Building code to boost mid-rise market
By Amie Silverwood
Apr. 8, 2014 - An update to the national building code will be coming out in 2015 with new rules for mid-rise wood buildings and it’s bringing excitement to the industry. Under current codes, wood buildings can be no more than four storeys tall but the new rules will allow for six storey wooden structures. Once the national code is updated, it will be easy for the provinces to adopt the new codes.
Current regulations require buildings greater than four storeys to be concrete structures and few developers are buildings six storey apartments. Concrete buildings must generally be eight to ten storeys tall in order to be economically viable. But mid-rise construction is the new building trend as the population ages and urban densification plans keep the urban sprawl of single-family homes to a minimum. Wood buildings have a 15 to 20 per cent economic advantage over concrete buildings making them an affordable housing option for mid-rise condominiums and apartment buildings.
“This is a huge opportunity for the wood industry,” Marianne Berube told CFI over the phone. She’s the provincial director of the Ontario chapter of Wood Works! an initiative of the Canadian Wood Council to promote the use of wood in non-residential and mid-rise construction. The Canadian Wood Council recently announced new funding from FedNor for the Ontario chapter; their goal is to position wood as an excellent choice and best-value building material for all types of construction.
The GTA and the golden horseshoe make up 50 per cent of the construction market in Canada and condominiums are increasingly popular in this region. Increasing the market share for wood products here, and elsewhere in Canada, provides a stable market for Canadian secondary wood products manufacturers that are heavily dependent on the U.S. housing market.
“In Ontario, the new building code will change our market share to three times what it is right now,” Berube explained. “That’s why FedNor is keen that we go to the next level and get that implemented.”
The topic of mid-rise construction drew a lot of attention at the Montreal Wood Convention in mid-February (see page 39 for details on the convention). Aside from market forecasts and information on exports to the U.S., a fire scientist from FPInnovations, Christian Dagenais, talked about the challenges and opportunities of mid-rise wood buildings.
Dagenais drew a large crowd as he described some of the mid-rise buildings that have been successfully built around the country. These buildings were constructed quickly and were a lot less expensive than concrete buildings that require time for the concrete to cure. He also noted the attractive structure of the wood buildings didn’t require interior finishes, saving additional time and money.
Now that six storey buildings are essentially a done deal, Dagenais said his team is looking at wood buildings that are greater than 10 storeys. “We’re looking forward to our first high-rise wood building,” he told the crowd. Rather than setting a limit on the size and type of materials used, his goal is to focus on fully performance-based design that will allow for some flexibility.
Fire resistance remains a concern though wood buildings pose no greater threat than other forms of construction; the use of sprinklers and one-hour fire resistance is crucial for any mid-rise building. It is important to maintain the integrity and continuity of fire separations making sure all fire-safety rules are followed.
Once the codes have been changed, developers and builders will need plenty of training and technical support and this is where associations such as Wood Works! will continue to have an impact on the industry.
“There’s a lot of new innovation going on,” says Berube, “there’s a bright future ahead though it’s been so gloomy for the past number of years. But there’s a lot of exciting things happening right now.”