Canada's national model codes development system

Canada's national model codes development system (PDF, 667 KB) (March 2013)

Introduction

Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes

Canada has one of the best standards of construction in the world and a high degree of uniformity in building construction and fire safety across the country. Its centralized system for model code development and maintenance began in the 1930s, with first edition of the National Building Code of Canada being published in 1941. Subsequent adoption of the National Building, Plumbing, and Fire Codes and partnership with the provinces and territories has resulted in a progressive system that is responsive to new construction products and techniques.

The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC), an independent committee of volunteers established by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), is responsible for developing and updating the National Model Codes. It oversees the work of eleven committees and several task groups involving as many as 300 members. The system is structured such that it is the members of the committees who establish the content of the model codes, based on input from the codes stakeholder community. Member expertise from industry, the regulatory community and general interest groups is balanced to ensure that all relevant sectors and geographical areas of the country are represented. These committees are administratively and technically supported by the NRC Canadian Codes Centre (CCC).

National Model Codes

National Model Codes

On behalf of the CCBFC, NRC publishes five National Model Codes, in English and in French, which must be adopted by a regulatory authority in order to come into effect. In some cases, the Codes are amended and/or supplemented to suit regional needs, and then published as provincial codes. The five codes are as follows.

The National Building Code of Canada (NBC) addresses the design and construction of new buildings and the substantial renovation of existing buildings.

The National Fire Code of Canada (NFC) provides minimum fire safety requirements for buildings, structures and areas where hazardous materials are used, and addresses fire protection and fire prevention in the ongoing operation of buildings and facilities.

The National Plumbing Code of Canada (NPC) covers the design and installation of plumbing systems in buildings and facilities.

The National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) provides minimum energy efficiency requirements for the design and construction of all new buildings and additions save farm buildings and those buildings falling under the scope of NBC Part 9.

The National Farm Building Code of Canada (NFBC) provides relaxations of the requirements in the NBC to address the particular needs of farm buildings.

To assist in the application of the codes, explanatory material is published in the form of user's guides. Descriptions of all the published documents and ordering information are available at National Model Codes and Guides.

Historical background

Evolution of the code development system

House and apartment building

Under the British North America Act and its successor, the Constitution Act, responsibility for building regulation in Canada rests with the provinces and territories. This responsibility was generally delegated to municipalities, which, not surprisingly, resulted in a multiplicity of regulations being developed over time as each municipality tried to deal with its own needs. These variations from one municipality to the next made it very difficult for designers, product manufacturers and contractors to conduct business in more than one region. It was also very difficult for national programs supporting housing and other construction work to be implemented. Thus, in 1937, the federal Department of Finance asked NRC to develop a model building regulation that could be adopted by all municipalities in Canada. The result of that initiative was the publication of the first edition of the NBC in 1941.

The post-war construction boom fuelled the demand for a revised NBC, particularly one that did not require houses and small buildings to be designed by architects and engineers. To respond to the needs of an industry that was rapidly expanding, NRC established the Division of Building Research (DBR), which became the NRC Institute for Research in Construction in 1986 and NRC Construction in 2012. One of DBR's original mandates was to provide research support for the NBC.

In 1948, NRC created the Associate Committee on the National Building Code whose mandate was to update and maintain the NBC on an ongoing basis and provide for broad input. The Associate Committee revised the NBC in 1953 and has subsequently published new versions about every five years. The NBC 2010 is the 13th edition.

In 1956, NRC created the Associate Committee on the National Fire Code, which produced the first edition of the NFC in 1963. The NFC 2010 is the 9th edition.

In October 1991, the two Associate Committees were replaced by the CCBFC.

Changes to the system

Canadian Centre for Housing Technology

A number of economic realities—increasing globalization, free trade, harmonization of standards, demands for better quality and performance, and a major shift from new construction to rehabilitation—created the need to make the codes more dynamic, more responsive, and better able to accommodate innovation. The CCBFC 1995-2000 Strategic Plan addressed this need by identifying opportunities to improve the code development system in several significant ways. Two key initiatives were subsequently undertaken, one to establish a coordinated provincial/territorial/national code development system, the other to convert the National Model Codes into objective-based codes.

Core codes

To facilitate provincial and territorial adoption of the National Model Construction Codes, with few or no amendments, new editions only address issues agreed upon by all provinces and territories. Technical differences between provincial and national model code requirements are examined with a view to harmonizing as many as possible.

Issues falling outside the scope of the core codes are dealt with in separate documents published by that province or territory. If several provinces and territories wish to address the same issue, the CCBFC will consider developing a separate code on that issue. The NECB and the NFBC are examples of such non-core documents.

Provincial/territorial participation

The provinces and territories may examine proposed changes to the National Model Codes at every stage of the code development cycle. Their concerns are addressed by the CCBFC so that standing committees do not waste time developing changes that are unacceptable to the authorities having jurisdiction. The aim is to reduce the number of amendments that are required before provincial or territorial adoption, thus allowing for faster adoption.

Coordinated public reviews

Public reviews of proposed changes to the National Model Construction Codes are coordinated such that code users are consulted once annually, usually in the fall. Fixed dates for public reviews allow code users to plan their provision of input into the review process. Provinces and territories are invited to coordinate the review of changes to their codes with the national public review; they also advertise the national public review and encourage participation in their jurisdiction. Thus, the input of all code users—even from code users in provinces having their own codes—is made available to the national process.

Improved policy input

The Provincial and Territorial Policy Advisory Committee on Codes (PTPACC), a committee made up of senior representatives appointed by provincial and territorial deputy ministers, provides policy advice to the CCBFC.

Equitable sharing of code development costs

Revenue from code sales continues to be the principal source of funding for the development and production of the model codes. Arrangements have been put in place so that provinces publishing and selling their own codes based on the national models can make equitable contributions to the national code development system. NRC is the other funding partner of this system.

Objective-based codes

Converting the National Model Codes to an objective-based format made them more accommodating to innovation by clarifying their scope as well as the intent behind their requirements. Each code provision is supplemented by clearly stated objectives, functional statements and intents. This additional information helps proponents and regulators determine the minimum performance that must be achieved, thereby facilitating the code conformance of new products and construction techniques.

2008 review of priorities

In 2008, the CCBFC Executive Committee held a strategic session to review the implementation of changes to the national code development system since their introduction in 1995. The session also provided an opportunity to review the role of the CCBFC, its mission, and the environment in which it operated. Major elements of this reflection by the CCBFC included new goals and objectives as well action plans to achieve the strategic objectives. The action plans addressed four near-term priorities: communications and marketing, timeliness and responsiveness to change, harmonization of provincial/territorial and national codes, and sensing of emerging issues.

One specific outcome of these actions was the development of a strategic communications plan to:

  • increase awareness of the national model code development system
  • share code development information with stakeholders in a timely manner and encourage their engagement, and
  • sense upcoming issues and trends that may impact on code development.

Policies and procedures

The CCBFC also developed and adopted new policies and procedures in early 2009 to better reflect the changes made in recent years to the national code development system as well as the closer ties with the PTPACC. The new policies and procedures contain the operating procedures of the national code development system, terms of reference for the CCBFC and its committees, and a description of NRC's supporting role.

Protocol for adding new objectives

Following requests to add energy efficiency and water use efficiency requirements in the core codes, it was determined that these did not fit within the National Model Construction Codes’ four existing objectives (safety, health, accessibility, fire and structural protection of buildings).

The matter was discussed with the provinces and territories, and a joint CCBFC/PTPACC task group was established to develop a protocol for considering the addition of new objectives. Adopted by the CCBFC in early 2009, the six-step protocol was used to develop a new environment objective that formed the basis for energy efficiency sub-objectives and requirements in the NECB and in the upcoming revision to the NBC 2010. A water use efficiency sub-objective is also being considered through application of the protocol.

Codes and standards

Scope and application of the National Model Codes

Construction worker on the roof of a house

In Canada, building and fire codes are developed cooperatively with the goal of achieving compatibility. Generally, when a new building code is adopted, it is not applied retroactively. Existing buildings that comply with the code in effect at the time of their construction are generally not required to be upgraded so that they comply with the new code. Unlike building codes, however, fire codes may contain retroactive requirements that apply to all buildings, regardless of when they were built.

The NBC is concerned with health, safety, accessibility and the protection of buildings from fire or structural damage. It applies to the construction of new buildings and to the demolition or relocation of existing ones. It also applies when a building's use changes or when it is significantly renovated or altered. Some provincial building codes also address energy conservation.

The NFC applies to buildings and facilities already in use and regulates activities that create fire hazards. It contains requirements regarding the maintenance of fire safety equipment and egress facilities, and provides direction on the safe use of combustible materials and dangerous goods in both new and existing buildings and facilities. It also requires fire safety plans in anticipation of emergencies. In sum, the NFC aims to reduce the likelihood of fires, particularly those that may present a hazard to the community, and to limit the potential damage caused by fires as well as by the handling and storage of hazardous materials.

The NPC is concerned with health, safety, and the protection of buildings and facilities from water and sewage damage. It covers the design and installation of plumbing systems in buildings and facilities. It applies to the construction of new buildings and to the demolition or relocation of existing ones as well as when a building's use changes or when it is significantly renovated or altered.

The NFBC addresses the special nature of the occupancies of non-residential farm buildings. Farm buildings that do not qualify under specific criteria are required to conform to the NBC in all respects.

The NECB was designed to complement the building codes. It sets out minimum requirements for energy efficiency that may be adopted in whole or in part into provincial or territorial legislation and codes or, alternatively, used as guidelines for the construction of new, energy-efficient buildings.

Differences between a Code and a Standard

National Model Codes and standards are developed through similar consensus-based committee processes and extensive public review. There is no precise and universally recognized definition of the differences between a code and a standard.

Generally, a code:

  • is broad in scope, i.e. it covers a wide range of issues, and
  • is intended to be given the force of law through adoption by a provincial, territorial or municipal authority.

In the construction context, generally a standard:

  • is narrow in scope, i.e. it covers a limited range of issues, and
  • is intended to be given the force of law by being referenced in a code adopted by a provincial, territorial or municipal authority or by being referenced directly by a provincial, territorial or municipal regulation.

Some standards do not become legal requirements but are simply used by a specific industry or trade as the recognized articulation of "good practice."

A code will often reference several standards, thus giving them the force of law in jurisdictions where that code is adopted. For example, the NBC references more than 200 standards.

Standards development organizations

Standards development organizations are major contributors to construction regulation in Canada, and hundreds of standards are used by the construction industry. These are largely prepared by Canadian standards development organizations accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, such as:

Standards from American organizations, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials and the National Fire Protection Association, are also referenced.

Code development: roles and responsibilities

Role of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes

Committee meeting

The CCBFC is a decision-making body established by NRC to provide direction and oversight on the development of the National Model Codes and encourage uniformity of building and facility regulations throughout Canada. It is made up of voting and non-voting members from across Canada who are appointed by NRC on the recommendation of the CCBFC Selection Committee. Voting members are volunteers who are chosen for their individual interests and expertise.

The Commission normally meets once a year in February and meetings are open to the public. Guidelines for visitors attending these meetings are available on request.

The CCBFC Chair reports annually, or as requested, to NRC through the Vice-President responsible for NRC Construction. Through PTPACC, the CCBFC receives advice from and informs provincial and territorial authorities of issues, priorities, requests and decisions on matters relating to the National Model Codes.

Diagram of the structure of Canada's code development system. Details in text following the chart.
Figure 1: Structure of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes.

The CCBFC develops Canada's National Model Codes through a committee-based process and formally approves all Code documents and technical revisions prior to publication by NRC.

To carry out this task, it establishes the following committees and oversees their work (see Figure 1):

  • Executive Committee (acts as a standing committee on Divisions A and C of the Codes)
  • Standing Committee on Earthquake Design
  • Standing Committee on Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Standing Committee on Environmental Separation
  • Standing Committee on Fire Protection
  • Standing Committee on Hazardous Materials and Activities
  • Standing Committee on Housing and Small Buildings
  • Standing Committee on HVAC and Plumbing
  • Standing Committee on Structural Design
  • Standing Committee on Use and Egress
  • CCBFC Technical Translation Verification Committee.

The CCBFC may approve the creation of short-term task groups, working groups and advisory groups to study specific issues and make recommendations to either itself or the applicable standing committee.

The CCBFC Technical Translation Verification Committee is responsible for verifying the technical accuracy of the translations of all Codes published in French.

Role of the executive committee

The Executive Committee looks after CCBFC business between CCBFC meetings by undertaking specific tasks assigned to it by the CCBFC, addressing policy or coordination problems that may arise and responding to requests for review of procedural actions taken by any subcommittees. It also recommends proposed changes to Divisions A and C of the core codes and similar content for non-core codes.

The Committee meets at the call of the CCBFC Chair and may hold joint meetings with PTPACC, as the need arises. Its Chair is the CCBFC Chair and its membership includes at least four voting CCBFC members. Meetings are held in camera, except those portions that deal with changes to Divisions A and C of the core codes and similar parts of non-core codes.

Role of the standing committees

Each CCBFC standing committee is responsible for a code or sections of a code and related documents, such as user's guides, and advises the CCBFC on technical issues and recommended changes. Meetings are normally held twice annually in spring and fall, unless otherwise authorized. Annual work plans balancing the number of requests and priorities against time constraints, capacities and resources are prepared by each standing committee in the fall for approval by the CCBFC.

Members are appointed by the CCBFC chair on the recommendation of the CCBFC Nomination Committee. The membership of each standing committee conforms to a matrix that provides for regulatory, industry, and general interest categories as well as equitable geographical representation. Non-members are welcome to observe the committee meetings or to address the committees on specific agenda items. To facilitate regional involvement, meetings are often held outside Ottawa. Guidelines for visitors attending meetings are available on request.

Role of NRC

NRC's floor test furnace

NRC is involved in every aspect of the development of the National Model Construction Codes. Committee work is supported by the latest technical information and expertise available within NRC Construction. Correspondingly, the committees refer many of the technical problems relating to code requirements to NRC for study and possible inclusion in its research programs. This two-way flow of information has proven mutually beneficial.

When the committees need more information to make informed decisions, studies are performed to provide the missing data. These studies are not only performed by NRC but also by provinces, manufacturing groups and various consortia having similar interests.

The essential link between the standing committees and NRC research staff is provided through the Canadian Codes Centre and its technical advisors, who are appointed as non-voting members to the standing committees.

Role of the NRC Canadian Codes Centre

NRC Construction houses the Canadian Codes Centre (CCC). The CCC's technical advisors, who are mostly architects or engineers, provide technical and administrative support to the CCBFC committees and task groups.

Technical advisors receive code change requests, review and evaluate them, and advise the appropriate committees on their implications. They are often required to prepare technical studies or committee papers that provide additional information and background data to the committees to assist in decision-making. They also facilitate access to research resources and perform a coordinating function as members of various standards development committees.

Another function of technical advisors is to help regulatory officials and other code users understand the scope and intent of code requirements. Final interpretation of the codes, however, rests with the authorities having jurisdiction.

Despite their involvement in the work of the standing committees, CCC staff do not have voting status. It is the volunteer committee members who decide what code changes should be recommended to the CCBFC, which in turn makes the final decisions.

Role of other groups at NRC

Within NRC Construction, the Codes and Evaluation Production and Marketing Group is responsible for the editing, translation, and production of codes and related documents, including some provincial codes.

NRC Construction's Client Services unit is responsible for sales and distribution of the products.

Role of the provinces, territories and municipalities

Map of Canada

Canada's constitution gives the ten provinces and three territories jurisdiction over construction. Some cities also have this authority through a special relationship with their provincial authority. To enact building and fire regulations, the provinces, territories, and municipalities pass legislation that references the relevant National Model Construction Codes or provincial code.

The provincial and territorial authorities having jurisdiction are responsible for:

  • adopting and enforcing laws and regulations
  • providing interpretation of such laws and regulations
  • providing training and education in such laws and regulations, and
  • establishing roles and responsibilities of trades people and professionals.

As part of the improvements to the code development system, the Provincial/Territorial Policy Advisory Committee on Codes (PTPACC) was formed in 2001 to provide policy advice to the CCBFC. Since then, the PTPACC has set up regulatory networking groups in the following fields of regulation: building, fire, plumbing and energy efficiency.

Process for developing the National Model Codes

The National Model Codes are continuously evolving to accommodate new technologies, materials, construction practices, research, social policy, and the changing needs of Canadian society. Globalization and free trade, for example, have led to the harmonization of some North American standards and the increased use of international standards.

Development of code content is a consensus-based process that relies on the voluntary contributions of standing committee and task group members, and the public. A common process—from the initial proposing and consideration of code change requests to the publication of approved changes—is followed for all codes. An important feature of the code development and maintenance process is the extent of public involvement.

Proposed changes

Submission

Code change requests can be submitted to the CCC by regulatory officials, design and safety professionals, manufacturers and suppliers, contractors, building managers or owners, consumers, and other public and private sector stakeholders—in fact, by anyone with an interest in the codes. CCBFC standing committee members and NRC staff may also propose changes.

Work plan

Each code change request is reviewed by the appropriate standing committee. After this initial review the standing committee determines if it wishes to work on it and to include it in its work plan for CCBFC approval and priority setting. Work plan approval and priority setting by the CCBFC ensures that code development work focuses on issues of importance to the provinces and territories as well as to stakeholders.

Review

Once authorized by the CCBFC the appropriate standing committee undertakes a detailed review of the code change request. If the proposed change is complex and requires significant analysis, a task group may be established to study it and make recommendations. When a change has implications for a part of a code that is the responsibility of other committees, all affected committees review the change. For example, a proposed change to NBC Part 9, Housing and Small Buildings, may need to be reviewed by the committees responsible for Parts 3, 4, or 6, and may also lead to a corresponding change in one of those parts.

A standing committee may reject a proposal, amend the wording, defer it pending receipt of more information or research, or approve the proposed change.

Pre-public review

The provinces and territories have the opportunity to review draft proposed changes. If any of them has serious policy or administrative concerns about the inclusion of a certain proposed change for public review, the proposed change can be withdrawn or deferred for further discussion prior to public review.

Proposed change form

Proposed change form

Public review

All proposed changes approved by the standing committees are made available for public review annually, in the fall, for two months. Additional public review periods may be called, when necessary, at other times of the year. This allows those most affected by a proposed change to provide feedback and increases the range of expertise available on any subject. Provinces and territories are invited to coordinate their public review activities with the national public review periods.

The Internet is the primary format for distribution of public review information and receipt of comments. The availability of the public review documents is announced in Construction Innovation (NRC Construction's quarterly newsletter) and on the National Model Codes web site.

Post-public review

Following the public review period, the standing committees review the submitted comments. A proposed change moves forward only once all comments have been taken into consideration. Some proposed changes may be deferred, withdrawn or revised at this point. The provinces and territories then review the final version of the proposed changes from a policy perspective and identify their concerns before the changes are submitted to the CCBFC for final approval.

CCBFC approval

Following review of the proposed changes by the provinces and territories, the recommended changes are submitted to the CCBFC, and, if approved, are published in the next edition or revisions of the codes.

Translation

The approved changes are translated into French. The translation is reviewed by the Technical Translation Verification Committee to ensure accuracy, enforceability and consistency within the French documents.

Evaluation of new technology and systems

The evaluation of building products, materials, or systems as to their conformance to codes and standards is a difficult and time-consuming activity. A number of organizations, such as the Canadian Standards Association and Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, provide full third-party certification for safety-related products or systems for which standards exist. The National Model Codes do not require such certification, only that the product or system meets the minimum performance required by the standard. Code enforcement officials, however, often rely on certification as evidence that such is the case.

To provide the construction industry with a national evaluation service for innovative materials, products and systems, NRC in 1988 created the Canadian Construction Materials Centre (CCMC). This service includes the evaluation of new and innovative products for which no standards exist, and of products for which standards exist but for which no third-party certification program has been established. Most provinces, territories and municipalities use CCMC's evaluation reports as a basis for determining compliance of new products to codes

Summary

The National Model Codes are developed and maintained using a broad-based consensus process. Individuals from all segments of the Canadian construction community have the opportunity to contribute to the development of the codes, either directly, through committee membership, or indirectly, by submitting or commenting on proposed changes.

The improvements to the code development system for the 21st century are innovative, at the leading edge, and uniquely Canadian. They ensure openness and transparency, and minimize disruption to the design and construction industries, while responding to the realities and opportunities of the modern global economy.

March 2013