How the national codes are developed

On behalf of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC), the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) publishes five National Model Construction 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 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 (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 (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 under National Model Construction Codes and Guides/Provincial Codes.

Historical background

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 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

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 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 Construction Codes into objective-based codes.

Converting these codes to an objective-based format has made them more accommodating to innovation by clarifying their scope as well as the intent behind their requirements. Objective-based codes provide additional information that helps proponents and regulators determine the minimum performance that must be achieved, thereby facilitating the evaluation of new products and construction techniques and the assessment of code conformance.

Scope and application of the National Model Construction Codes

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 or 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 or 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 energy-efficient new buildings.

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.

Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC)

The CCBFC is a decision-making body established by NRC to provide direction and oversight on the development of the National Model Construction 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 CCBFC develops Canada's National Model Construction Codes through a committee-based process and formally approves all Code documents and technical revisions prior to publication by NRC.

Standing committees

The CCBFC is aided in its work by standing committees that are responsible for various technical areas in the Codes. Those areas of expertise are:

  • Earthquake Design
  • Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Environmental Separation
  • Fire Protection
  • Hazardous Materials and Activities
  • Housing and Small Buildings
  • HVAC and Plumbing
  • Structural Design
  • Use and Egress

Standing committees, in turn, rely on short-term task groups, working groups and advisory groups to study specific issues and make recommendations.

Members of these committees and groups are drawn from all segments of the construction industry: regulators, fire services, architects and engineers, manufacturers and product suppliers, building owners and developers, and building users. They are appointed as individuals, not as delegates from a specific association or company, and are selected in a way that provides representation from all geographic regions of the country.

Final decisions on the technical content of the Codes are made by these committees of volunteers, not by NRC staff. NRC pays all travel expenses for the committee and group members. This allows input to the process by all those with the appropriate expertise, not only those who can afford to attend. Membership is reviewed twice during each five-year code cycle.

You could become a member of one of our standing committees or groups. Write to the Secretary of the CCBFC, indicating which standing committee(s) you are interested in joining and forwarding a recent résumé. A nominating committee reviews the qualifications of those who have expressed such an interest, and selects new members based on an established matrix of interests and on geographic location. Most members enjoy participating and get a sense of satisfaction from helping to make Canada's National Model Construction Codes among the most respected building codes in the world.

Even if you don't become a committee or group member, you can suggest changes to the Codes. The standing committees are open to suggestions from any source. Suggestions should be supported by valid technical arguments in order to be considered by the committees, which are unlikely to be influenced by statements of opinion or non-technical arguments related to such considerations as market share and international trade. Guidelines and a form for submitting suggested changes are available on the National Model Construction Codes website.

You can also participate by commenting on proposed changes, as described under "Public Review".

Role of NRC

NRC is involved in every aspect of the development of the National Model Construction Codes. The latest technical information and expertise available within NRC Construction supports committee work. Conversely, the committees refer many of the technical problems relating to code requirements to NRC Construction 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 Construction 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 (CCC) and its technical advisors, who are appointed as non-voting members to the standing committees. The technical advisors, who are mostly architects or engineers, provide technical and administrative support to the CCBFC committees and task groups. They receive, review and evaluate code change requests 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 assist the committees in their decision-making. They also 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.

NRC Construction is additionally responsible for the editing, translation, production, sales and distribution of codes and related documents, including some provincial codes.

Public review

Another important feature of the Code development and maintenance process is the extent of public involvement. Non-members are welcome to observe the meetings or to address the committees on specific agenda items. Guidelines for visitors attending meetings are available from the Secretary of the CCBFC.

Most important of all, the Code-writing process now has one of the most extensive public review procedures in the world. Each year, for a two-month period in the fall, all proposed changes approved by the standing committees are made available for public review. 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 National Model Construction Codes website is the primary vehicle for distribution of public review information and receipt of comments.

Following the public review period, the standing committees review the comments received and submit final sets of changes to the CCBFC for approval. Some proposed changes may be deferred or withdrawn at this point. The provinces and territories review the final version of the proposed changes from a policy perspective and identify their concerns before they are submitted to the CCBFC. A period of about 20 months is required from the time the standing committees decide on the final changes they are going to recommend until the Code documents are published. This means that proposals for changes to the current codes must be received by the standing committees at least two years before the end of the cycle.

The CCBFC issues special changes from time to time in the cycle when a situation is potentially dangerous or when new products, systems or designs are unduly restricted by code requirements. Changes approved early in the cycle can be issued prior to the next publication date.

Approved changes are translated into French and the translation is reviewed by the CCBFC 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 Construction 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 Construction 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.

Enquiries

You are invited to participate. Please address any correspondence to:

Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes
Canadian Codes Centre
National Research Council Canada
Building M-23A, 1200 Montreal Road
Ottawa, Ontario KlA 0R6

Telephone: 613-993-9960
Fax: 613-952-4040
Emailcodes@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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