Starting on January 1, 2015, it will be legal in Ontario to construct wood-frame buildings up to six storeys high. The previous height limit for wood frame construction was four storeys. Building code changes will give builders more flexibility in choosing their building materials, while setting the highest fire safety requirements in Canada, the government says. A private member’s bill introduced at Queen’s Park in 2012 by the MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, who is also the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, has passed and will become law on January 1.
Politicians and spokespersons for the wood and forestry industry are expressing their delight at the news. Politicians have been touting wood as the only building material that’s both renewable and recyclable, a resource that we have “in our own backyard” as northern Ontario MPP Michael Gravelle put it. The changes to the building code will “undoubtedly” stimulate the forestry sector and create jobs, he said.
Naturally, the Canadian Wood Council is also pleased with the announcement, calling wood a “safe, strong and sophisticated” building solution. The freedom to use wood in taller buildings will give designers and architects new opportunities for innovation, according to the director of Ontario Wood WORKS! It will also help cities meet densification plans and create more affordable housing options, Marianne Berube said.
According to the Forest Products Association of Canada, wood buildings will have the same level of safety as buildings constructed with other materials, thanks to improvements in “wood-based building science” and the use of sprinkler systems. The new code requires that stairwells continue to be built of non-combustible materials, and roofs must be fire resistant. Wood-framed buildings also have a cost advantage over competing materials, in part because of reduced construction time needed.
Ontario’s forestry sector could see resurgence
It is the Ontario forestry industry that stands to gain most from the move. MPP Gravelle, who is also Minister of Northern Development and Mines, said that he is optimistic about a “resurgence” in the forestry sector, and confident that forestry will once again be a thriving industry for northern communities. Forestry currently supports more than 150,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province, according to government information.
One timber producer, EACOM Timber Corporation, praised the government’s move and said that in addition to the aesthetic and stylistic benefits of working with wood, the province will see additional benefits that include job creation, more affordable housing, increased taxes for municipalities, and reduced carbon footprint in the construction industry.
In a statement about the cost benefits of using wood in construction, EACOM noted that, “These savings can be passed through the system resulting in more affordable condo or rental units being brought to the market.”