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Our office has issued its first development placard of the year.

Your proposed building may not need a building permit, but may need a formal approval: a development placard.

This little guy will grow up wanting to be just like its big brother the Building Permit, but unfortunately will only be good for accessory structures because of its size.

This momentous occasion may raise a question – what the heck is a development placard?

To answer that question, we have to get a bit legalese: while the province’s default building regulation exempts a certain class of buildings (accessory structures, and residential dwellings less than 604 square feet – aka “camps”) from a building permit, there are still a host of requirements that a development has to hurdle. In some rural areas, there are development restrictions, either due to proximity of major highways, or the presence of a rural zoning plan.

There’s where a “development placard” comes into play: it’s usually a formal permission to build a Code-exempt structure.

As always, the lesson here is simple: contact our office to determine what permits (if any) are required.

 

The ultimate job of every builder is to do things right – at least, that’s what we’d hope. Our job is to make sure that things are, indeed, done right. But as those who read our Facebook page or regular “inspectors notebook” posts on our website have probably figured out by now, there are some issues that our inspectors keep finding on jobsites around the region. These are the most common Code infractions of 2021:

#10: Missing or improperly installed carbon monoxide alarms

This issue used to be a vastly more common concern, but thankfully, more and more contractors and electricians are catching this glitch. Simply put, if a home has a gas appliance, wood stove, or attached garage, carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in or within 5m of every bedroom.

#9: Improper egress windows

When fully open, this bedroom window only gave a bit more than 12" of clearance. 15" (38 cm) is required.

Of all the items on our list, this one was a shock to us. It’s long been known that a sufficiently large window must be installed in every bedroom. The idea is that when people are home, they spend most of the time in bedrooms, meaning that’s where they are likely to be if a fire occurs. An egress window (which must be 545 square inches, with no dimension less than 15” when fully open) is required in every bedroom to facilitate both escape from and entry (by firefighters) into the bedroom. The fact that we had egress violations at all is a major concern, in part because it’s an expensive process to remove a too-small window and replace it with a larger one.

#8: Emergency lights not installed

While residential construction represents a vast proportion of our annual building permit construction, this violation is driven by commercial building inspections. Code requires that the pathway to all exit doors in non-residential buildings must be provided with emergency lights that will turn on if the power goes out.  Commercial builds represent about 16 per cent of our permits issued in 2021, but this oversight occurred often enough that it landed on a top 10 list largely dominated by residential construction violations.

#7: Improper closing/sealing of door to garage

The common way to ensure a door to an attached garage closes is to use these spring-loaded hinges. A hex (Allen key) wrench can be used to add force to the springs to ensure the door closes.

Code requires that doors between garages and a home have tightly-fitting seals (in other words, exterior doors) that are fitted with a self-closing device. We weren’t surprised to see this slip into our top-10 list of common infractions:  One of the reasons this infraction hits the list is that when our inspectors arrive for a final inspection on a new home, we often discover that the spring-loaded hinges have not been installed because contractors don't want a door closing behind them when they are moving materials into the house from the garage. In many cases, the hinges haven't been adjusted properly, and can be remedied before our inspectors leave.

#6: No foundation for attached decks

These so-called "deck blocks" should not, in fact, be used for any deck attached to a house.

If our inspectors could wave a magic wand and make changes for the greater good, one of the things we’d do (well, after wishing for world peace, maybe) is require those ubiquitous pre-cast concrete blocks to be called something other than deck blocks. If you’re building a small free-standing platform  that's a foot off the ground, we won’t mind you use the things – but if they're used support a deck or some other structure attached to a building, expect our inspectors to cite clauses 9.12.2 (1)(7), 9.12.2.2 (1) and 9.23.6.2 of the National Building Code, along with a requirement to start over ($$). Simply put, these concrete blocks must NOT be used for attached decks. Decks or platforms attached to a building must be anchored to a foundation system of some sort (screw piles or sonotubes either resting on a suitable footing area, or on solid rock) to avoid the catastrophic structural damage that can be caused by frost heaves.

#5: Fence posts used for deck construction

We cannot stress this enough: any platform (deck) attached to a building must have support to a footing 4' below grade. These concrete blocks are NOT Code-compliant for attached decks.

This used to be a far more common issue, but thankfully a combination of education, enforcement and pro-active plans reviews by our inspectors has helped curb the use of 4x4 posts (most often found in deck construction.) Unfortunately, some people still haven’t got the message: when building decks, porches, verandas and the like, Canadian Codes require that 6x6 columns be used. A 4x4 post is ok for a fence, not for a deck: don’t use them.

#4: Improperly constructed beams

If you’re building a beam, the best thing to do is splice it over a post or support. If you’re going to splice it somewhere mid-span, you have to do so within ¼ the distance between the supports, and only near interior supports. There are some other requirements (as outlined here). The number of improperly spliced beams is driven significantly by DIY builders making errors when framing attached decks.

There are two splices in the same quarter of this three-ply beam, which isn't acceptable. Further, alert eyes will notice that the brackets have been screwed in using one engineered screw and a handful of wood screws, which is also an issue.
This beam has a splice, but it's near an outside support. This, also, is not permitted.
This beam is fails to meet Code on two fronts. One, there are two splices in the same quarter of a three-ply beam. Secondly, one of the splices does not have a full-length member running to the adjacent post. A rebuild was ordered.

#3: Insufficient nails between trusses/rafters and top plates

We were somewhat surprised this fell into No. 3 on our list, because it’s been a point of enforcement for years. The basic rule of truss installation is that each truss has to be nailed with three nails of at least 3 ¼” length.  (In Monty Python-esque terms, three are the number of nails there must be. Two nails are not permitted, and one nail is right out. Unlike Monty Python, four nails are perfectly fine, and hurricane ties - suitably nailed of course - are just peachy.) One of the misconceptions we’ve encountered is that if exterior sheathing laps from an exterior wall onto the drop chord element of a drop chord or raised heel truss, that it’s OK to reduce the number of nails between the truss and the top plate: not so. Some of these occurrences were nothing more than an oversight, where someone forgot to hammer in a third nail on one truss connection of dozens, but sadly, the majority of infractions were simply contractors or homeowners doing things wrong from the get-go.

#2: Improper window installation

Despite the fact that it’s a point of enforcement for years, our inspectors continue to find incorrectly installed windows: either flashing pans are not installed or installed incorrectly, or the windows are improperly flashed/sealed.  This is of considerable concern: The No. 1 cause for claims under the Atlantic Home Warranty program is due to leaks in, on, around and under improperly installed windows. Correct window installation isn’t complicated or expensive, but incorrect installation can lead to incredibly costly repairs. If you have any doubts about how to install a window correctly, see our info guide here, or download a .pdf  flashing outline. We cannot state this forcefully enough: if we find an improperly installed window, we will require corrections – and if this means removing a window when siding has already been installed, so be it (and yes, we’ve ordered this: it doesn’t make us a lot of friends, but it saves homeowners the headache of expensive repairs.) Here's a simple rule to at least guide installers in the right direction: Do. Not. Use. Sheathing. Tape.

This window had silicone sealant on the sides, but lacked a flashing pan and suitable flashing at the top. It had to be re-installed.
Sheathing tape is NOT an acceptable material for preventing water from entering a window. Moreover, the tape at the bottom prevents drainage from moisture that may accumulate under the window (from, for example, condensation.) This window had to be removed, and installed properly.
There is no flashing pan at the bottom of this window. Fortunately, the installation was in its early stages, and re-installation was not too onerous.

 

(dis)honourable mentions:

  • Improper/missing balusters in a guard: Oh, those horizontal wire ship-look guards are sharp looking things, aren’t they? This design was allowed in 2021 due to the introduction of NBC 2015, which relaxed rules in the 2010 Code. The problem: these horizontal-wire guards must still prevent the passage of a 10 cm sphere, and in almost every case we saw in 2021, the wires could be easily moved vertically to spacing often double the 10 cm limit. For this reason, we strongly (strongly) recommend not using these systems, unless the wires are strung at spacings closer than is common, to avoid these sorts of issues.
  • Improperly nailed lintels: Lintels (headers) must be nailed with two nails at distances no greater than 18”. Filler pieces are allowed at spacing no greater than 18”. We found an interesting trend in 2021, where contractors were spacing two-ply lintel elements to the outside edges of 2x6 construction, with foam or fibreglass stuffed in the gap – but no material connecting the two lintels. This will be a point of enforcement for 2021.
  • Insufficient attic insulation: We found a number of situations where contractors or homeowners had not placed the required R50 of insulation in an attic. We’re not sure why: this has been a longstanding requirement.

And now, the most common infraction of 2021:

#1 Wood screws used instead of nails

This joist hanger is improperly installed. First off, the installer used wood screws instead of nails, and secondly, not all the anchor points have fasteners. The installer was ordered to remove the screws and use nails throughout.

For some reason, a lot of people – and that includes DIY builders and contractors alike – will assemble structural elements with ordinary Robertson-head deck screws. Simply put, this is not permitted (here’s why).  All structural, load-bearing connections must be either nailed or attached with specialized engineered screws. (Engineered screws are usually quite expensive, and feature either a hex head or a Torx head.) Wood screws (also known as deck screws) are not permitted to be used in hurricane ties or for joist hangers, either: it’s such a common error that if taken alone, improperly installed hurricane clips and joist hangers would have ranked as the No. 3 on this list. Sadly, despite consistent education and enforcement, we continue to find abundant examples of screws used instead of nails. As one of our inspectors says regarding the Code's table on how to achieve compliant structural connections, "It's called a nailing table for a reason."

This three-ply beam, intended to support a fairly large deck, was held in place with four wood screws.
Studs must be attached to top plates with two 3.25" nails. (Not one exterior-grade deck screw.)

 

To summarize, screws tend make our inspectors unhappy. Nobody likes unhappy inspectors: use nails.

Hey, we get it. Between Christmas and Covid and "egad, we need winter tires" and all the other stuff going on in our lives, it's easy to forget little details like the fact provincial regulations will phase out the 2010 edition of the National Building Code effective Dec. 31.

But we just wanted to post a little reminder that any applications received by our office after midnight Dec. 31 will have to follow NBC 2015. We did all this back in February of last year (until the province changed the rules to allow 2010 to be used until the end of the year.)

The critical thing for our office will be to ensure plans for buildings in the St. Stephen/Saint Andrews area meet NBC 2015 earthquake standards. For more, see the link here, although there are some other things to take into account - see the link here.

Need a hand? Give our inspectors a call. We'll do our best to answer your questions.

We're getting to that time of the year, aren't we?

As much as we hate to admit it, it's pretty much winter. The forecast is showing below-zero temperatures, and that puts a damper on construction - especially pouring concrete.

That's because concrete has to be kept above freezing - and a bit more - to be effective.

For this reason, our office will require anyone pouring concrete from now until the spring to file a "warming plan" with us. That's just an outline of how any concrete set at this time of the year will be kept at suitable temperatures, or otherwise treated so that it achieves its required design strength before the assembly's net temperature drops to freezing temperatures.

Depending on the weather, this may mean nothing more than covering concrete with tarps, or it may involve creating an entire "tent" around the construction and keeping it warm with blast heaters.

For more, check out our knowledge base article on cold-temperature concrete here: http://snbsc-planning.com/cct/cold-temperatures-cement/

In the last few weeks, our inspectors have noticed repeated issues with improper framing of lintels.

Lintels - which some carpenters call "headers" incorrectly - are two or more plies of wood framed over a load-bearing opening, usually above a window or a doorway.

In order to create strength, the pieces of a lintel must be attached to each other. However, our inspectors have flagged a number of issues in the last month with contractors spacing out the lintel elements, and filling the cavity with foam. This is NOT permitted unless there are intermediate "filler" pieces spaced no more than 45 cm (18") apart.

Here is how a foam-filled, but Code-compliant lintel should look like:

This is an illustration of a Code-compliant, foam-filled two-ply lintel assembly.

In cases like this, the filler piece must be nailed from both sides of the lintel.

If our inspectors find elements of lintels separated with a gap that has no filler pieces, it will be failed and subject to re-inspection.

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.