CAC opposed to building code changes that allow mid-rise wood-frame buildings

The Cement Association of Canada (CAC) is expressing “tremendous disappointment” with those members of the building and construction industry who have called for changes to the Ontario Building Code (OBC) to allow construction of six-storey wood-frame buildings. The CAC is concerned that these proposed changes could put cost savings ahead of safety.

Changes to the OBC, they say, must address safety and fire implications, citing the 2011 Richmond, B.C. fire that saw the first six-storey wood-frame construction completely destroyed during the construction phase demonstrates the need for caution. Many of the units in the project were to provide affordable housing opportunities to seniors and new Canadians.  Last year, in an Ottawa Sun article, the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario (FFAO) stated that allowing the increase from four to six-storey construction “unnecessarily increases risk to the public and firefighters.”

In 2011, the Ontario Part 3 and 4 Technical Advisory Committees, consisting of engineers, architects, firefighters, and other professional representatives, rejected any changes to mid-rise wood-frame construction codes. The Ontario government ultimately listened to the Committees’ recommendations and no amendments were made with respect to the maximum height allowance of mid-rise wood frame construction when the revised Ontario Building Code was announced in November 2012.

“We are disappointed with the requested changes. It is critical for the effectiveness, credibility and reputation of the Ontario Building Code process that any proposed changes to the OBC go through the proper code development process. The code system was put in place to ensure the safety of our citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, and should not be circumvented by any industry sector, especially if it could put the safety of Ontario residents at risk,” said Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the CAC. “Fundamentally, it should always be left to the licensed architects, engineers and building professionals to determine the safest and best building material for the job.”

Beyond safety, the CAC cites other reasons why developers choose concrete over wood frame construction. In a recent Globe and Mail article by Hadani Ditmars, Sotheby’s realtor David Thomas is quoted as saying that units in his Vancouver project are selling “specifically because it’s a concrete building.” The developer’s website details seven reasons to “buy concrete,” including fire and structural safety; durability; energy efficiency; and health and air quality.

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