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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Building Codes

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Building Codes in Alberta regulate techniques and materials used in building construction, the occupancy and the use of buildings and equipment to safeguard the health and safety of building occupants. Today's construction technologies and techniques differ vastly from those in use at the time when the first National Building Code (NBC) was produced in 1941. To keep pace with changes, and to ensure that the latest innovations and applications are applied safely by the construction industry, a new version of the NBC is published approximately every five years.

In 2006, an updated and revised Alberta Building Code was established by the Building Technical Council, a technical council of the Safety Codes Council, after consultation with municipal authorities, provincial government departments, associations, other affected parties and Code users. The Alberta Building Code 2006 was adopted by provincial regulation on September 2, 2007 and is developed and administered by Alberta Municipal Affairs. Alberta Municipal Affairs also releases a separate fire code, and safety codes relating the construction and maintenance of buildings such as electrical installation, plumbing and sewage, and elevator construction and maintenance.

Changes to building codes and other building-related safety codes, occur with the help of lobbying and research by such organizations as the Canadian Home Builders' Association (CHBA). The Alberta branch of the CHBA works closely with the department of Alberta Municipal affairs, with the goal of improving construction standards in terms of "structural sufficiency, safety, and health." They also promote research and communication on building materials, technical advancements and building techniques to allow builders to affordably and accessibly meet and exceed environmental, health and safety standards for buildings.

House Under Constructions

Another lobby promoting better safety codes is the Safety Codes Council. This not-for-profit organization has been operating in Alberta since 1991. They accredit municipalities, corporations and other agencies responsible for selling safety permits and train Safety Code Officers to inspect these agencies. In partnership with the Municipal Affairs department, the Barrier-Free Council of the Safety Codes Council has developed a "Barrier-Free Design Guide" to enhance understanding of the Alberta Building Codes requirements with regards to accessibility standards. Accessibility issues are especially concerning to the physically disabled. The Alberta Ministry of Seniors and Community Supports Office for Disability Issues recently issued recommendations concerning government policies with regards to the disabled; among their concerns was the universal accessibility of buildings, particularly public buildings, denouncing current building codes as "inadequate to guard against developers, builders, employers, and even government from seeking exclusions and ducking their responsibilities to proactively address access issues."

Members of the Safety Codes Council and fire chiefs have recently called for stricter building codes in response to fire-safety concerns. Advances in technology and construction have left many building codes outdated. In the summer of 2007, a massive fire destroyed a condominium complex and 18 nearby duplexes in south Edmonton. Firefighters blamed poor construction materials and lax building codes.

In May 2008, the High-Intensity Residential Fires Working Group recommended to government officials that new building codes require fire-resistant gypsum wallboard be used under vinyl siding instead of the faster-burning strandboard. Other recommendations included increasing spatial separation between buildings, using gypsum wallboard in garages and requiring fire detectors in garages. There will also be new restrictions on window locations at the sides of buildings since these windows are ideal passageways for fires to spread. It is hoped that the legislation for these new building codes will be implemented in early 2009. Government officials have estimated that the changes might add $5,000 to $10,000 to the cost of some new homes.

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