ARCHIVED - Keeping fires under one roof

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January 04, 2011— Ottawa, Ontario

In the early hours of July 21, 2007, a four-storey apartment building under construction in Edmonton caught fire. Firefighters were on the scene in less than 10 minutes, but the flames had already spread to neighbouring properties. The inferno ultimately destroyed 18 townhouses and damaged more than 70 other homes but no lives were lost. 

Fortunately, multiple-home fires like this one are rare, and they promise to become even rarer in new subdivisions built to meet the 2010 National Building Code of Canada (NBC). The latest edition of the Code, which is published by NRC, contains several measures to restrict fires from spreading from one house to the next. 

Photo: Courtesy of City of Edmonton Fire Services

Photo: Courtesy of City of Edmonton Fire Services

Spacing between homes 

“With land prices at a premium, houses tend to be built closer together” says Philip Rizcallah of the Canadian Codes Centre at NRC. “But if you put them too close to each other, there’s a greater probability in a fire that you might lose more than one house unless you take protective measures. With minimal effort and cost, however, you can protect the sides of each house and thereby reduce the likelihood of a fire spreading.” 

What are the national model construction codes?

The 2010 National Building Code of Canada is one of three national model codes published by NRC, the other two being the National Fire Code of Canada and the National Plumbing Code of Canada. These model codes are developed through broad-based consultation and consensus among all sectors of the construction community — regulatory authorities, designers, builders, suppliers, researchers and the general public.

The codes published by NRC are model codes only, given that the provinces and territories have jurisdiction over construction. Most provinces/territories adopt the national model codes as is, or with very few changes, while others adapt them to suit regional needs before publishing them as their own codes. Learn more about the codes.

Rizcallah says the 2005 NBC already contains various requirements that help to reduce the risk of multiple-home fires, but the new Code goes even further. Among its changes, the distance between neighbouring houses may need to increase depending on:

  • whether fire departments can respond to a potential fire within 10 minutes;
  • the total area and spacing of windows and other “unprotected openings” on the side of a house facing the property line; or
  •  the combustibility of exterior construction materials.  
The new Building Code places stricter limits on the number and placement of unprotected openings on the side of a house within 2 metres of the property line.

The new Building Code places stricter limits on the number and placement of unprotected openings on the side of a house within 2 metres of the property line.

Rizcallah stresses that the new Code will not prevent developers from building houses close together. “Houses can be built right up against the property line if there are no openings such as windows or doors,” he says. “There is also nothing to stop a developer from building a second house against that property line, so the two houses touch.” But the closer that two houses are spaced without touching, the more restrictions that apply concerning the number and size of windows, or the constructions materials that can be used. 

New fire protection measures in the 2010 National Building Code of Canada are based partly on research by NRC. These images show full-scale fire experiments conducted using 2-storey wall assemblies. In each experiment, a target wall faced a fire-exposed wall containing a window opening — with a defined distance between the walls. The researchers investigated the extension of flames from the window opening, as well as the effect of eaves on the spread of fire.

New fire protection measures in the 2010 National Building Code of Canada are based partly on research by NRC. These images show full-scale fire experiments conducted using 2-storey wall assemblies. In each experiment, a target wall faced a fire-exposed wall containing a window opening — with a defined distance between the walls. The researchers investigated the extension of flames from the window opening, as well as the effect of eaves on the spread of fire.

“These changes won’t reduce the chance of a fire starting,” says Rizcallah. “But as more and more homes are built to comply with the 2010 National Building Code, we should see a reduction in the number of fires that actually impact multiple homes.”

Related information

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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