Canadian Contractor

When it comes to building codes, we get what we tolerate

Casey Edge questions Canada's building code review process

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November 28, 2018 by Casey Edge

A public review is currently underway for changes to the National Building Code and other codes. This review will run from November 7, 2018 to January 4, 2019, and covers the following:

  • National Building Code of Canada 2015 (NBC)
  • National Fire Code of Canada 2015 (NFC)
  • National Plumbing Code of Canada 2015 (NPC)

There are sections included that could be of significant interest to builders, local officials and perhaps also the general public. For example, they have added “explanatory material to address the confusion within the industry regarding vapor barriers and air barriers.” That’s interesting because while the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) admits there is “confusion within industry” about the purpose of air barriers and vapor barriers, they are concurrently embarked on a mission to ramp up energy efficiency in buildings. Perhaps they should be focusing on education barriers before embarking on ambitious plans to change construction practices.

The public review material also adds, “There is a growing body of information suggesting that a small amount of vapor diffusion through an assembly may be beneficial to prevent moisture build-up within that assembly.”

This is important information that requires widespread distribution and discussion, especially as governments pursue new regulations for very tight buildings.

Is the tail wagging the dog?
Despite the “confusion” regarding critical building envelope components, the British Columbia government jumped ahead with their Step Code, enabling municipalities to set their own energy efficiency levels. However, there is no mandatory building envelope education in B.C. to support the Step Code. That’s just one of the many flaws in B.C.’s system – a system they are now trying to promote as a national code standard.

The CCBFC apparently doesn’t understand the irony of a province circumventing national code diligence, and then flogging their poorly designed initiative as a national standard. B.C. signed an agreement to harmonize with the national code, but now it appears that the national code may be harmonizing with B.C. The tail seems to be wagging the dog.

When new regulations are proposed, it is important that builders review the changes and provide feedback in areas such as costs, health and safety, proven practice, and affordability. This is why public reviews are critical for a responsible Building Code. That is, unless CCBFC says otherwise.

The CCBFC claims, “Fixed dates for public reviews allow code users to plan their provision of input into the review process.”

A lack of builder feedback plagues new code proposals
The problem is particularly acute on the west coast, where new seismic reinforcement provisions are being considered. Code users could not provide feedback on those proposed changes under Part 9 because they were left out of the public consultation. Apparently this decision was the recommendation of a committee that included B.C. government representatives – the province whose builders are most affected by the changes. Thus, B.C. builders were prevented from offering feedback on matters that have significant impact on their businesses.

There was, however, an opportunity to correct this error during B.C.’s own public review of code changes earlier this year, but again, the changes were not included. They now come into effect December 10, 2018. We, the Victoria Residential Builders Association, have asked for a postponement and public review in the interests of transparency, affordability and integrity of the code development process.

It is difficult to address changes decided by the CCBFC that we cannot see. Presently, another review and possible increases to seismic regulations is underway. Who knows if we will see those increases before they are imposed? Another question arises; Why does the CCFBC struggle so much getting seismic right? It appears to be another example of uncontrolled regulators running amok.

A recent criticism of the code development process appeared in the CCBFC’s own minutes, saying the system “is failing as it is too bureaucratized.” This reinforces the view that inefficiency and lack of efficacy is endemic in the code development process.

A true ‘consensus’?
A common modus operandi for government consultations is “decision by consensus”, a politically correct way of saying to those with legitimate objections, “Majority rules, but thanks for coming.” Bureaucrats first assemble a majority of people usually supportive of new regulations. They may include local government regulators, consultants etc.. A small number of builders may also be included – people with real world expertise and skin in the game. However their objections are often overwhelmed by the majority via “group consensus.”

So when the opportunity arises to participate in a public review of new government regulations impacting housing, every effort should be made by contractors to provide input – feedback from people with real skin in the game.

During public reviews, code users have the option to approve, alter, or reject the changes. An argument could be made to reject all code changes until CCBFC creates a legitimate transparent process respecting the input of builders.

Otherwise, we get what we tolerate.

Casey Edge is CEO of the Victoria Residential Builders Association and a passionate advocate for the home building industry in Canada.