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Renovation & Design

Building code not always set in stone

Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files

Question: I was visiting a friend’s new condo recently and noticed the drywall in the garage was not taped or painted. Does this conform to the Manitoba Building Code?

It seems that any fire in the garage has direct access to the wood in those unfilled cracks, and the gasses from that fire could pass through the unsealed joints quite easily.

The drywall was 5/8" certified, but just what was "certified" was not visible.

The same question goes for the furnace room in the main floor, no basement. There was no Gyprock on the ceiling, no taping for the walls.

The best I could find on the net is one writeup, which implies a higher code that exists.

— Al MacDonald.

 

Answer: The answer to your question is unfortunately not something I can properly address. It may only be answered by a building official in the municipality where the condo is situated. While this may seem odd, it is the reality of the situation in the construction industry in this country.

Many people improperly believe that the National Building Code (NBC) is a rigid document that lays out the standards to which all homes in Canada must be built. That is not the case, as adoption of the code is at the discretion of the authority in the area where the home is constructed. Typically, it is the municipality that decides if the NBC will be adopted in its entirety, or whether certain modifications should be made for their locality. Many regions in Canada choose not to fully endorse all the recommendations of the NBC, or have specific amendments that they choose for their local home builders. These changes may exceed the current codes, or may disregard some of the recommendations.

The NBC has several sections, often referred to as parts, which address various types of buildings and systems. Part nine of the NBC is the section that applies to residential construction of homes and smaller buildings. Depending on the overall size and type of your friend’s condominium, there may be other parts of the code that apply, as well. Enforcement of these, which include fire safety codes, is again the responsibility of the town or city where the building is situated. If the building is larger than three stories, it will certainly be subject to higher standards for safety than a one- or two-storey home.

Your comments about a higher code are interesting, but not really accurate. There is not really another set of codes, but often something I and others refer to as "Best Practice." Best practices may be items that are done in the course of regular construction that go beyond the minimum requirements set out in the NBC. These often include higher quality or stronger structural components than needed. Larger electrical services, additional mechanical systems, better quality insulation and overall higher-quality materials and finishings are also part of systems that fit these criteria. It can also include more minor items like drip flashings, better air-sealing techniques, additional adhesives and screws rather than nails for fasteners. Most builders will employ some of these practices, as they will learn from experience that problems can occur prematurely if they do the bare minimum required.

How does this relate to your question about drywall taping and compound on the seams of the drywall in the garage? Depending on the type of building, and which parts of the NBC are applicable to that specific location, sealing the joints may or may not be required. It is now standard practice to require 5/8" fireguard drywall between portions of buildings that require fire separations. This will certainly include the wall between the garage and living space. It may also apply to the garage ceiling if there is living space above. These partitions should also include 6MIL polyethylene sheathing, and self-closing, fire-rated and weather-stripped doors to prevent smoke or vehicle exhaust intrusion into the living area.

The furnace room will not normally require fire separation components in a residential unit, unless there is another unit immediately above or adjacent to the area. Any of the other units in the condominium which have common walls or ceilings with your friend’s will also have fire separation requirements. These may include one or two layers of fireguard drywall, or additional measures deemed necessary by the local authorities. These will vary depending on the type of construction, size and number of floors in the condo complex.

Whether the new condo in question requires taping at the seams of the fireguard drywall in the garage is dependent on the type of building and the discretion of the local building officials. Even if it is not required, taping those seams may be considered a best practice, rather than strict code compliance, and could be easily done now to satisfy your concerns.

It is still a great pleasure for me to receive and answer questions from all of you regular readers. I do, however, need your help to keep the articles fresh and relevant. Please send me your questions about your homes, but also about any issues with home inspections, purchases, sales or anything else relating to home ownership. Thanks for reading.

 

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

 

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