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Our inspectors have run into an interesting oversight of late, and it’s one that – if not caught – could cost you a lot of money. Or your house.

In our region, there are a lot of people who live in either older-style trailers, or more modern mini-homes, and it’s common to “skirt” these structures to close off the bottom section. The skirting generally serves two purposes: it improves the appearance, and can help curb heat loss due to high winds in winter.

However, it’s really important to keep these areas open to the outside air, all year long, and the failure to do so can actually cause serious property damage.

Under the National Building Code of Canada, crawlspaces – that is, an unheated area under a home – have to be ventilated. The requirement is a pretty simple formula – 0.1m2 per 50m2 of area. If metric isn’t your thing, then think of it as 1 square foot of ventilation per 500 square feet of area. So if you’ve got a 72x16 minihome on blocks, with skirting, you’re looking at 1152 square feet, or just a touch more than 2 square feet of ventilation.  This can be achieved by using vented soffits, wired-off mesh, or gable vent enclosures.  Just make sure that the venting won’t be covered by snow.

Just recently, one of our inspectors had a contractor challenge this code requirement. [If you want to look up the code, it’s 9.18.3.1 of the NBC, and, just in case you doubt that, clause 9.2.1 of CSA Z240.10.1, which is the minihome installation and securing standard for the country.]

Some may wonder why Code would ask for ventilation in cold months. After all, won’t the ventilation cause cold air to enter the space under the home?

Well, yes, but that air is already going to be cold. (The exception is if the skirting is insulated. In this case, that area must then be mechanically ventilated.) Skirting will help mitigate wind chill will be mitigated, and in truth, any temperature-sensitive elements (like the sewer connection) should be insulated anyway to prevent cold-related freeze-ups.

The issue is condensation. Without air moving through the crawlspace, moisture can accumulate and cause considerable damage. In fact, the section of Z240.10.1 that deals with skirting around minihomes explains why:

9.2.1

When skirting is used, crawl space ventilation and access shall comply with Articles 9.18.3.1. and 9.18.4.1. of the NBC.

Note: Failure to provide adequate ventilation can allow moisture to build up under and enter the building. Such moisture can lead to decay within the crawl space and high humidity in the building, resulting in problems with condensation.

This applies to any floors above ground. That bedroom addition on screw piles? The space underneath has to be ventilated. The failure to adequately ventilate a crawlspace can lead to catastrophic failure.

A sad, but illustrative example comes from a recent file where our inspector was asked to look at just such an addition needing extensive repairs. The joists under the home had been exposed to so much condensation that they had rotted almost completely, with almost every joist showing moisture content in excess of 30 per cent, even though they were well off the ground. Some joists showed as much as 60 per cent moisture content, and were visibly falling apart: wood is subject to rot related damage if moisture exceeds 20 per cent on a continual basis. The reason for this catastrophic failure? Insufficient ventilation: the space had been fully enclosed, and for years, moisture (from vapours seeping underneath from the home above and from water in the soil below) had been gathering with no way of dissipating, because there was no air movement to carry the vapours to the exterior.

This cautionary tale points to a key element of Codes: they may seem onerous, or excessive, but there’s always a reason for them.

Now you know why ventilating crawlspaces and the space under skirted minihome, trailer, or any other floor that is over unheated space is necessary.

A notice from our building inspection department: wood screws are NOT suitable for any kind of structural framing.

We have seen a disturbing uptick in incidents where structural work such as dormers, trusses, deck beams and the like have been attached with ordinary deck screws. It's simply not acceptable, and in some cases, can be downright dangerous, as screws have only a fraction of the load-bearing capacity of the nail required in such situations.

Nailing table, here:
The prohibition on wood screws includes joist hangars: there are several brands of these available, and none of them accept standard wood screws as an attachment: the required number of nails (or engineered screws) must be used.
Engineered screws usually have either a Torx or hex head: these may be used for some structural connections.

If in doubt, nail it!

In the last while, it has been challenging for many contractors to obtain building materials. Unfortunately, that's led to an issue where contractors who are required to install fire-rated drywall have faced shortages of the "Type X" fire-rated drywall that is normally used in such construction.

In the past few months, our commercial inspector has encountered issues where contractors have substituted "Type C" fire-rated drywall. Our office has heard several second-hand stories of hardware stores telling contractors that Type C drywall -usually available in a 1/2" thickness - is "just as good," or "better than" 3/4" Type X drywall, and that it's perfectly OK to substitute one for the other.

That could not be further from the truth: in fact, using Type C drywall instead of Type X drywall could be a very expensive mistake.

Type C drywall is a newer fire-rated drywall. Currently, the National Building Code does not recognize Type C drywall the way it acknowledges Type X - which has been around for decades. NBC 2015 has literally hundreds of recognized assemblies with Type X drywall, as well as a long-established formula for assigning fire-ratings to various generic wall, floors, and steel columns using Type X drywall - but not a one with Type C. 

Consequently, the only way our office can accept Type C drywall in a fire separation is if either if it is replacing a Type X drywall of equivalent thickness, or it  has undergone a rigorous fire-exposure test. The problem is that very few assemblies with Type C drywall have been subjected to these tests, which means our office can only accept a handful of very specific systems as complaint. And of the systems that have been tested, we are only able to accept just those specific assemblies tested - with no alterations or substitutions allowed. In other words, for a Certainteed Type C wallboard used in a system we can accept, we would also have to see Certainteed tape and Certainteed drywall mud, since that's the brands of material used in the tested assembly: no substitutions are allowed, whatsoever.

While Type C can be used in some dimensional-lumber systems (Georgia Pacific, USG, and Certainteed, can all rate 1/2" Type C drywall as meeting or exceeding a 45-minute rating on 2x10 joists set 16" OC instead of 5/8" Type X, for example) this is the rare exception at the moment. For example, the number of fire-rated floor assemblies tested with engineered joists is minimal, and in most cases, the systems require 5/8" Type C or double layers of 1/2" type C. 

To put it another way, if our office observes 1/2" Type C on the underside of an engineered joist, because "the hardware guy said it was just as good as 5/8" Type X," the contractor will likely either have to add a second layer of 1/2" Type C drywall (or 5/8" Type C) or add a second layer of the very 5/8" Type X they were supposed to use in the first place. This is not a mistake anyone - including us - wants to see happen.

The long and the short of all of this? Call us before you use Type C drywall in any assembly: it could save you a lot of time, and more importantly, save you a bucketload of wasted money.

Important notice:

Effective immediately, our office will be strictly enforcing the requirement for scaled drawings for any additions and new builds. The drawings do not have to be professionally done, but must indicate with reasonable accuracy, such things as joist spans, door widths, window openings, and the like. (Please note this is a requirement laid down by the Province in new regulations in any regard.)

Further, for any construction that is greater than 1,200 square feet in size, our office will require submission of truss plans, plans for engineered joists, as well as window quotes to verify compliance with the National Building Code.

Plans for any non-residential construction must be submitted in digital format as a .pdf file.

When the province introduced new building regulations in February, it also required applicable buildings to meet the National Energy Code for Buildings (2011 edition). Our office has seen a few issues with builders and designers not being aware of NECB or its impacts, so here’s a quick primer on what the NECB means.

First off, what is the NECB? Simply put, it’s an extremely detailed (and complex) set of codes aimed at reducing energy consumption in buildings, and its aimed largely at commercial buildings. The average homebuilder and homeowner can stop reading here, because simple single-family dwellings don’t have to follow the NECB: the general requirements for heat, light, insulation and the like are all covered in Part 9 of the National Building Code.

It’s also worth noting that the NECB doesn’t apply to all commercial buildings, either. Smaller shops and offices – specifically those less than 300m2 in area – can also make do with the basic requirements that apply to houses (for the most part.)  In many of the larger buildings where the NECB does apply, a professional designer will handle all the requirements.

But that leaves a number of renovations, new builds, or changes of occupancy where a designer need not be involved, but NECB requirements apply. Here are some of the things a builder or owner should know:

Window limits:

Generally speaking, for buildings in our area, NEB places a limit of 34% of a building wall that can be glass or doors. The logic here is that windows – even the modern triple-glazed, argon-filled windows – are remarkably inefficient compared to a standard wall assembly. We love windows, but your energy bill doesn’t.  It’s also worth noting that limits on window area also serve the needs of earthquake bracing, which will become mandatory when the 2015 Building Code comes into force in 2022.

Exterior walls:

The reason that 2x6 stud walls are common is that an R20 batt installed into a 2x6 wall cavity will meet the requirements for R17 effective insulation for residential walls. But that wall assembly doesn’t meet the standards for NECB, which requires R23 effective for exterior walls.  This means that for new builds and renovations where NECB applies, our office needs to see a wall assembly that meets that R23 requirement. Examples of this include, most simply, a 2x6 wall with R22 batt insulation, sheathing, and a layer of 1.5” XPS foam insulation.

Automatic lights:

If you’ve been the first one into a changeroom in a modern hockey rink, you’ve opened the door to a dark room that immediately lights up.

Most open spaces in larger buildings will require either motion-sensing lights or lights controlled by a timer. There are some exemptions (such as areas where lights must be on full-time). It's also worth noting these motion-sensing lights will also be required in bathrooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, bathrooms, lunch rooms, small storage rooms, small office spaces and – as noted above - changerooms. The lights are designed to automatically cut power to the lights after 30 minutes of inactivity in the room, thus saving power. 

Obviously, there is a lot more to the NECB than these quick highlights – limits to lighting power, requirements for efficiency in building components and the like. The full NECB can be found on the National Resource Council’s website.

In the past few days, we’ve seen a lot of questions about the impact of the province amending provincial building regulations (which took place May 6, 2021).

Here’s a quick Q&A to help clear up some of the confusion.

Q: I can now build my camp with milled lumber, right?
A: Yes, but only if the building is less than 604 square feet and you’re in a rural area.

Q: Wait. I thought it was 625 square feet.
A: That’s what government press releases said – but the regulation states 56.08 m2 – which crunches out to just less than 604 square feet.

Q: Does a loft or basement count as part of the 604 square feet?
A: Yes.

Q: But all of this goes away at the end of the year, right?
A: No. The only thing that will change at the end of the year is the capacity to build under the 2010 National Building Code.

Q: Wait. I thought it was the 2015 Code that made milled lumber mandatory.
A: The requirement for stamped lumber has been in the National Building Code for a half-century. It’s just that in New Brunswick, the province has, for a long time, exempted some buildings from the application of Code – which most folks interpreted as “I can use milled lumber.” But it also means you don’t have to have frost walls, insulation, ventilation, smoke alarms and all the other thing that Code requires.

Q: So I can pour my own slab for my garage, right?
A: That’s what it means, basically. Again, as long as you’re talking about rural areas.

Q: Awesome! And I don’t need a permit for any of this stuff. Is that right?
A: Well, not quite. Here’s where things are a bit confusing: your construction still has to meet the requirements of any highway setbacks or land-use regulations under the Community Planning Act. If you call our office, we’ll check to see if your property is subject to these regulations. If they are, you’ll have to ask for a development approval, which costs $100. If not, then no permit (and no fee) is involved.

Q: So … what exactly is an “accessory building?”
A: Well, that’s a complicated answer. Generally, it’s things like sheds, barns, chicken coops, small garages and so on. But at some point, a building becomes so large that it simply can’t be called an accessory building: it becomes its own thing. We’re using the long-standing guideline of 2,150 square feet as a trigger point. It’s also worth noting that any building that is ordinarily accessible by the public – in other words, anyone other than friends and family of the land owner or occupant – has to be built as a building permit structure.

Q: I have a 550 square foot camp. I want to add a 100 square foot covered porch on it. What do I need to know?
A:  For that, you'll need a building permit. The total area of the final construction exceeds 603 square feet, so it is no longer exempt from Code.

Q: Wait. So now the whole camp has to meet Code, just because I’m adding a porch?
A: No. Under Code, a building inspector’s authority in this situation would only apply to the new construction, not the existing building.

Q: Does that include decks?
A: Yes! This is one of the things we run into on a regular basis: any deck attached to a house requires a building permit and must meet Code.

Q: So if I want to add a garage to my house, it has to meet Code?
A: Yes. The house would be, and is, subject to Code – and anything attached to it must also meet Code.

Q: What if the garage is, I dunno, 10 feet away from the house.
A: Unless the garage is massive, it wouldn't need a building permit, just a development approval.

Q: Augh! This is so confusing. If I have questions, who can I call?
A: Your local planning commission. For those in Charlotte County and southern York County, that’s us: 466-7360.

Updated May, 2021. New content will be added as we become aware of common questions and misconceptions.

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.

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.