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Toronto City Council calls on province for more regulations on combustible building construction


April 6, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter


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Three months after the Ontario government changed its building code to allow construction of wood frame buildings up to six storeys in height, Toronto City Council is asking the ruling Liberals to move quickly to implement rules on safe construction of such buildings.

Ontario now allows wood frame buildings up to six storeys in height and Toronto City Council wants a regulatory strategy for site safety practices during constructionToronto City Council voted last week in favour of a motion asking the provincial government to “move expeditiously on a provincial regulatory strategy for site safety practices during the construction of combustible buildings.”

Such a strategy should “guide site safety practices during the construction of combustible buildings,” wrote Ann Borooah, the city’s chief building official and executive director of Toronto Building, in an earlier staff report to the city’s planning and growth committee.

“Since January 1, 2015, the Ontario Building Code has permitted the construction of wood-frame buildings of up to six-storeys,” Boorah wrote at the time.

Until Dec. 31, the Ontario Building Code only allowed construction of wood frame buildings up to four storeys in height.

British Columbia has allowed wood frame buildings of up to six storeys in height since 2009. Nearly four years ago, the first six-storey all-wood building approved in B.C. was consumed by fire while under construction, published reports indicate.

In 2013, an Ontario Progressive Conservative MP, Vic Fedeli, tabled the Ontario Forestry Industry Revitalization Act (Height of Wood Frame Buildings) Act, which proposed to increase the permissible height of wood frame buildings. That bill died on the order paper with the provincial election, in June, 2014, that returned the Liberals to power with a majority. But during debates in 2013 on Fedeli’s bill, Linda Jeffrey – then the Liberal Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing – said the bill “could pose significant safety issues for both residents and our emergency responders.”

Firefighters raised concerns “about the reliability of fire resistance, fire safety during construction, the ability to evacuate, wood shrinkage and the possible breach of firewalls, in addition to some other things that are related to that, including local emergency response time,” NDP MPP Sarah Campbell said at the time.

But then in September, 2014, the Liberals implemented Ontario Regulation 191/14, which changed the building code – effective Jan. 1, 2015 – to increase the height limit of wood frame buildings to six storeys. Provincial regulations now include “new safety requirements for wood frame buildings that include building stairwells with non-combustible materials and roofs that are combustion resistant,” the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a press release at the time.

“During the province’s consultation process leading to the code changes, the City of Toronto and other stakeholders identified that the province needs to develop a framework to support fire safety during the construction of combustible buildings,” Boorah wrote in February in her staff report to the City of Toronto planning and growth committee.

“In British Columbia, where this form of construction has been permitted since 2009, extensive regulations and practices have been developed to protect these buildings from fire during construction.”