Canadian Contractor

Alec Caldwell   

Should the Ontario Building Code be modified to allow six storey wooden buildings?

Canadian Contractor Fire

The association representing concrete and masonry producers says, not surprisingly, NO.

There seems to be changes firing up (no pun intended) in the Ontario building industry. A coalition of wood-industry-related groups are proposing changes to the Ontario building code to allow up to 6-storey wooden structures, up from today’s 4-storey limit.

Some, like the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association ( say these structures could be weakened by storms, insects or become a fire hazard.

In a recent publication, the Canadian Wood Council ( douses the notion of wood structures’ flammability: “Research and experience confirm that fire safety in a house or apartment has little to do with the combustibility of the structural materials used in its construction. In fact, the occupants’ safety is far more dependent on their own awareness of fire hazards (open flames, etc.), the contents of their home (furniture, etc.)”

How would you feel about living in a 6-storey wooden building?

I’m all about progression, but making higher wooden buildings sounds like going backwards to me. What’s next, wooden scaffolding, wooden ladders or going back to wooden carts? We could also switch our stainless steel knives and forks for ones made of wood.

Keep in mind The Great Fire of London began on the night of Sept. 2, 1666, as a small fire. At that time, most London houses were of wood construction, were dangerously flammable, and it did not take long for the fire to expand.

The lesson I believe is: If building wooden homes, make sure they are set well apart from each other; and maybe builders will have to change their practices of squeezing so many homes onto a postage stamp.

CARAHS is a not for profit association Toll free 1-866-366-2930  




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4 Comments » for Should the Ontario Building Code be modified to allow six storey wooden buildings?
  1. Posted by Peter G. at the Construction Ontario (ICI & Infrastructure) LinkedIn

    “I can understand the cost benefits and speed likely to come of the switch as being a huge incentive for builders to want this. The design and specifications of such a structure would have to have much tighter (higher) standards against moisture penetration as well as wind resistance for the increased height and exposure not to mention a requirement for mandatory fail-safe sprinkler systems installations throughout.

    All told and with the proviso of increased distances between structures as suggested by Alec, I believe this to be a sustainable and environmentally viable proposal and alternative for at least lower income type buildings/dwellings that we need within most cities in order to offset the ever increasing cost of homes (buying or renting) and shift away from the concrete high rise ghetto experiment of the 60’s & 70’s that need to be replaced from a public housing perspective most certainly and this just might be the affordable alternative we need to implement the transition to more humane community building and housing that creates neighborhoods.

    Should be interesting to see the proposed specifications and guidance and innovative architectural/structural designs which may come out from these discussions as they may regardless of wood framed or not, when it comes to multi-unit structures of this type, increased fire protection specification is imminent with the creation of low pressure pvc water suppression systems and their effectiveness might all come together in a new paradigm that works. After all, we now have laminated wood beams exposed structures and that was thought an impossibility just 8 or 10 years ago!

    Hopefully a few developers with a horse in this race may provide their perspective and insights so we may all be enlightened on its merits to counter the risks noted in the article!”

  2. As a disability expert and site-auditor, I would be strongly opposed to the idea of 6-story wooden-framed buildings. I don’t care what the wood manufacturers say – I can’t believe that a wood-framed building would be as fire-resistant as a metal structure. The difference in flammability might be the difference between death and survival for someone who is disabled and must be rescued by fire-fighters. That comprises a lot of people I know and love – and it would terrify us all to think that they might live in dangerously constructed buildings.

  3. Arie Lise says:

    My memory of my college structural courses I took 15 years ago is some what dimmed, but I do remember that wood is more fire resistant than steel beams.
    Wood must be burned through to loose its structural integrity, while steel must simply be heated to lose its rigidity.
    Steel loses its rigidity much faster than wood, and melts, slumps because its yield point is reached and therefore your exit time is greater with wood than steel.
    This is the principal reason why the Trade Center came down when heated by airplane fuel on 9/11.
    Most residential homes today feature steel beams as a main structural element.

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