Building more resilient new homes

0 February 25, 2015 at 3:04 pm by
Angus DSC04976

Of the 100+ homes damaged in the June 17, 2014 tornado in Angus, Ontario, all were under five years of age and many were under three years.

The National Building Code and the building codes of each province and territory in Canada are some of the best in the world, as are local building inspection practices. And Canadian homebuilders most certainly construct some of the best homes in the world.

But there is always room for improvement, and as severe weather gets fiercer and more pervasive, this need will only become more acute.

With this statement in mind and armed with evidence that – contrary to popular belief – new homes in Canada are indeed being damaged by more and more powerful storm events, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) a few years ago embarked on a program to improve the construction of new homes in Canada.

Recognizing that there were several ways that we could go about reaching the objective of building more resilient new housing stock, we decided that working to change building code offered the greatest chance of success. We also recognized that seeking grand, wholesale changes to codes simply wouldn’t happen, as the building code process in Canada is a conservative one. Any chance of success, we knew, had to be met by pushing – and providing scientific evidence – for relatively small, incremental changes. Essentially, our goal is to correct small problem areas with the code, and to fine-tune other areas where such issues as ambiguous wordings and the like are leading to gaps in resilience.

First, after being invited to meetings with Municipal Affairs and Housing a few years back to discuss home construction standards, ICLR was encouraged to make submissions to the 2012 version of the Ontario Building Code. As a result of the invitation, we made three submissions to change the province’s code. This allowed us to get our feet wet, and experience first hand how a province like Ontario handles the building code review process.

Two of our three submissions didn’t make the cut. These were: 1) to make backwater valves mandatory in all new builds (although part of our submission was granted); and 2) to make hurricane straps mandatory on all garage roofs where the garage does not have a storey above it (this came out of an analysis of the August 2009 tornadoes in Vaughan, Ontario, conducted by Western University engineering’s storm damage assessment team).

Our third submission, however, was accepted, and it is now mandatory in Ontario to space the nails in plywood roof sheathing every six inches (6×6), rather than every six inches where two sheets share a truss and twelve inches elsewhere (6×12). This change makes the plywood about 40 per cent stronger when it comes to uplift forces.

Having one of three submissions be successful on our very first try, we are told, is excellent.

We learned a few things from participating in the process including gaining a realization that it is intensive and involved. We quickly arrived at the conclusion that chasing 10 provincial and three territorial building codes would be too onerous and that concentrating on the Canadian National ‘model’ building code would likely get us the best return (in most cases, the provinces and territories adopt the national building code with few changes).

With this, we recently made five code submissions as part of the next iteration of the national building code, intended to reduce wind and water damage to new Canadian homes.

At this point, it is not yet clear whether any or all of the five will survive review, but ICLR is keeping in touch with the Canadian Codes Centre in Ottawa and is answering any queries being directed at us (including those involving requests for data, photographs and other forms of evidence showing that our code submissions, indeed, address an empirical problem).

In the meantime, ICLR produced a paper commissioned by Insurance Bureau of Canada, outlining among other things how ICLR and IBC can work together on the building code issue.

ICLR will continue to forge ahead with its building code work by concentrating on changing the National Building Code where feasible, working with provincial code bodies where necessary, and continuing to reach out to the home building industry where possible.

The Canadian property and casualty industry can proudly say that it played a key role in getting residential building codes put into place in Canada all those years ago. After the passing of several decades, it has once again become involved in ensuring that the country’s codes properly reflect the new realities being faced by governments, home builders homeowners and insurers in the country as property damage from severe weather spikes.

ICLR, working with IBC, OMIA and others, is pleased to be at the fore of these latest efforts.


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