How the Vancouver Building By-Law affects heritage projects

A new version of the Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL), commonly known as the building code, came into effect in November 2019. Any applications for new building work, including alterations to existing buildings, will need to comply with the new By-Law.

VHF created an introductory guide to the 2014 Vancouver Building By-Law as it relates to heritage and character one and two family homes. The guide offers information on how the By-Law may affect individual homes, what may or may not need to be done, types of projects that may be affected and resources for further information. Every project and home is different and VHF strongly recommends contacting City staff and qualified professionals.

Click here to view the guide

There is also an important bulletin released by The City of Vancouver in 2014 (with later updates) regarding exclusions for heritage buildings and buildings with heritage character (that may not be on the Heritage Register) when working with the VBBL 2014.

Click here to read the COV’s bulletin

VHF continues to advocate for improvements to better accommodate heritage projects. The guide we produced in 2014 is still relevant, and the Bulletin 2014-007-BU is still in effect and provides important options for heritage projects.

Energy Efficiency Requirements:

Heritage and character homes and buildings can access exemptions and alternative options for energy efficiency requirements. You can find out more on this page, and specifically in the Renovation Energy Upgrade Proposal Checklist that can be downloaded.

Important options include: Original doors and windows can be kept, and walls and ceilings do not need to meet full insulation requirements, avoiding the need to increase the thickness of walls or ceilings which can be destructive to exterior or interior finishes, character elements or even floor space.


A new Vancouver Building By-Law 2019 (VBBL) has come into effect with some adjustments from 2014 to align further with the British Columbia Building Code 2018.

The VBBL 2019 can be accessed for free here

You can also read more about the update on the City of Vancouver website here


The VBBL 2014 is now available for purchase. VHF is finalizing a free resource that will provide an introduction to VBBL requirements for heritage and character building owners.

VHF and the new VBBL:

VHF has been working with City staff to identify and address parts of the new By-Law that may negatively impact retention of heritage and character homes and buildings, due to additional costs, unnecessary loss of historic fabric, or inappropriate intervention in older construction.

We have made recommendations, for some changes in the new VBBL and have also been able to obtain clarification of some areas that will greatly assist in encouraging retention rather than deterring it.

For 1 & 2 family homes, these include:

  • The requirement to upgrade all unsafe stairs, handrails and guards: This will generally only be required if the element is clearly unsafe (missing treads or guards, for example).
  • The requirement to do air sealing if the ACH is >5: This will only require air sealing measures to improve the ACH, not to achieve 5 or less.

VHF continues to work with the City to identify potential challenges and seek improvements.

Heritage and character homes, including Mid-Century Modern, as well as other heritage buildings were not built to modern new construction By-Law requirements. Some changes may be required to an existing building to ensure continued safe and comfortable enjoyment of it. There are some agreed upon alternative solutions that can be used and, with professional involvement, alternative ways to comply with the VBBL objectives.

The new By-Law and existing 1 & 2 family dwellings:

There are some changes in the requirements for alterations to existing 1 & 2 family dwellings. These include requirements to improve energy efficiency measures in the home. Any new addition to the home will have to fully comply with the By-Law requirements for new construction. However, the existing part of the building generally does not need to. VHF is developing a guidance document to provide an introduction to the By-Law for renovations and additios, to help homeowners of heritage or character homes understand their options.

The new By-Law and heritage buildings:

Established alternative options continue to be available for heritage buildings to avoid alterations where possible and appropriate that would be detrimental to the character-defining elements and original fabric.


The City of Vancouver has released a bulletin regarding exclusions for heritage buildings and buildings with heritage character (that may not be on the Heritage Register) when working with the VBBL 2014. Read the COV bulletin from December 3, 2014.

VHF is developing a user-friendly guide for working with the new VBBL on existing one and two family homes in particular. This will be available in early 2015.

Some background on the By-Law:

Vancouver has its own building By-Law. The city is able to do this because of provisions in the Vancouver Charter. Most municipalities utilize the Provincial code, the British Columbia Building Code (BCBC) 2012, and underlying this is a national building code.

The building code, or by-law, sets the standards for all new construction and for alterations to existing buildings. Its objectives are to ensure buildings are safe and increasingly to ensure accessibility and energy efficiency.