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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.

 

Just a quick word to our clients in the construction industry. We know that you're still out there, pouring concrete and swinging hammers, even if we're working from home.

Provincial regulations require inspections at set points in a build, and our inspectors will be available to conduct those mandatory inspections, even if we're not in the office.

We ask, however, that you do give us a bit more notice of a required inspection (which is indicated on your building permit.) This is because our inspectors will hve to travel from home to obtain a company vehicle - so a day's advance warning at the very least is politely requested.

To arrange an inspection, please email one of our inspectors directly. If calling by phone, please allow a little more time for the forwarding magic to work.

Michael Hall | michael.hall@snbscs.ca | 466-7369 ext 2
Vern Faulkner | vern.faulkner@snbsc.ca | 466-7369 ext 3

Construction sites aren't the most congested places, but we will be diligent in ensuring social distancing during our time on your site or (in the case of residential final inspections) your home.

To those who are still on-site, we respect the work you do, and thank you for doing it. Please stay safe.

A few times in the last year, our inspectors have run into a critical oversight that’s caused problems: incorrect placement of vapour barrier in floors over an unheated space.

First off, there’s a general rule on where vapour barrier goes: the warm side of the building. For things like walls and ceilings, that’s a really obvious thing. However, when building a stud floor over, say, an unheated crawl space – which is usually insulated later in the build than other sections – it’s easy to overlook the vapour barrier placement.

This image shows the correct location of vapour barrier in a floor over an unheated space.

The image provided here illustrates how it should be done: vapour barrier is drawn over the joists before the sheathing goes down.

What some folks might overlook is the vapour barrier when building a suite over a heated garage. Garages are considered unconditioned (unheated) spaces, and for good reason: they’re often exposed to serious drops in temperatures, even if insulated and heated like the rest of the house. Further, garages must have a layer of vapour barrier encapsulating them to keep vehicle fumes away from the rest of the house. In this case, the old rule – vapour barrier on the warm side – holds true.

There is one critical exception: if closed-cell foam is used as the insulation. In that case, the foam serves as the vapour barrier, and can be applied on the underside of a sheathed floor without vapour barrier being in place.

In the past few months, our inspectors have noticed a number of situations where over-large holes have been drilled in framing members, or, alternately, holes have been drilled too close to the edge of a framing member.

We remind contractors of the relevant code on drilling holes through load-bearing elements:

9.23.5.1. Holes Drilled in Framing Members
1)
Holes drilled in roof, floor or ceiling framing members shall be not larger than one-quarter the depth of the member and shall be located not less than 50 mm from the edges, unless the depth of the member is increased by the size of the hole.

The hole for this pipe exceeds the allowed diameter for a 5.5" stud. It is also too close to the edge.

Our inspectors have also observed holes for plumbing – usually for draining toilets or showers - drilled through the top members of open-web joists in the floor system below. This requires the contractor to contact the joist manufacturer for an engineer-approved repair, at the contractor’s expense.

If you have questions, give us a call. Our building inspection department serves rural Charlotte County, southern York County, and the municipalities of St. George, Saint Andrews, Harvey and McAdam.

This week, we’re going to give you a “pro tip” that will make installation of vapour barrier a whole lot easier.

If interior walls are going to be installed before the ceiling vapour barrier, staple a strip of vapour barrier on the ceiling where the wall is going to go before the wall is lifted into place. This gives a continuous barrier above the wood of the interior wall, and makes the later installation of vapour barrier a lot easier: it also means no worries about using acoustic sealant on that wall, because there is no need.

This simple trick ports over very nicely into more high-end construction where fire-rated drywall is required on the ceiling. In these cases, the drywall must be installed before the walls: failure to do so will result in some costly and time-consuming alterations after the fact.

Today, the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission released new building or development permit application forms, replacing the older forms that were .... well, just a little old.
 
The new forms are easier to use, and also capture some critical information required to streamline an application process. There’s less to fill out, and less chance of a client giving us information that we don’t need. For example, we don’t need to know construction details for rural sheds or chicken coops – these are development permit structures that do not need to meet Code.
 
Do note that construction plans are required for all significant building permit projects. Plans do not need to be professionally created for small projects like home additions and the like – as long as our inspectors understand what you’re doing and can verify it will meet Code.
 
Also, site plan details are required for all applications.
 
The forms are fully digital: they can be downloaded onto your computer, filled out digitally, and emailed back to us as a complete form.
 
The new forms are available permit-form-v1-18022020 and are for all rural areas in Charlotte and southern York County, as well as the municipalities of St. George, Saint Andrews, McAdam and Harvey.
 
It’s our hope that the simpler, easier forms will reduce confusion for the one-time builder and streamline applications for the busy contracting firm.
 
If a permit is being filled out on behalf of a legal property owner, that owner needs to fill out an “agent authorization” form, available agent-form-19022020.