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Ontario Municipalities Alerted To Safety Risks And Budget Impacts Of Taller Wood-Frame Construction


Cheap taller combustible housing could hurt municipalities

London, ON, August 19, 2014:  The Cement Association of Canada (CAC) is speaking out in favor of greater safety should the Province of Ontario proceed with regulations permitting taller wood-frame construction. The CAC is taking this opportunity to remind elected officials and decision makers across Ontario that taller wood buildings are not the answer to affordable housing – and simply not worth the risk. It is also alerting Ontario’s municipal leaders to the potential impact of this type of construction on their already strained budgets.

Wood is a combustible material and the CAC believes that proposed changes to the Ontario Building Code (OBC) that would permit the construction of taller wood-frame structures put Canadians’ safety at risk. Of particular concern is the proposed limited 10% accessible perimeter specification. This is far less stringent than the 25% to be required by the National Building Code of Canada and is inadequate to allow fire rescue and fire suppression, as one ladder truck alone would occupy the entire 19m accessible perimeter, with no space being available for additional trucks. Occupants could be stranded in a combustible building with no avenue for fire services to reach them.

The CAC believes this risk is unacceptable and there must be a transparent public debate about which risks Ontarians and municipalities are willing to take. This change may hit small, rural and northern communities across Ontario especially hard.

Some claim that taller wood construction is the ‘affordable’ choice when it comes to housing – and that it will ensure that Ontario can build more affordable housing. This is a misperception. While the cost of building a taller wood-frame structure may be initially lower, maintenance costs and the necessary fire protection systems make it more costly over the longer term for both the occupants and the municipalities. The inclusion of tall wood-frame buildings will result in additional costs to Ontario municipalities. Currently, many cash-strapped municipalities do not have the costly equipment that is necessary to fight fires in tall wood-frame buildings. The proposed changes will add major pressure on municipal budgets to add firefighting resources suitable for taller combustible wood-frame structures – which are more susceptible to fire than those constructed with non-combustible building materials.

Recent fires across the country have highlighted the serious safety hazard wood-frame construction represents to vulnerable residents like seniors and the disabled, neighbouring communities that have been displaced due to the fires, as well as the increased risk to the first responders who put their lives on the line every day.

“Building practices that may compromise safety are not more affordable – they are cheap,” said Michael McSweeney, President and CEO, Cement Association of Canada. “Taller wood-frame buildings could compromise the safety of the people who might live and work in them as well as the safety of front line responders like firefighters. Rising emergency services costs are already straining municipal budgets. We cannot afford to take this risk.”

The CAC is advocating that the standards adopted in the national and provincial building codes are safe for all Canadians and it is part of the Safety First Coalition. It has made a backgrounder on the impact of the proposed changes to the Ontario Building Code available to Ontario municipal decision makers.

The Cement Association of Canada (CAC) represents the Canadian cement industry, and strives to maintain a sustainable industry as well as promote and advance the economic, environmental and societal benefits of building with cement and concrete.

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For more information, please contact:
Lyse Teasdale
Director, Communications
Cement Association of Canada
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
C: 613-809-0517

Backgrounder on proposed changes.


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