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The Feb. 01, 2021 adoption of the 2015 edition of the National Building Code introduced a requirement for much of the region (St. Stephen, Saint Andrews, Rollingdam to Deer Island) to be built to earthquake-resistant standards.

We've written a detailed post in our knowledge base about this.

Unsure if the property you want to build at is in the zone requiring more robust construction?

Here's the heavy language: The Code requires greater construction if the spectral acceleration from an earthquake exceeds 0.7g (70 per cent the pull of gravity) at two tenths of a second after an earthquake. (Whewf.)

But it's simpler than it looks to find out whether that affects you - and all you need are two web pages.

The first is good old Google Maps. Crack that open - we'll wait.

The other is this one from the Earthquake Centre at the National Resource Council. As you will see, it wants latitude and longitude to calculate the earthquake activity in your area.

Enter your address in Google Maps. It will show you the latitude and longitude in the URL. In this example, we've used our office location - 33 Wall Street in St. Stephen.

Note in the URL bar where it has the latitude and longitude?

Use these numbers in the Earthquake Centre web-page. (Hint: you can cut and paste by highlighting the text you want in the URL, and hitting <ctrl><c> - or for you apple folks, <squiggle><c> to copy.) Make sure to include the "-" preceding the second figure!

Hit the "submit" button. Then scroll down.

The critical information will be on the third column and first row.

This shows that the Sa (0.2) for our office is .758.

In other words, if we wanted to build something new, on this site, it would have to meet earthquake standards.

On Feb. 1, the Province adopted the National Building Code, 2015 edition. Our office will do as much as it can to help contractors, homeowners and others make a transition to the new Code.

There are also new provincial building regulations. Most notably, any structures that are more than 20 m2 (215 ft2), and all structures used for accommodation, regardless of size (in other words, camps) must now be built to meet Code.

The new provincial building regulations also clearly mandate that a building permit is required when a building's use, or occupancy, changes. In some cases, that's not as clear as one may think.

Here, in summary, are some of the critical changes to the building code:

Part 9 (residential buildings, small commercial buildings, apartments)

Earthquake safety

Due to changes in the classification of earthquake risks posed by the Oak Bay Fault, (which runs from north of Oak Bay, along the coast towards Campobello) buildings in St. Stephen, Oak Bay, Saint Andrews, Deer Island and parts of Rollingdam, St. David Ridge and Back Bay (areas in red on map at right) must now be constructed to resist earthquake forces. Requirements include:

Any construction shown in this red area must now conform to earthquake requirements under NBC 2015. Above-ground ICF construction in red or yellow areas require engineered designs.
  1. Decreased spacing of anchor bolts in foundations, and paired anchor bolts at foundation corners (in some cases).
  2. Requirements for more nails and blocking in some sections of stick-built houses.
  3. Requirements, in some situations, for increased interior wall supports.
  4. increased structural demands, and storey limits for buildings using these materials Limits on the use of heavy roofing materials and cladding (ie: terrazzo/clay roofs, brick.)

What this means:
Contractors will have to identify the braced wall bands and braced wall panels in areas deemed an earthquake risk. It is our hope to have some information on our website shortly, but in the meantime, this illustrated guide from B.C. touches on all the key points (BC’s building code in this regard is largely identical to NBC 2015.)

  1. Throughout what is essentially Charlotte County, (area shaded yellow in map shown here) all above-ground Insulated Concrete Form structures must have reinforcing designed/approved by an engineer qualified to work in the Province of New Brunswick. Several suppliers already have engineer-approved reinforcing regimes that our office can and will accept. This does not apply to ICF foundation systems.

What this means:

Any above-ground ICF building in either the yellow or red parts of the map will have to be designed by an engineer. Some of the ICF manufacturers can provide engineer-certified reinforcing methods for use.

Apartments and sound

  • Slightly more rigorous requirements for sound transmission when residential units abut other uses (ie: duplexes, apartments over stores, etc.)

Increased snow loads

  • Climate data has changed for three reference communities (St. Stephen, St. George, Saint Andrews) in the Charlotte County part of our area, increasing predicted snowloads.What this means: The increase (about 10 pounds per square foot) should be automatically accounted for by truss manufacturers. There is likely very little change for building with rafters in most circumstances, as the defined snow loads required us to round up to the same table as we will use under NBC 2015. Requirements for York County will not change.

Stairs

  1. Spiral staircases are permitted.
  2. Minimum run of a stair is now 25.5 cm (10 inches). (Was 8.5 under NBC 2010). This means contractors will have to pay close attention when planning stair configurations. Our office may, for some time, require a detailed plan for stairs until builders are familiar with the new requirements.
  3. Handrail height limits relaxed – now 86.5 cm to 107 cm (34-42”)
  4. Handrails must now be continuous through a flight, including through a landing. Can start at a newel post, but cannot be interrupted by one mid-flight.
  5. Landing dimensions simplified: for the most part, must have the same length and depth as the width of the stairs they serve.

Guards:

  • The restriction on guards facilitating climbing has been relaxed. This allows for more design options for guards with a height less than 4.2 metres.

Exits:

  • Exits subject to being blocked by cars or other obstacles shall have either a sign, or physical barriers (bollards) to ensure suitable clearance and pathways. (Not applicable to residential builds.)

Other:

  • Expanded list of materials accepted for protecting foamed plastic insulation.

Changes to Part 3

As most part 3 buildings (buildings > 600m2 in area, schools, restaurants, care homes, buildings >3 storeys, etc.) require a professional designer to provide code-compliant plans, the following is only a point-form summary of some of the changes to Part 3 in NBC 2015:

  • 4-6 storey wood-frame C and D occupancies (residential, office) now allowed
  • Spiral staircases allowed
  • Expanded list of acceptable coverings of foamed plastic insulation
  • Allowance of foamed plastic insulation in certain kinds of non-combustible buildings, esp. when used in coolers
  • Relaxed requirement for fire stops on some kinds of penetrations of fire separations (electrical outlets in particular.)
  • Modifications to rules for fire-dampers in ducts
  • Tweaks to rules for hold-open devices on doors
  • Modifications to handrail requirements for seats in aisles (theatres, rinks)
  • Requirement of minimum distances between exit stairs added
  • Introduced increased requirements for front door exits to dance halls, establishments serving alcohol
  • Handrails must be continuously graspable through a flight of stairs
  • Introduced rules for use of electromagnetic door locks
  • New section introduced to regulate self-storage buildings

Also; in conjunction with the changes to NBC, the province introduced modifications to the barrier-free regulation that guides construction to ensure access to persons with mobility or visual challenges.

Further, the province has adopted the National Energy Code, which would provide more prescriptive requirements for energy-efficiency in Part 3 buildings.

Modern windows are exceptionally simple to install, highly resistant to weather, rot, mold, the effect of sun and changes in temperature.

However, a key to a long-lasting window is a quality installation. One-third of all warranty claims fielded by the Atlantic Home Warranty organization are related to the improper installation of windows.

A key component is a flashing pan. We’ve talked about this before: the requirement for a waterproof system at the bottom of the window that extends into the building framework, in case water penetrates there.

That flashing pan, by Code, has to have a slope of no less than six per cent to the outside. The intent being is that if water accumulates under the window – whether driven by rain or because of a fault in the window itself – it can drain to the outside.

One of our inspectors saw a nifty way to achieve this requirement at a jobsite today: the contractor had on hand a stock of cedar cladding, which like cedar shakes have an inherent slope to them.

Sloped wood for a flashing pan
Although a little difficult to see in this image, this section of cedar slopes outwards. By laying this down, and then installing flashing tape, the contractor has easily and quickly built a flashing pan as required by Code.

By simply installing these pieces of wood so they slope to the outside, then using a flashing tape to provide the flashing pan, the contractor has quickly and simply created a sloping bed sufficient to meet or exceed Code.

In the past few months, there has been an influx of folks from out west – particularly Ontario – moving to the province, looking to retire or build a new life.
Our staff have noticed a lot of questions on social media about building, renovating and land use – and we’ve also noticed a lot of incorrect answers.

Here’s some of the common questions we’ve seen, along with the actual correct answers.

1) Q: Do I need a permit to build?

A: Yes. There is a great myth among a lot of locals that if you do not live in a municipal area, you can build without a permit. This is flatly not true. Provincial Regulation 2002-45, which is the default building regulation for unincorporated areas, requires either a building permit or development permit for the construction, altering or placement of any structure. Alternately, almost all villages/towns/cities have their own building bylaw mandating permits. Obviously, there's a grey zone - our office won't chase you down over a doghouse, for example - so it's best to obtain guidance from your local officials before you turn dirt or hammer nails.

2) Q: Are there any restrictions I should know about before I start my farm/welding shop/butcher shop/hair studio/pizza store/antique store/etc?

A: Maybe. If you’re in a municipality, there is a greater chance of a community plan or zoning regulation that may (key word, may) limit your land use. In a rural area, it’s a little less clear. Some areas may have what are called “planning statements” that lay down guidelines on what you can – and can’t – do with your property.

3) Q: I’m in a rural area. If there’s no planning statement, I can build where I want, right?

A: Maybe. Yeah, I know, you’re growing tired of these “maybe” answers. But here’s the thing: even if there’s no planning statement limiting land use, or setbacks, there may be other provincial regulations that impose restrictions. For example, if you’re near a wetland or watercourse, there may be limits on what you can do within 30 metres of the designated edge of that wetland area. Alternately, there is a default regulation in the province that limits construction within 7.5 metres of most public roads and highways. That restriction is boosted to 15 metres for properties abutting highways numbered 1-199.

4) Q: What do I need to obtain a building permit?

A: Ready for another vague answer? It depends. For rural construction, if you’re looking at a new building, you will need to show a legal access to the property (ie: a driveway to a private or public road, or at least the paperwork from the Department of Transportation showing you have applied to obtain a driveway), an approval to install a septic system (or evidence that one exists already) and details on the building plan, including where the building will be located on your property. If on or near a wetland, you will need to either show that you have a permit to work within the wetlands, or a site plan showing you will not be encroaching on a wetland. If you are building within 30m of a designated public road in a rural area, you will also require what’s called a “certificate of setback” from DTI.
Requirements are a little less onerous for municipal construction: but you may need a more detailed site plan.

6: Q: I'm not adding to the footprint of my home, just renovating. Do I need a permit?

A: Stop us if you've read this before, but .... Maybe. It depends. In our office (Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission) our policy is that a permit is needed for any structural changes (ie: increasing window width on a load-bearing wall), adding beams, and that sort of thing. We will also require a permit to change a bedroom window if there is no evidence of another egress-compliant window - it's a fire-safety thing. We don't require a permit for re-roofing or re-siding a home, renovating a kitchen if there's no structural changes, etc. At the same point, if you're doing a total gut-and-rebuild of an older home, we may require a permit to ensure the renovation meets insulation codes, ventilation requirements, etc. This is a local policy that other jurisdictions - especially municipalities - may not follow, so.... in this and most other cases, it's best to contact your local building officials for guidance.

7) Q: Who the heck do I contact?

A: If you live in a municipality, call the Village/Town/City office.

If you live in a rural area, you ought to contact the Service Commission serving your region. This map should help guide you in the right direction.

More info here:

Can I build with stamped lumber? 
Non-traditional building info.
Deck building guide.
Building near water.

8) Q: I want to live off-grid, but I heard you can't do that. What's up?

A: Of course you can. There is no requirement to be connected to grid power in this province, and many people do live without NB Power or other forms of outside electricity. That said, a building permit structure must meet minimum requirements for the National Building Code for electrical outlets, lights and so on.  There is no requirement for licences/permits to work with low-voltage gear (ie: 12, 24-volt battery systems) but there is a requirement that high-voltage systems (ie: most modern solar modules in series, inverters) be installed by a qualified electrician.

Our inspectors have seen a disturbing trend of late: people using wood or deck screws when building structural elements.

This means ordinary wood screws cannot be used to attach rafters to top plates, or joists to beams.

Nor can wood screws be used to install joist hangers.

Joist hangers are a really handy means of attaching joists to beams or ledger boards, but our inspectors have seen too many instances of joist hangers where builders have used deck screws as a fastener. This is a big no-no.

Joist hangers (and hurricane clips) are intended to be attached with nails or, in some cases, a specialty screw. Deck screws - like this - are not acceptable.

These hangers are actually engineered elements, and as such, must be attached according to the manufacturer’s instructions. There are many manufacturers of joist hangars, and none of them approve the use of deck or wood screws as an attachment. The only kind of screws that are acceptable are specialized screws, such as the Simpson brand joist hanger screws, for use in the Simpson joist hanger systems.

Deck screws or wood screws are not permitted in any structural situations: this includes building walls, attaching stairs to headers, constructing lintels – and yes, our inspectors have issued orders to correct improper building of all those elements. Don’t get caught out having to rebuild – do it right the first time: use proper-length construction nails for structural work.

In the last few weeks, several building permit applications have been delayed because the applicants weren’t aware of the rules and regulations regarding site-built slabs on grade.

Although these are a common way of constructing small garages (especially in rural areas), building permit structures – this includes a house/cottage or large garage – cannot be built on a slab in the same way as a small accessory structure.

The key is that all building code compliant construction requires a foundation. The foundation is what ultimately carries the load of the structure above and disperses it to the ground below. In general, foundations have to be four feet below grade to avoid the perils of frost heaves, which can cause considerable damage over time. (This includes decks attached to houses: our staff have seen decks on deck blocks rise and fall up to eight inches due to the power of frost heaves, and these forces can rapidly destroy a deck – and anything the deck is attached to. It’s why we constantly rant about not using deck blocks for deck construction if the deck is attached to any building.)

Otherwise, foundations require a frost wall with a minimum depth of 4’, sonotubes supported on either a “Bigfoot” style foundation or a site-built foundation capable of handing the loads of the building, or screw piles.

In order to submit a plan relying on a slab-on-grade foundation, an applicant must usually have a plan approved by a professional engineer licenced to work in the province, although there are exceptions. One exception is for building-code garages of less than 55 m2 (592 square feet), the other is if the slab can be poured directly onto solid rock – which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.

In some circumstances, a building inspector is allowed to waive the minimum foundation depths when the soils of the area are suitably course and well-draining. This is a case-by-case analysis, and requires a site visit prior to the permit being issued.

In order to avoid delays, we urge clients to discuss this with a building inspector prior to applying for a permit.

For some reason, we continue to run into situations where construction of all kinds begins without a required building or development permit.

We cannot stress this enough: before you build, renovate, prepare a site, or locate a building, you should call us first, because you probably need a permit.

We continue to hear stories from people who honestly thought:

Myth #1: Permits were only for folks in the villages and Towns. Permits have been required everywhere in rural New Brunswick - ie: Charlotte County and York County since 2002. That's 18 years ago - nothing new, nothing just brought into effect.

Myth #2: Permits are only required if you're adding to the footprint, so I can rebuild my porch or deck without a permit.  Any structural alteration requires a permit.

Myth #3: I The builder wants to get going now. I can get a permit later and be OK.

Starting without a permit can lead to a ton of problems, such as these (and yes, these have happened in the last year):

a) construction went across a property line and had to be removed - at some expense

b) buildings didn't meet Code and required extensive changes after the fact - something that would have been corrected at no cost whatsoever during the plans review required for a permit

c) buildings placed too close to a property line that required an expensive after-the-fact variance - which could have been avoided had the client applied for the permit first.

 

Yes, we've said it before - but we need to say it again: get a permit.
In the last three business days, our office has located a total of seven building projects started without required permits.
We'll say it again: permits are required for almost all construction, everywhere. This includes the rural areas. Yes, you need a permit outside of a municipality to build. In many cases, it's a simple $50 development permit. Any addition to a house requires a building permit, and cannot begin without one. A permit prevents a host of problems, like building in a wetland when you shouldn't, or building too close (or across) a property line. We've had all of these take place in recent history, and it's a needless, avoidable hassle (and expense.)
Simply put: call us first.
Our building/planning staff is working from home. Our general line is answered during most business hours. Email. Call.
Get a permit before you build.

Today, our note of the week is going to focus on an aspect of commercial construction that can, at times, be rather challenging: fire stops.

What is a fire stop?

In many commercial buildings, walls or ceilings/floors are required to have a fire-resistance rating. In simple terms, this means that these walls/ceilings must be able to withstand direct contact with fire for a specified period of time. The intent is that if a fire does start in a building, there is enough time for the occupants of the structure to escape.

In order to achieve the required fire resistance rating, a wall or ceiling/floor has to be built - or assembled - in a specific way.  In fact, building Code parlance for a wall or floor of this nature is "assembly." There are hundreds of different, rigorously tested combinations of materials, each of which can be assigned a specific fire-resistance rating.  In our area, most buildings that require fire-rated assemblies feature 45-minute or 1-hour fire resistance ratings.

The thing is, it's almost impossible to build without punching holes through floors or walls. It's how plumbing and electrical services are provided to the rooms in a building. These holes essentially create weak spots in a fire-rated assembly.

A fire stop is a designated system of materials designed to restore the fire-resistance rating of an assembly. This means a fire stop is not one item - it's a series of items added together. For example, the fire stop assembly for a single cable penetrating a 45-minute fire-rated wall will include the Type X gypsum on both sides, the wood studs framing the wall, the cable (including what the cable is made of and its diameter) and the material used to seal that cable, such as a fire-stop caulk or a putty pad.

It’s also important to note that different products have different intended uses. There is no one do-it-all fire stop product.

Have ten minutes? This video will help explain fire stops.

This cannot be stressed enough: a fire stop is NOT simply the process of taking a material purchased at a hardware store and squirting it around a penetration in a fire-rated assembly.

a fire stop is NOT simply the process of taking a material purchased at a hardware store and squirting it around a penetration in a fire-rated assembly.

Example: We have had a number of challenges with contractors using a readily available product supplied in many hardware stores to seal openings around plastic pipes or electrical outlet boxes.  Unfortunately, the product is intended to seal seal gaps between gypsum (drywall) walls and the underside of concrete floor systems. It was not intended to seal around pipes or electrical outlets.  Naturally, our inspectors asked for the improper product to be removed and a correct fire-stop system to be installed at the contractors' expense.

What makes a system

A fire stop system is comprised of:

  • The wall or floor where the opening occurs, and how that wall/floor is built
  • The size of the opening
  • the material or materials going through the wall or floor
  • The materials being used to restore the fire separation's integrity.
This is an example of a fire stop system suitable for up to seven wires penetrating a standard wood-frame ceiling/floor assembly.

In other words, inspectors can only approve a specific system - a specified combination of all of the above - once it has been compared to a list of tested systems to see if it meets the requirements of the required fire-resistance rating.

How to specify a system

In some of our permits, we will insert language in either a plans review or as part of the permit stating, "fire stop assemblies must be approved before use," or something to the same effect.

This is our office's attempt to make sure a fire stop is done right, the first time.

There are several websites that will assist a contractor in navigating the complex world of specifying a system.

Hilti's fire-stop submittal portal
3M's fire stop submittal portal
Metacaulk's fire stop submittal portal

The Metacaulk portal. Here, it's easy to see how a process of elimination will end up with a specific set of instructions for a particular fire stop solution. It's also easy to see how complex specifying a system can be, and why inspectors have to rely on stated (tested) systems to ensure fire safety.

Not surprisingly, each of these portals promotes the use of brand-specific products in ULC-approved systems. However, they are all relatively easy to use and in a short period of time, a contractor can determine what products they need to use and how to use them (a system). We will wish to know what system is being used (print it off, send it as a .pdf) in order to approve it.

Each of these portals will guide the user through a selection process that will produce a diagram and instructions to create a suitable fire stop system for a specific need.

Want to learn more?

Hilti's regular online courses. They are free, although you have to sign up and create a profile with Hilti to participate.

STI's "Firestop university" There is a one-hour course, consisting of six videos that are quite comprehensive. Each of these portals will guide the user through a selection process that will produce a diagram and instructions to create a suitable fire stop system for a specific need.

 

As the province grows older and we all grow a bit more aware of the needs of others, its understandable that homeowners and business operators would want to make access easier through a wheelchair ramp.

When it comes to building ramps, though, there's a lot that can go wrong. For example, it's not uncommon for a ramp to be constructed that is simply too hard to use for those it was intended to help! That's why we've built a pamphlet aimed at helping weave through the Building Code and help make your project right.

Our one-page pamphlet is available for free at our office (or for download here if you want to print it off at home.)

New Brunswick's building codes for things like wheelchair ramps and bathrooms are among the best in the country when it comes to helping out those who are confined to wheelchairs, need to use walkers, or are visually challenged. But that means builders have to be quite attentive when constructing commercial wheelchair ramps. (Note: these require building permits, in part to make sure submitted plans meet Code requirements.)

It's our intent to write a companion guide on wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in the weeks to come.

Questions? Give our building inspectors a call. We can be reached at 466-7369, ext. 3.