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Wednesday , 26 November 2014
Ontario’s home builders urge wooden mid-rise construction

Ontario’s home builders urge wooden mid-rise construction

Ontario’s building industry wants to see changes to the Ontario Building Code that would allow the use of woodframe construction in buildings up to six storeys. At present, the height limit for wooden buildings in Ontario is four storeys.

The proposal is set out in a report, titled Unlocking the Potential for Mid-Rise Buildings: Six Storey Wood Structures. The report was commissioned by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) and the Canadian Wood Council.

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British Columbia was the first province to change its building code to allow taller buildings made of wood. The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes is also considering a request to change national codes to allow it. In Ontario, groups representing home builders are asking for building codes to allow six-storey construction in wood. Photo courtesy of Sukh Johal c/o WoodWORKS!BC

The report, which was written by Toronto urban planner and professor Paul Bedford, argues that changing the Code would facilitate a solution to the problem of inadequate affordable housing in the province. Building in the mid-rise range becomes more expensive when the building is more than four storeys tall, according to the president of the Ontario Home Builders Association, Leith Moore.

“If the Ontario Building Code allowed for six-storey woodframe construction, costs would go down and options for new homebuyers would go up,” Moore said.

The recommendation agrees with those of previous studies which have called for the use of mid-rise construction on major avenues, particularly in Toronto. The City of Toronto produced a study (The Avenues and Mid-Rise Buildings Study) which advocated for the intensification of land use along these major “avenues” such as Eglinton and St. Clair, through the use of six-storey, mixed-use construction: commercial and retail on the ground floor, residential on the upper floors. Mid-rise buildings, according to the City of Toronto, are the ideal urban structure:

They are bigger than houses but smaller than towers. Mid-rises have a good scale relationship to the street. They define or make walls to the street that are tall enough to feel like a city and provide lots of usable space, but low enough to let the sun in and open the view to the sky from the street. They support a comfortable pedestrian environment, and animate the street by lining the sidewalk with doors and windows with active uses including stores, restaurants, services, grade related apartments, and community uses.

These sentiments are echoed in the BILD report. Bryan Tuckey, BILD’s president and CEO, says six-storey wood construction housing would be “good urban planning” that is safe and good for homebuyers. Changing the Code would “unlock the immense potential in neighbourhoods that have underutilized land on major avenues and corridors.”

The report, he says, shows that these major avenues and arteries are already well served by existing infrastructure and transit. The mid-rise option could meet the demands of increasing population in the area, while offering a variety of sizes and designs for residents of all ages.

Addressing the issue of safety, particularly regarding fire, a separate report titled Mid-Rise Combustible Construction in Ontario–Building Code Issues makes the point that the number of fire incidents in buildings does not increase “just because buildings have more combustible material.” Rather, the study showed that fire incidents are related to the “use and occupancy of the building,” in the words of Richard Lyall, president of RESCON.

Also, many provisions in the National Fire Code and regulations in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety address potential fire hazards and provide solutions to reduce risks. “Woodframe buildings have to meet the same standards as those built using other materials,” said Marianne Berube, Executive Director, Ontario Wood Works, Canadian Wood Council.

British Columbia, the report notes, amended its building code back in 2009 to allow six-storey woodframe construction, a change that had “an immediate impact” on the local economy. Ontario could expect to see a number of benefits deriving from the proposed change, including job creation, increased tax revenues, more affordable housing for homebuyers and a “minimized” carbon footprint in the construction process.

The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) is also considering changing the 2010 National Building and Fire Codes of Canada, which currently limit the height of wood buildings to four storeys. The change to the Codes was requested by the Province of British Columbia and the Canadian Wood Council.

About Nicole Ryan Editor

I am Nicole Ryan, a contributing editor at Condo.ca—Canada's Condominium Magazine.

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