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Alberta “Gets It”

The province of Alberta has finally responded to the Edmonton fire of 2007 that wiped out 18 duplexes and caused an estimated $20 million dollars in damage, and they have done so in a controlled and thoughtful manner. The province, with urging from the fire service has revised the fire and building code to help prevent massive fires like the 2007 blaze from occurring in the future. The cause of the Edmonton fire was an arson deliberately setting a single home on fire, however due to the close proximity of the surrounding homes and a weakness in the building code, an entire neighbourhood was wiped out.

 

The major flaw in the Alberta Building Code was the allowed composition of exterior wall systems; vinyl siding over air barrier and strand board. The building code changes which take effect in early May require a layer of fire resistant gypsum board be installed between the vinyl siding and the strand board on any exterior wall that is within 1.2 metres of the property line. This change is designed to prevent fires from spreading to adjoining properties. Additionally, gypsum wallboard will also be required on the interior walls in the attached garages of all new homes. Home builders have already begun to criticize the changes, claiming it will add thousands to the price of a new home, fortunately the Alberta government did not back down to these familiar claims and the changes are now law. Building systems and construction methods are constantly changing in response to rising costs, many of these innovations have been very beneficial to both home owners and builders. However building codes can not keep up with many of these changes as decisions in building codes are based on testing and studies which require time. The current Ontario Building Code is similar to the old Alberta code with regards to home construction, a layer of gypsum board beneath vinyl siding is not required in homes built in Ontario. If you were to visit one of the many new home developments within Ottawa such as in Orleans, you would see conditions that mirror the Edmonton development that burned in 2007. This doesn’t imply that our Ontario builders are building unsafe homes, they are constructing homes which meet the current requirements of the building code. It should also be noted that because of the current building codes, most newer homes are built to a better safety standard than older homes. The lesson we can take from the Edmonton incident is that we need the provincial government to be as quick to react as the construction industry when it comes building innovations.  





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