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Sometimes, a plain and simple question has a not-so-plain-and-simple answer. Take guards around a deck, for example, or a handrail on stairs. What height do they have to be?

Answer: it depends.

Let’s start at the basics. A guard is a horizontal object – usually wood, sometimes steel – that is intended to prevent someone from falling from a height when there’s an open space. So you’ll see guards around decks, or on stairs when one or both sides are open.

In general, guards are required when there is a height difference of 60 cm or more. In a home, exterior and interior guards have to be 90 cm in height, minimum. That’s 35.4 inches, although most contractors will build to 36 inches, or three feet.

One of our inspectors verifies the height of an exterior guard. It's 96 cm high: is that good? Read the full article to find out!

However, there are some situations where greater guard heights are required. For example, a guard on an exterior platform (deck) has to be 107 cm high (42 inches) if the height to finished grade is 1.8 metres or more.

Guards must be 107 cm high in all non-residential situations, both interior and exterior.

Now, what about handrails? These serve a different function: they’re for grasping as one goes up and down stairs. Height of handrails should be 86.5 to 96.5 cm (34-38 inches) high, except where guards are required. In that case, they can also range up to 107 cm in height. What that means, in simple language, is that in most cases, handrails are incorporated into the guard.

In general, guards should be closed with either balusters separated by gaps no more 10 cm gaps, or tempered glass.

Questions? Give us a call at 466-7369.

Recently, a client asked one of our inspectors a question that’s we've heard a few times: “Why are you measuring this window?”

During a final inspection, it’s typical for our inspectors to enter every bedroom, and check the sizes of the windows, as well as verify that smoke alarms have been installed. It’s pretty obvious why a building inspector would check the smoke alarm, but the window? Not so much.

Section of the National Building Code mandates that every bedroom requires either an exterior door (that is, a door that leads into the great blue yonder) or a window of sufficient size that someone can get out of the window in an emergency.

The window needs to have at least 0.35m² in area (that’s 3.77 square feet), with no space when opened that is less than 38 cm (15 inches) wide.

One of our building inspectors checks the width of a bedroom window to see if it is egress compliant.

In building terms, this is called an “egress window.” If you’re doing some home renovations, always be sure to specify an egress window for every bedroom, to make sure the window meets Code requirements.

If there’s a patio door from the bedroom, there is no need for an egress window, but a door that goes to some other part of the house is not sufficient. Egress window regulations also apply to all residential suites (i.e. apartments.)

“OK,” said the client, after hearing a point-form version of the explanation. “But there’s no way I’m jumping out of that window – it’s, like, 30 feet up.” The quick answer to that is that the height of the window is not a consideration: firefighters have ladders. Egress windows are there to give firefighters an easier time of hauling you out of your bedroom if you and your home are having a bad day.

Egress windows are a key part of the life-safety functions of the code, and our inspectors will check to make sure egress windows are part of plans for every home and suite of residential occupancy.

Our planning and inspection department serves St. George, Saint Andrews, Harvey, McAdam and all unincorporated areas between Lepreau and the Hanwell Road north of Harvey. Questions? Give us a call at 466-7369.

This is a busy time for people wanting to build, and we want to make sure you can get shovels in the ground as soon as possible. The simplest way to make that happen is to call our Planning Department early in the planning process, because we can identify potential challenges such as:

  • Septic system approval
  • Need for wetlands access permits in watersheds and near water
  • Setback requirements from major highways (If building within 15 m of Routes 1,3,4, 127, 170, may need DTI variances)
  • Height limitations of accessory buildings in a municipality
  • Land-use restrictions in both municipal and some rural areas
  • Changes code requirements in an existing building if changing use

(It should be noted that many of these potential obstacles are bylaws set by municipal governments, provincial regulations, or building code regulations, not the Service Commission.)

We tell our clients it takes three-five business days to process a permit, but if all the preparation has been done, that will make turnaround much easier. The last thing we want is to receive a permit application and only then identify a potential obstacle.

Our professional staff are trained to help you navigate a path through provincial and local regulations and get you to your building goal. The best way to help us do that is to call us first, not last. Our number is 466-7369.

Sometimes, you just have to say the same thing over and over. And we're going to do it again. (As one of our building inspectors says, "I love, admire and respect redundancy.")

Last week, we discovered a brand new deck built with (alas) 4x4 posts... now, any readers of these writings can probably guess what happened next.

The builder was instructed to remove those posts, and replace them with 5 1/2 square (known as 6x6) posts. This isn’t something we like to do at all. In fact, we dread having to tell someone they just built something that doesn’t meet Code, which is why we have posts like this on our website and social media feeds.

The picture here is a perfect example of a deck post done right: note the post is secured by a bracket set into the concrete.

Here’s the super-simple summary: decks attached to a building require nominal 6x6 posts supported by foundations (sonotubes, helical screw piles, frost wall).

Where can you use 4x4 posts on something attached to a building? For carports (not awnings over a deck) and fire escapes (not exit stairs! Questions? Call our office). That’s it.

The other worry we have: deck blocks. Please, please, do not use deck blocks for any structure attached to a deck: this leads to risk of structural weakness due to frost heaves. The only place you can use these is on small accessory structures (and this includes things like a small set of stairs NOT attached to a building.)

Since the Codes are now available online, we’ll cite the section of Code regarding posts, which are technically called columns:

Since the Codes are now available online, we’ll cite the section of Code regarding posts, which are technically called columns: Column Sizes
1) The width or diameter of a wood column shall be not less than the width of the supported member.
2) Except as provided in Article, columns shall be not less than 184 mm for round columns and 140 mm by 140 mm (that’s 5 1/2 inches) for rectangular columns, unless calculations are provided to show that lesser sizes are adequate.

BTW: “unless calculations are provided” means “show us an engineer’s approval that this is good enough.” Without going into details, let’s just say that obtaining an engineer’s approval will cost a whole lot more than just using the right-size post the first time.

We know it’s warm outside, but just for a moment, we want you to think about winter – because what what you do with that summer roofing project now could save you a whole host of headaches once the snow starts flying.
This time of the year, it’s not uncommon for folks to reshingle a roof. It might not be the simplest of DIY jobs, but for someone with basic construction skills, it’s easy enough.
Here’s a tip to make sure it’s done right. In many cases, it’s a requirement of Code to install what’s called “eaves protection” along the lower edges of a roof. Builders will often call this by a brand name, of which there are a few. However, regardless of the manufacturer of the eaves protection, they are all essentially a strip of waterproof material that adheres directly to the sheathing, as shown in the image.
Here’s the why: It’s to protect water created by ice dams from leaking into your home.
An example of eaves protection being installed as part of work to shingle a new roof.

Here’s the how: In most cases, the roofline of a typical gable roof pinches off at the attic. As a result, insulation is a little thinner where the roof comes over the wall, resulting in a bit more heat getting to the roof. This melts snow/ice, which then trickles downslope to the part of the roof that isn’t heated at all. Whammo, the water freezes, creating those massive globs of ice that gather at the edge of a roof. If they get large enough, these ice dams will result in water seeping up under shingles.

Eaves protection isn't required for all roofs: just shingle and shake roofs, of a certain slope (greater than 8:12 pitch.)
That said, best practice is to install eave protection on the edges of any shingle/shake roof that is subject to heating, as well as along the valleys.
Oh, and another thing: building permits are not required anywhere in our service area for re-shingling a roof.
Questions? Give us a call at 466-7369.

This unobtrusive white pipe is Code-mandated, and could save a homeowner thousands of dollars.

Our “tip of the week” this week is a little step almost all builds require that costs $20-$80, but may save thousands down the road.

We’re talking about what’s called a “soil gas extraction pipe.” It’s sometimes called a “radon pipe.”
Here’s why you need one (apart from the fact that it’s mandated by Code): one of the major threats to home safety is radon gas, which is a byproduct of uranium decay. Uranium is not as uncommon as one might think, and in some parts of our region – think Utopia – there’s enough uranium in the bedrock to contaminate well water.
Radon (as well as other gases) will percolate upwards through the soil, and can even move through the concrete of a basement floor.

Code requires that all slabs-on-ground in occupied uses (residential, commercial) have a vapour barrier separating the ground from the concrete. It also requires that a 4” pipe penetrate that vapour barrier at some point.

This is the soil gas extraction pipe.

If your home ever tests positive for radon or some other soil gas, it’s a simple thing to attach a fan to vent those gases through the pipe and to the grand outdoors: which is far cheaper than digging up a basement floor.

Questions? Our inspection staff can assist. We serve the unincorporated areas of Charlotte and southern York counties, and the municipalities of Saint Andrews, St. George, Harvey and McAdam. Call us at 466-7369.

It might not be an understatement to consider open-web joists one of the most significant advances in construction practice in the last 30 years.

These engineer-backed alternatives to the typical old-fashioned floor joist are strong, surprisingly light, and make installation of things like air ducts, plumbing and electrical service a breeze.
They’re easy to work with, even for the average weekend warrior. But here’s a tip from our building inspectors that may help the weekend warrior save a bit of time.

But first a bit of background info.

Open web joists allow for great flexibility in running ductwork, electrical wires and plumbing.

One of the key elements of most open-web joist systems is what’s called a “strongback.” This is a fancy name for a section of good old dimensional lumber (a 2x6 or 2x8, normally) that is inserted so that it runs at a 90-degree angle to the open-web trusses. When nailed to the trusses, it helps provide some lateral rigidity to the system.
In most cases, the joist manufacturer will specify where to install these strongbacks.

Professional builders will slide sections lumber into the open web system when about half to two thirds (give or take) of the joists are installed. Then, when the rest of the joists are nailed in place, all the builder needs to do is slide the wood from one side to the other. It saves trying to stickhandle wood into an open gap after the fact, which is often a nigh-impossible thing.