2023 Alberta Building Code: For Home Buyers and Realtors

by | May 1, 2024

What is the latest Alberta Building Code?

  • As the calendar turns to May 1st, 2024, Alberta embraces a significant shift in building practices with the implementation of the now current, and latest version of the 2023 Alberta Building Code. Yes, that’s the 2023 code, which in itself is actually an adaptation of the 2020 National Building Code. However, this delayed rollout allows our local builders and developers to learn from others’ experiences and integrate proven, effective solutions right from the start. With this, pivotal changes bring a new era of construction standards aimed at enhancing sustainability and energy efficiency across the province. For prospective homeowners, realtors, and builders in Calgary, understanding these new regulations is not just beneficial—it’s essential.

  • With my extensive background as an Architectural Technologist and hands-on experience in pioneering Net Zero projects in residential building, I am uniquely positioned to guide you through these changes. The new code doesn’t just represent a shift in materials or minor updates; it is a foundational move towards future-proofing our homes and communities. Whether you’re looking to buy, sell, or develop new property in Calgary’s market these latest changes will impact you.

  • If you’re a local Calgary Realtor, or prospective homebuyer you can skip the technicals and jump to our key takeaways by clicking here.
The 2023 Alberta Building Code may see more Energy Efficient initatives like these Solar Panels; which are being inspected by a Drone

Historical Overview and Evolution of the Alberta Building Code

  • The Genesis of Energy Efficiency in Building Codes

    To understand the current state of today’s building standards we should first acknowledge and understand when we began standardizing energy efficiency initiatives in residential homes. 2014 brought the introduction of Section 9.36 in the Alberta Building Code, a landmark addition aimed at enhancing energy efficiency in homes and small buildings. This section set forth a new blueprint for the construction industry, establishing rigorous standards for insulation, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Its objective was clear: reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions, paving the way for a more sustainable future.

  • Progress Through the 2019 Updates

    As the building industry adapted to these new norms, the 2019 revisions to the code built upon the earlier standards, pushing further the boundaries of energy efficiency. These updates focused on refining and enhancing the requirements set in 2014, improving clarity, and addressing the practical challenges faced by builders and developers. The 2019 updates also continued to align Alberta’s regulations with broader national and international energy efficiency goals, ensuring that Alberta’s buildings remained competitive and compliant on a global scale.

  • 2023 Edition: The New Era

    The 2023 updates to the Alberta Building Code represent the most significant leap forward yet, with the introduction of tiered energy codes. These are designed as a stepwise enhancement towards achieving net-zero energy-ready homes by 2030. The tiers range from basic improvements in energy efficiency to advanced innovations that could enable a home to produce as much energy as it consumes. This progressive approach allows builders to plan and adapt to increasing standards over time, rather than facing a sudden shift in requirements.

    For a deeper understanding of how Alberta’s building regulations have evolved to emphasize sustainability, the Provincial Home Builders’ Association offers a comprehensive roadmap of the tiered energy code – Alberta’s Tiered Energy Code Roadmap.

  • Calgary’s Unique Position

    In Calgary, the adoption of these updates is particularly impactful. The city’s unique climate and economic landscape make the efficient use of energy a critical issue for homeowners and developers alike. As such, the local adoption of the 2023 code changes is not just a matter of regulatory compliance, but a significant factor in the economic and environmental sustainability of the city’s future housing market.

    As we stand on the threshold of these changes, it’s crucial for all stakeholders in the real estate and building industries to understand not only where we have come from but where we are headed. The evolution of the Alberta Building Code reflects a broader commitment to sustainability and efficiency that will shape our homes and cities for decades to come. However, this isn’t without its concerns, as we think back on times this year where we’ve placed higher strain on our electrical grid.

Understanding Code Compliance Paths: Prescriptive vs. Performance-Based

  • With the introduction of the 2023 Alberta Building Code, which incorporates the 2020 National Building Code standards, developers face new decisions on how to comply with these regulations. While the choice to pursue one of these paths is not new; the specifics of conforming to each will be. It’s important to recognize that while the new code sets a uniform standard, not all homes will be built equally. This variance primarily stems from the two distinct paths developers can choose to demonstrate compliance: the prescriptive path and the performance-based path. 

  • The Prescriptive Path

    The prescriptive path involves adhering strictly to specific building practices and materials specifications laid out in the code. It dictates everything from the type of insulation required to the exact specifications for HVAC systems. This path is often favored by developers who prefer a clear, straightforward set of guidelines that guarantee compliance without the need for extensive customization or testing.

    Key Considerations:

    • Simplicity and Certainty: Following the prescriptive path simplifies the compliance process, as it involves straightforward adherence to well-defined standards.
    • Uniformity: Homes built on this path tend to have similar qualities in terms of materials and construction methods, which can simplify maintenance and repair work over time.
  • The Performance-Based Path

    In contrast, the performance-based path offers more flexibility, allowing developers to use alternative methods and innovative materials as long as the end result meets or exceeds the overall energy efficiency and safety performance levels set by the code. This path often involves detailed energy modeling and simulation to demonstrate that the performance criteria are being met.

    Key Considerations:

    • Flexibility: Developers can explore innovative building techniques and materials that may not be explicitly detailed in the code but still achieve or surpass the required performance standards.
    • Customization: This path allows for more tailored solutions that can adapt to specific site conditions, client preferences, or design requirements.
    • Potential Cost Savings: In some cases, performance-based approaches can be more cost-effective, particularly if they allow for the use of less expensive materials or more efficient construction practices that still meet performance targets.
  • Not All Homes Are Created Equal

    It’s essential for homebuyers and realtors to understand that the choice between these two compliance paths can lead to significant differences in the construction and performance of homes, even if all are deemed compliant with the building code. For instance, a home built on the performance path might incorporate advanced sustainable technologies or unconventional materials that offer better long-term savings and environmental benefits compared to a home built strictly according to prescriptive specifications.

    Educational Implication: Realtors and buyers should be informed about which compliance path was followed in the construction of a home, as this can affect everything from the home’s energy efficiency and carbon footprint to its future market value and appeal.

    As Calgary moves forward with these updated building standards, understanding the nuances between the prescriptive and performance-based paths helps all parties make informed decisions about real estate investments, ensuring alignment with both personal values and future market trends.


  • Energy Efficiency Improvements

    The latest revisions to the Alberta Building Code bring forth significant energy efficiency improvements aimed at reducing long-term energy consumption and costs:

    • Enhanced Insulation Requirements: The updated code mandates higher R-values, for walls and for roofs. An area that will continue to become more stringent as we aim to more effectively utilize the energy we produce. The use of spray foam insulation or double-layer batt insulation in walls and attics helps prevent thermal bridging and are likely to become increasingly more common. These components will work to retain more heat during winter while keeping homes cooler in the summer.
    • Advanced HVAC Systems: New standards require that all HVAC equipment installed in new homes must meet or exceed specific ENERGY STAR® efficiency ratings. For example, furnaces must now operate with a minimum Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) of 95%, and air conditioners are expected to achieve a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of at least 15. This ensures that systems use less energy to heat and cool the home, reducing utility bills and environmental impact.
    • Ventilation Improvements: With the new code, homes must include systems like ERVs or HRVs that can recover heat from exhaust air and use it to temper incoming fresh air. This technology significantly reduces the energy needed to heat new air to a comfortable temperature, which is especially beneficial in Calgary’s colder climate.
  • Renewable Energy Integration

    The code also introduces provisions that encourage or facilitate the use of renewable energy in new constructions:

    • Solar Ready Homes: The code specifies structural provisions such as reinforced roof framing and dedicated space for inverters and battery storage. This preparation allows homeowners to easily install solar panels in the future without significant retrofitting costs.
    • Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems: Encouragement for the use of geothermal systems is manifest in guidelines for integrating ground-source heat pumps that can provide highly efficient heating, cooling, and hot water by leveraging the constant temperature of the earth.
    • Building Materials and Sustainability

      Choosing the right materials is crucial for meeting the enhanced energy standards and ensuring environmental sustainability:

      • Sustainable Material Use: The code now encourages the use of recycled or sustainably sourced materials, like reclaimed wood or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and sealants, which contribute to a healthier indoor environment and overall sustainability of the building.
      • Longevity and Durability: Materials selected under the new code are required to have not only environmental benefits but also durability and maintenance considerations. For example, fiber cement siding, while more expensive upfront, offers longer life expectancy, better resistance to fire and pests, and requires less maintenance over time compared to traditional wood siding.
      New Home Attic Insulation; which has a much greater depth under the new 2023 Alberta Building Code
      A home inspector measuring attic insulation to a depth of 18 inches, or approximately R-50
      A Net Meter; used in homes producing their own electricity that are tied back into the grid system
      Energy STAR Certified Tankless Hot Water System; a common upgrade to meet evolving 2023 Alberta Build Code energy standards
      • These detailed changes reflect a broader shift towards building homes that are not just places to live, but are also more cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally responsible over their lifespan. The focus is not only on complying with the present standards but also on anticipating and adapting to future energy requirements and environmental impacts. This forward-looking approach ensures that new homes in Calgary will continue to meet the demands of both homeowners and the planet for decades to come.

        For an in-depth look at the specific changes brought by the 2023 Alberta Building Code, refer to BILD Alberta’s detailed documentation.

      A Calgary Home; equipped with solar panels and ready for a home inspection
      Solar Panel Inspection; a new building feature with increasing popularity under the latest building codes in Alberta
      An Inverter; part of the home solar system
      Service Disconnect for the homes Solar System

      Calgary’s Specific Requirements and Adaptations

      • As the Alberta Building Code evolves, the City of Calgary has also tailored its local building regulations to address unique regional concerns, particularly in terms of cost implications for new constructions and adaptations to meet or exceed provincial standards. Understanding these local nuances is crucial for stakeholders involved in Calgary’s real estate and construction sectors.

        • Local Energy Efficiency Mandates

          Calgary has implemented specific bylaws that enhance the provincial building code’s requirements, particularly in energy efficiency:

          • Local Solar Initiatives: Beyond the provincial encouragement for solar-ready homes, City of Calgary has introduced initiatives that provide incentives for homeowners to install solar panels, including possible rebates and streamlined permitting processes. This is part of Calgary’s strategy to boost renewable energy usage within the city.
          • Green Building Standards: Calgary has adopted certain green building standards for city-owned and operated buildings, setting a precedent for private constructions to follow suit. These standards often exceed the basic requirements of the Alberta Building Code by integrating advanced sustainable practices and materials.
            • Cost Impact Analysis

              Given the advanced nature of the new building code standards, there is a notable financial impact associated with complying with these enhanced requirements:

              • Increased Construction Costs: The integration of high-efficiency systems and materials generally carries a higher upfront cost. For example, installing triple-glazed windows or higher-grade insulation can significantly increase the initial investment in building construction.
              • Long-term Savings: While the initial costs are higher, these investments often lead to substantial long-term savings for homeowners through reduced energy bills. For instance, energy-efficient appliances and HVAC systems can decrease monthly utility costs by up to 30%, depending on the specifics of the installation and the local climate conditions.
                • Regulatory Compliance Assistance

                  To aid builders and developers in navigating these new standards, the City of Calgary offers various resources and support services:

                  • Building Permit Assistance: Calgary provides detailed guidelines and support for obtaining building permits under the new regulations. This includes workshops and consultation services aimed at explaining the compliance requirements and helping stakeholders avoid common pitfalls.
                  • Technical Support for Renewable Integration: With a push towards renewable energy sources, the city offers technical support and resources to builders looking to integrate technologies like solar and geothermal systems into new homes, ensuring that these systems are implemented effectively and compliantly.
                      • These local adaptations by the City of Calgary aim to not only comply with provincial mandates but also to lead by example in the transition to more sustainable and energy-efficient building practices. For builders, developers, and realtors, staying informed and engaged with these local regulations is essential for successful navigation of the real estate market in Calgary under the new Alberta Building Code.

                      • Explore how local developers and builders are adapting to and exceeding provincial building standards with resources from BILD Alberta.

                      2023 Alberta Building Code Key Takeaways

                      • The updates to the Alberta Building Code, especially with the 2023 edition, have wide-reaching implications for various stakeholders in Calgary’s real estate market. Here, we delve into how these changes affect prospective home buyers, realtors, and builders and developers, emphasizing the practical impacts and strategic considerations for each group.

                      • Highlights of the Latest Building Code For Home Buyers

                        For prospective home buyers, understanding the nuances of the updated building code is crucial for several reasons:

                        • Increased Property Value: Homes built to the new code standards may command higher market values due to their advanced energy efficiency features and sustainability factors. This could mean a higher initial purchase price but offers long-term benefits in terms of reduced operating costs and potential resale value.
                        • Better Energy Performance: Homes that comply with the 2023 code updates will likely have lower utility bills due to better insulation, more efficient HVAC systems, and possibly integrated renewable energy sources. This translates to long-term savings and a smaller carbon footprint, aligning with growing consumer preferences for green living.
                        • Quality of Living: Enhanced building standards mean that new homes are likely to offer better indoor air quality and overall comfort. This is a significant selling point for buyers looking for homes that support a healthier lifestyle.
                        • Key Alberta Building Code Information For Calgary Realtors

                          Realtors play a pivotal role in communicating the benefits and considerations of these new standards to potential buyers. As such, real estate agents have an educational responsibility to their clients. They should be well-informed about the specifics of the building code updates to effectively advise their clients on the benefits and costs associated with homes built under the new regulations. Here’s the critical information that will differentiate your services from a competitors:

                          • New Construction Home prices are going to increase as more stringent requirements are placed on developers.
                          • The current building code will still allow for prescriptive and performance based compliance, meaning there’s no one-size fits all to meet the latest requirements. 
                          • New homes are going to have an improved thermal envelope over their predescessors. This can come in a number of forms such as: higher insulative wall values, increased use of triple pane windows, or improved attic insulation levels. 
                          • New HVAC equipment must meet ENERGY STAR® ratings, meaning new homes are being equipped with higher efficiency furnaces and air conditioners. Alongside these, we’ll continue to see the ongoing use of HRVs or ERVS to improve energy efficiency. Direct/ Tankless Hot Water is also becoming more prevelent as this offers efficiency trade offs to developers. 
                          • Improved thermal envelope performance in combination with high efficiency mechanical equipment and appliances will result in cheaper utility bills for your clients in all seasons. 
                          • Renewable Energy sources are not yet required. It’s important to understand that while there’s requirements for solar ready homes their isn’t a requirement to equip them with panels. When your client is shopping around it’s worth factoring in developers in Calgary who include this as a standard part of their builds and factor in how that effects their pricing.

                          Highlighting the energy efficiency and sustainability features of properties can appeal to both the environmentally conscious buyers and those just looking to reduce their monthly energy costs. Realtors should focus on marketing these features as key benefits of new construction.

                          • Implications of the Building Code Updates on Builders and Developers

                            Builders and developers will experience the most direct impact from the code changes, which will affect their project planning and execution:

                            • Compliance and Cost Management: Navigating the increased costs associated with compliance is a major challenge. Developers must balance these costs against the market’s competitive pricing expectations, finding cost-effective solutions without compromising on quality.
                            • Innovation and Adaptation: The push toward sustainability will drive innovation in construction techniques and materials. Builders have the opportunity to lead the market by adopting new technologies and practices that exceed the basic code requirements, potentially capturing a niche market segment interested in advanced green homes.
                            • Long-Term Planning: Understanding and anticipating future updates to the building code is essential for long-term project planning and investment. Developers who stay ahead of these trends can avoid costly retrofits and redesigns, positioning themselves as industry leaders in sustainable development.
                          • The new Alberta Building Code sets a framework that influences all aspects of the housing market, from construction to purchase. For stakeholders across the board, the key to leveraging these changes lies in understanding their implications, adapting strategies accordingly, and educating clients and partners about the benefits and challenges of the updated standards.

                            Air-to-Air Heat Pump; an energy efficiency initiative which will be common place through the tiered energy system in the Alberta Building Code by 2030.
                            Heat Recovery Ventilator; a common piece of HVAC equipment following the 2019 Alberta Building Code update
                            A Tesla Battery; for electrical energy storage produced by solar panels on the roof

                            Challenges and Opportunities of the Latest Building Code Updates

                            • The updates to the Alberta Building Code not only set new standards but also introduce both challenges and opportunities for the real estate and construction industries in Calgary. This section discusses the potential hurdles and advantages that stakeholders may face as they navigate these changes.
                            • Challenges

                              • Increased Construction Costs: The most immediate challenge for builders and developers is the increased cost of construction. Adhering to stricter insulation requirements, installing advanced HVAC systems, and integrating renewable energy solutions naturally incurs higher initial expenses. These costs can impact budgeting, pricing strategies, and ultimately, market competitiveness.
                              • Technical Complexity and Workforce Training: The new standards require a workforce that is skilled in the latest construction techniques and technologies. There is a growing need for ongoing education and training programs to ensure that architects, builders, and tradespeople are up-to-date with the code requirements and capable of implementing them effectively.
                              • Regulatory Navigation and Compliance: Keeping up with the evolving building code and ensuring compliance poses a significant challenge, especially for smaller firms or individual contractors. The complexity of these regulations may require increased legal and technical advisory services, adding to project costs.
                                • Opportunities

                                  • Market Differentiation: For builders and developers willing to invest in the higher standards of the new building code, there is a significant opportunity to differentiate themselves in the market. Homes that meet or exceed these standards can be marketed as superior in terms of energy efficiency, sustainability, and comfort, attracting buyers looking for modern and future-proof properties.
                                  • Long-Term Cost Savings and Value Addition: While the initial costs are higher, the long-term savings from reduced energy consumption can be substantial. These savings can be a strong selling point for new homes, as they offer lower operational costs to homeowners. Additionally, properties built to higher standards may maintain better long-term value, appealing to investment-savvy buyers.
                                  • Leadership in Sustainability: Embracing the new building standards allows developers to position themselves as leaders in sustainability. This can not only enhance their brand reputation but also prepare them for future regulations that are likely to be even more stringent, as global and national priorities increasingly shift towards reducing environmental impact.
                                  • Incentives and Support Programs: Various government incentives for energy-efficient construction projects can mitigate some of the initial financial burdens. Builders and developers who proactively engage with these programs can benefit from subsidies, tax breaks, or other financial incentives designed to encourage sustainable development.
                                  • The 2023 Alberta Building Code updates provide a framework that, while challenging, also opens numerous doors for innovation, market leadership, and long-term economic benefits in Calgary’s housing market. Stakeholders who navigate these changes wisely—anticipating costs, leveraging opportunities, and educating themselves and their clients—will be well-positioned to thrive in a rapidly evolving real estate landscape.
                                  A New Home Constructed in Calgary before the 2023 Alberta Building Code Updates

                                  Looking Towards Future Alberta Building Code Updates

                                  • As Calgary embraces the new 2023 Alberta Building Code, it’s essential to consider not just the immediate implications but also what the future may hold for building standards and practices. For a deeper understanding of how this upcoming building code regulation has been rolled into effect this May 2024, visit the Calgary Construction Association’s detailed update. 
                                  • Potential Future Trends in Building Code and Construction Practices

                                    • Stricter Energy Efficiency Standards: As environmental concerns continue to gain prominence, future iterations of the building code are likely to push for even stricter energy efficiency standards. This could include mandatory renewable energy integrations, further reductions in allowable energy consumptions, and innovations in sustainable construction materials.
                                    • Smart Home Technologies: With the rise of integrated home technology future building codes may increasingly incorporate requirements for ones that enhance energy efficiency, such as automated HVAC systems, smart lighting, and energy management systems that can be controlled remotely.
                                    • Water Conservation Measures: Given the growing concerns about water scarcity, future building codes might include more stringent water conservation requirements. This could involve the installation of water-efficient fixtures and the use of greywater recycling systems in residential construction.
                                    • Resilience and Climate Adaptation: As climate change impacts become more pronounced, building codes may evolve to address the need for buildings that can withstand extreme weather events and climatic conditions. This might include requirements for flood-resistant materials, enhanced structural stability, and designs that can adapt to a changing climate.
                                      • Preparing for Future Changes

                                        • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: For professionals in the construction and real estate sectors, staying informed about upcoming trends and potential changes in building codes is crucial. Continuous education and training will be essential to maintain compliance and industry competitiveness.
                                        • Innovation in Construction Practices: Embracing innovation will be key to addressing future building code requirements. This might include adopting new construction techniques, exploring alternative materials, and investing in research and development to stay ahead of regulatory curves.
                                        • Stakeholder Collaboration: Engaging with policymakers, environmental experts, and the community will be important for shaping future building codes that are practical and effective. Collaboration can help ensure that new regulations are balanced, achievable, and supportive of industry growth and sustainability goals.
                                        • Advocacy for Reasonable Implementation Timelines: As new standards are introduced, builders and developers can benefit from being involved in advocacy efforts to ensure that implementation timelines and compliance requirements are reasonable and consider industry capacities and challenges.
                                        • Builder and Developer Impacts

                                          Builders and developers will experience the most direct impact from the code changes, which will affect their project planning and execution:

                                          • Compliance and Cost Management: Navigating the increased costs associated with compliance is a major challenge. Developers must balance these costs against the market’s competitive pricing expectations, finding cost-effective solutions without compromising on quality.
                                          • Innovation and Adaptation: The push toward sustainability will drive innovation in construction techniques and materials. Builders have the opportunity to lead the market by adopting new technologies and practices that exceed the basic code requirements, potentially capturing a niche market segment interested in advanced green homes.
                                          • Long-Term Planning: Understanding and anticipating future updates to the building code is essential for long-term project planning and investment. Developers who stay ahead of these trends can avoid costly retrofits and redesigns, positioning themselves as industry leaders in sustainable development.
                                        • The evolution of the Alberta Building Code is a dynamic process that reflects broader societal shifts toward sustainability, technology integration, and resilience. By anticipating these changes and preparing accordingly, stakeholders in Calgary’s construction and real estate sectors can ensure they not only comply with future regulations but also lead in the creation of sustainable and resilient communities.

                                          Solar and Electric Vehicle Conduit Lines; Installed to facilitate the future installation of this equipment
                                          A modern thermostat indicating multi-stage heating system that utilizes both an air source heat pump and a high efficiency furnace
                                          A Home Electric Vehicle Charging Station

                                          Strategize and Embrace the 2023 Alberta Building Code Updates

                                          • The 2023 updates to the Alberta Building Code mark a significant first step in the evolution towards sustainable and efficient building practices in Calgary. These changes present new opportunities and challenges for everyone involved in the real estate and construction sectors.

                                            For those navigating this dynamic market, staying informed and proactive is crucial. Engage with the specifics of the new building code, embrace cutting-edge technologies, and prepare for future developments. Participating in educational programs and consulting with industry experts, like your Calgary Home Inspector, will provide valuable insights and keep you ahead of the curve.

                                            Embrace these changes as opportunities to lead in Calgary’s evolving real estate landscape. Whether you are buying, selling, or building, understanding and leveraging the new code will be key to success.