstration heat pump going to several Community Centres. Visit our Heat pumps | City of Vancouver webpage for dates and locations. 
    • To learn about our Noise Bylaw and installation best-practices, we produced a 2-page "Neighborly Heat Pump Installation Guide" Heat Pumps and Noise Guide (vancouver.ca)
    • In general rule of thumb, we recommend seeking a heat pump rated as 'quiet models' that generally have a mechanical decibel rating less than 55 dB(A

Natural Gas vs. Electricity

    Isn’t electricity more expensive?

    Installation costs

    For new buildings, all-electric buildings can actually be the cheaper option because builders can avoid the costs of the main gas hookup, piping, and ducts. In residential applications where cooling is desired, installation of a single heat pump system will usually cost less than a separate air conditioner and gas furnace.

    For existing buildings, it can be more complicated. Different building types with varying size, location, age, and efficiency can have a dramatic impact on the cost and feasibility of switching to electric systems. 

    In general, heat pumps can range from $12,000 to $18,000 and above. Today however there are over $12,000 in rebates to bring these costs down. 

    For electric hot water systems, the price is comparable to gas systems. Hot water heat pumps may cost a premium but provide very low monthly operating costs. 

    Operating costs

    In terms of operating costs, electricity in British Columbia is about 3x more expensive than natural gas.   However, while gas furnaces and boilers can only achieve a maximum of 100% efficiency, a heat pump can achieve efficiencies of 300% and higher!  That improved energy efficiency means heat pumps can help to balance out the low cost of natural gas.

    You can compare energy costs for your home at FortisBC’s energy calculator Home energy calculator (fortisbc.com)

    Utility costs

    In addition, the federal government has announced carbon tax escalations reaching $170/tonne by 2030 and BC announced plans to meet or exceed the federal carbon tax starting in 2023. With the carbon tax increases, natural gas and other fossil fuel prices will become more expensive to use.

    BC’s main electricity provider, BC Hydro, is mandated to provide low-cost, reliable electricity in the province. Part of the Phase 2 Comprehensive Review of BC Hydro includes recommendations on keeping electricity rates affordable in the province, which makes electrification a good long-term solution.

    (source: Building 2 Electrification FAQ)

    Natural Gas vs. Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)

    Natural gas is primarily methane, a fossil fuel that unlike gasoline or oil, exists as a gas at room temperature. In BC, we source natural gas in two ways:

    Natural 'Fossil' Gas

    Natural gas is a flammable fossil fuel that formed naturally underground. It’s primarily methane (CH4), but it contains trace amounts of other compounds.

    Burning methane produces carbon dioxide:

    CH4 + O2   ->    CO2 + H2O 

    Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)

    Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is chemically the same substance ('methane'), but it is captured from waste organic matter like manure, compost and landfills, which produces methane as it decomposes. 

    Production facilities across B.C. capture this methane instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere.

    Over a life cycle, RNG produces less net emissions than burning new fossil fuels extracted from underground. That's because it ultimately comes from plants that absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow.

    In the City of Vancouver we have the goal of 100% renewable energy use by 2050.

    Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) will likely play a significant role as a renewable fuel source in our buildings, especially for situations where electrifying may be challenging or not cost-effective.

    The current cost to switch to RNG is up to 25% above traditional natural gas. 

    To learn more about RNG and how to sign up your house: Learn more about renewable natural gas (FortisBC)

    Can BC Hydro handle increased electricity use?

    BC Hydro has a surplus of clean electricity that is expected to last until at least 2029. This represents a unique opportunity to rapidly increase electrification in BC over the next decade.

    While there is an electricity surplus in the Province, electrification adds pressure at the substation level. An important consideration for this is the potential to integrate building electrification with distributed generation and localized capacity-based demand-side management solutions. This will help to reduce potential grid pressures experienced as a result of increased demand for clean electricity. Capacity-based solutions may include building battery storage and other connectable devices and building energy management systems that can support grid management and flexible loads. Measures such as these will increase overall grid resiliency and smooth out the amount of power generated to meet peak demand. More work will need to be undertaken, though, to increase our understanding of what upgrades will need to be made to local distribution systems and standards developed to accommodate this kind of dynamic smart grid approach.

    Overall, improving building energy efficiency performance will continue to play an important role in helping to manage the rate of electricity demand growth over the coming years. The high efficiency nature of heat pump technologies means that every gigajoule of fossil-fuel based space or water heating energy that is replaced by clean electricity will need only a quarter to a half as many electrically supplied gigajoules. In a similar vein, the gradual replacement of electric resistance equipment with heat pumps will significantly reduce the energy demand of existing electrically heated homes, freeing up electricity for new load sources. Ongoing efforts to continually improve the minimum energy performance requirements of heat pumps and other technologies will therefore continue to be important for governments, utilities and industry to support (source: Building Electrification Road Map).

Proposed Regulations

    Why regulate detached homes?

    As part of ‘Big Move 4: How we Build and Renovate’ of the Climate Emergency Action Plan, we’re developing policies and regulations in large commercial buildings and detached homes first. 

    There are no initial proposed regulations for condos, rental apartments or non-market housing; those buildings types will need other voluntary programs to reduce emissions and improve building performance.

    Why do we need regulations?

    Past experience has shown us that voluntary climate programs will not get us to local, regional, or provincial targets at the necessary scope, scale, or speed. Decades of incentives have yet to yield meaningful emissions reductions on the urgent timelines required to address climate change. 

    As a result, the City of Vancouver, as well as the Province of B.C. and other local and regional governments have adopted or are considering mandatory building performance regulations and supportive policy actions for existing buildings. 

    Why detached homes first?

    Detached homes in Vancouver account for nearly 28% of all building emissions in the City. 

    A typical detached (single family) home in Vancouver emits about 6.3 tonnes CO2 every year. That's about the same as a typical car in B.C.


    Conversely, a home using only electricity produces only 0.2 tonnes CO2. That means switching homes to use electricity, especially for space and hot water heating, is so important. We cannot successfully meet our climate targets without detached home regulations.

    In addition, detached homes generally:

    • Are the most expensive, high-value dwelling type
    • Have the largest carbon footprint
    • Have the most rebates and incentives available, with over $12,000 alone in available heat pump rebates available today (among other rebates).

    Does this impact my gas stove or fireplace?

    No, this plan does not impact gas stoves or fireplaces. Relative to space heating and hot water, these gas appliances produce a much smaller fraction of a home’s overall carbon emissions. 

    However, there are other non-emissions related reasons to consider a voluntary switch to electric appliances, such as human health impacts of gas stoves. Learn more at Switch it Up BC.

    How are renters and low-income households supported?

    Protection for renters

    For renters, the biggest concerns around landlords undertaking retrofits are possible renovictions, which may mean being evicted from their home, and discomfort/health impacts of the work. 

    However, protections do exist to support renters:

    • Recent changes to BC legislation prevents renovictions and provides renters with more security and protection. This came into effect on July 1, 2021. Learn more on the BC government webpage: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021AG0101-001278 
    • As mechanical systems only need replacing every 10 to 20 years on average, these system replacements are routine, range in time from a few hours, to a couple of days, and often non-intrusive and are not a credible reason to evict a tenant.
    • The City has resources & collaborates with partners to support renters, such as the City’s Renter Office: https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/renter-office.aspx

    Income-based support programs

    The Province’s BetterHomesBC program offers a variety of rebates and support services to help income-qualified households save energy and reduce emissions:

    Learn more and apply for these programs:

    Apply for Rebates - Better Homes BC 

    What about the Port and YVR Airport?

    You say that buildings are the source of most carbon pollution in Vancouver. What about the port or YVR?

    We only count carbon pollution that the City of Vancouver has jurisdiction over, which means both the Port and Airport are out of scope for us, as they are under provincial jurisdiction.

    That’s why in the City of Vancouver, the main sources of carbon pollution are from burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, to heat our buildings and hot water, and from burning gasoline and diesel in our vehicles. 

    Carbon pollution from buildings is the largest source produced (at nearly 60%), even higher than the carbon pollution from all the vehicles (at nearly 40%) in the city, combined. 

Support for larger & multi-family buildings