Agenda Index City of Vancouver



Standing Committee on Planning and Environment.


City Building Inspector


Vancouver Building By-Law Revisions





Under the Vancouver Charter, the City can make By-laws to regulate the construction of buildings (s.306(a)) and can adopt any code relating to the construction of buildings, with any changes Council considers appropriate (s.306(w)).


As stated in the Policy section of this report, Vancouver is enabled under the Vancouver Charter to adopt By-laws to regulate the construction of buildings. The Vancouver Building By-law regulates the design and construction requirements for buildings as well as the administrative provisions for permitting, inspection, and enforcement of these requirements.

Other municipalities may choose to regulate building construction by their own By-law; however, in doing so these municipalities are required under the Municipal Act to adopt the British Columbia Building Code, in whole. Vancouver has the option of adopting the British Columbia Building Code in whole, adopting it with revisions, or creating its own regulations.

Vancouver's ability to adopt its own By-law regulating the construction of buildings is unique in the Province and also unusual in the rest of Canada. It is an important authority which allows Council the opportunity to be responsive to local issues impacting on building safety much more effectively and quickly than other municipalities. Using this ability, Vancouver has been a leader in adopting a number of building code provisions, many of which have eventually been adopted Provincially or Nationally.

Significant issues that are specifically addressed in the Vancouver Building By-law as a result of Council policy directions include the following:

· building envelope provisions of Part 5 which adopted and amended the Part 5 provisions of the National Building Code of Canada two years before the Provincial Code was changed.

· introduction of universal fire sprinklers in response to the need identified by the Fire Chief and City Building Inspector of the day.

· stringent building security requirements for parking garages in response to concerns over personal safety.

· Alternative Requirements for existing buildings which were the first in Canada relating to alterations, renovations, additions and change of major occupancy in existing buildings, which are not found in the British Columbia Building Code or the National Building Code. These alternative requirements are used as guidelines by other lower mainland municipalities. These provisions are important in an established City like Vancouver in order to ensure appropriate safety standards while allowing for the re-use of our existing building stock.

· secondary suite and moratorium suite retention requirements.

· regulations to accommodate existing buildings containing studios for the use of artists occupying residential quarters integrated with the studio.

· provisions for person's with disabilities.

· single room residential occupancy (SRO) provisions.

· the Certified Professional Program.

· energy conservation regulations which do not exist in the British Columbia Building Code.

All of these unique to Vancouver initiatives which were based on specific Council direction have been retained in the new By-law.

While staff view the City's authority to enact its own Building By-law as an important asset to the City, there has been consistent industry pressure for a uniform building code for the entire Province, including Vancouver. Developers and designers find it cumbersome and inefficient to deal with different building standards in different municipalities. They do not believe that building safety issues change when you cross a municipal boundary and feel that the minimum standards for construction should be uniform. They also cite additional costs of manufacturing building products when standards differ by jurisdiction.

This revision of the Vancouver Building By-law attempts to deal with these industry concerns, to the extent possible, without impacting on the previous Council policy directions mentioned above. The proposed new Vancouver Building By-law adopts the new British Columbia Building Code, as the base document and retains only those differences which are based on adopted Council policy directions, unique Vancouver requirements, specific operational requirements of the Vancouver Fire Department and some minor technical requirements.

Over 330 different provisions between the current Vancouver Building By-law and the British Columbia Building Code have been eliminated. In addition to adopting the language of the British Columbia Building Code, the format and the decimal numbering system of the Provincial Code have also been adopted. All Vancouver changes or unique Vancouver provisions within the Parts which amend the British Columbia Building Code will be highlighted by printing them over a grey background. Many, if not most, designers and builders who work in Vancouver also work in the surrounding municipalities. These similarities between the City Building By-law and the Provincial Building Code will significantly enhance their ability to work under both regulations.


Preparation of the proposed 1999 Vancouver Building By-law has been an onerous task. Work on this project has been ongoing since obtaining Council approval in principle in 1995. Over the past year staff have accelerated reviews of our existing By-law, and the Provincial and National Codes with the goal of adopting a new By-law as soon as possible following release of the new British Columbia Building Code in December of last year.

The City also made a commitment to the design and construction industry, to allow the opportunity for review and input into the proposed revisions before submitting them to Council. Early drafts of various Parts of the proposed By-law were distributed to industry for comment as they were completed and further revisions have been made based on those comments.

Following the technical review, staff have also worked extensively with the Legal Services Department to finalise the wording of the By-law.

The staff commitment to complete this task has been at least one full time staff position for the past year as well as many hours of meetings with the senior staff from our Inspection and Plan Review areas. This commitment has put a strain on our ability to keep up with new code change proposals, equivalency evaluations, complex permit applications, and the ongoing organizational change initiatives in the Community Services Group.


As described above, the proposed By-law is largely based on the British Columbia Building Code which in turn is based on the National Building Code of Canada and incorporates all of the recommended changes and additions to the British Columbia Building Code. The proposed Building By-Law is divided into numbered Parts. Part 1 and Parts 2 through 9 are essentially the British Columbia Building Code, with Vancouver amendments inserted. In addition, there are Parts 1A and 1B which add administrative provisions unique to Vancouver, Part 10 which contains the unique to Vancouver Alternative Requirements for Existing Buildings and Part 11 which contains enforcement provisions.

The following sections of this report describe the significant changes that are proposed for each Part of the By-Law.

Part 1 - Scope and Definitions

In the existing Building By-law Part 1 is titled "Administration". The proposed Part 1 has the same content as the British Columbia Building Code, with some revisions and the addition of unique to Vancouver defined terms. It describes the scope of the By-law and provides definitions of terms used throughout the other Parts of the By-law. The majority of the unique to Vancouver administration provisions formerly located in Part 1 of the current Building By-law have been moved to the new Parts 1A and 11.

Part 1A - Building Administration

This is a new Administration section which deals with all of the building administrative issues which are unique to the permitting process in Vancouver. These provisions have been revised to simplify the language, reduce duplication, and to eliminate provisions which were redundant. Where similar provisions exist in Parts 1 and 2 of the British Columbia Building Code, they have not been duplicated in this Part. One significant change is an increase in the fee charged for work without a permit. This fee is based on a doubling of the fee for the permit, up to a maximum. The current maximum is $2000 and the proposal is to increase this maximum to $5000. The intent of this change is to increase the disincentive to do work without first obtaining the required permit.

Part 1B - Plumbing Administration

The existing Vancouver Plumbing By-law has now been incorporated into Part 7 of the Building By-law in order to be consistent with the British Columbia Building Code. Part 1B incorporates the administrative provisions of the current Vancouver Plumbing By-law.

Part 2 - General Requirements

Part 2 defines the application of the other parts of the Code and defines duties and responsibilities of the various parties and sets out requirements common to all buildings. Significant differences from Part 2 of the British Columbia Building Code include:

· mandatory sprinkler requirements for all new buildings.
· mandatory application of Part 4 (structural) for all new buildings except for one and two-family dwellings.
· mandatory application of Part 5 (building envelope) for all multi-family residential buildings and artist studios more than two stories in building height or more than 600 m2 in building area regardless of firewalls.
· specific climatic data for the City of Vancouver.
· design considerations for buildings on lands subject to flooding.

Part 3 - Fire Protection, Occupant Safety and Accessibility

This is the part of the Building By-law that sets out the detailed construction requirements for buildings relating to Occupancy and Fire Safety. Numerous unique to Vancouver provisions of the current By-law which are now covered by the new Provincial Code have been eliminated with Vancouver adopting the new Provincial requirements. There are many changes from the current Vancouver Building By-law; but, there are still a number of difference from the British Columbia Building Code. Some of these differences include:

· retention of previous requirements for mezzanines to permit current practice.
· retention of safe egress provisions for persons with disabilities in buildings that are sprinklered and retention of optional areas of refuge for persons with disabilities.
· mandatory sprinkler requirements for all new buildings and residential buildings.
· stringent building security requirements for parking garages.
· height restriction of four levels for combustible buildings.
· fire containment provisions for combustible four storey residential buildings.
· various provisions for fire alarm and detection systems to reflect that the City has more stringent requirements.
· various provisions for fire fighting to reflect that the Fire Department has different operating requirements.
· retention of artist studio requirements.
· improved guard protection around swimming pools.
· various provisions for high buildings to reflect that the City has more stringent requirements.
· bicycle parking facilities.
· defined occupancy classifications for Child Day Care Facilities and Retail Food Facilities.

Part 4 - Structural Design

Part 4 deals with the structural design of buildings, structural members and non structural components. There are very few differences between the proposed provisions of Part 4 and the British Columbia Building Code. However, it is proposed to remove the seismic exemption for small wood frame buildings from all but one and two family dwellings. Currently, the code exempts small residential type wood frame buildings (ie. three storey apartment/condominium) from the need to be designed to resist earthquake forces.

Developments in traditional wood frame design have significantly increased the vulnerability of these buildings to seismic effects. These changes include irregular plan layouts, setbacks, non-planar roofs, concrete topped floors and large areas of glazing. As virtually all building structures in the City are now required to be designed by professional engineers, it does not appear prudent or necessary to continue with this exemption. Accordingly, it is recommended that multi-unit residential and commercial wood frame buildings be required to be designed to resist seismic effects.

Part 5 - Environmental Separation

This Part deals with the design of the building envelope. Vancouver adopted Part 5 of the 1995 National Building Code of Canada in 1996, well ahead of the Province, to address the emerging problem of leaky buildings. At that time provisions were added to Part 5 to require supervision of the building envelope design and construction by a qualified professional specialist. In September 1998 additional changes were adopted to expand the application of this Part to include smaller buildings. Essentially all multi-family residential buildings and artist studios more than two storeys in building height or more than 600 m2 in building area regardless of firewalls must conform to Part 5.

With this revision to Part 5 some technical issues have been clarified, but most significantly, the requirements for review have been increased. The architectural and engineering associations have agreed on a new title for professionals reviewing building envelope work. Two proposed letters of commitment for design professionals for review of the building envelope have been introduced.

Part 6 - Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning

Part 6 deals with the design of the building heating, ventilating and air-conditioning components. This Part is virtually identical to the Provincial regulations except that Vancouver's unique energy utilization requirements have been retained.

Part 7 - Plumbing Services

The Provincial Code has incorporated the requirements for plumbing services into Part 7 of the new British Columbia Building Code from a separate Plumbing Code. Vancouver has followed the same format consolidating the Plumbing By-Law with the Building By-law. In so doing the provisions of the Provincial Code have generally been adopted. A number of provisions have been retained from our current Plumbing By-law including:

· water conserving type plumbing fixtures.
· separation of storm and sanitary sewers.
· city cross connection program.
· collection of storm runoff from roofs and paved areas and directing the collected runoff to storm sewers.
· separate shut-off valves for all plumbing fixtures.

Part 8 - Safety Measures at Construction and Demolition Sites

Part 8 deals with safety measures at construction sites. This Part is virtually identical to the Provincial regulations except that Vancouver's unique construction safety program and the City's property maintenance requirements during construction have been retained.

Part 9 - Housing and Small Buildings

Part 9 of the Building By-law sets out the detailed construction requirements for housing and small buildings. It incorporates similar requirements to those found in Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6., but is designed to reflect the characteristics and requirements for smaller buildings. The majority of the previous differences between the Vancouver By-law and the Provincial Code are now basically covered by the new British Columbia Building Code and have been eliminated with Vancouver adopting the Provincial requirements. Some of the differences from the British Columbia Building Code include:

· mandatory sprinkler requirements for all new buildings and residential buildings
· retention of previous requirements for mezzanines to permit current practice.
· continuation of Vancouver's unique requirements for secondary suites in existing buildings.
· improved building security requirements.
· improved guard protection around swimming pools.

Part 10 - Existing Buildings

Part 10 is unique to Vancouver. It does not exist in the British Columbia Building Code. The Province does have alternative requirements for heritage buildings, contained in an appendix to the Code, which are loosely based on Vancouver's provisions for existing buildings. The requirements for upgrading existing Buildings under the British Columbia Building Code are largely left to the discretion of the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

The proposed By-law includes significant changes to the current requirements for existing buildings.

Part 10 has evolved over the years largely based on appeals precipitated from enforced upgrade requirements of existing buildings. The intent of this Part is to achieve an acceptable level of life safety improvement to an existing building when it is being renovated, or when its occupancy is changed.

The current upgrading requirements are seen as an impediment to the economic re-use of buildings. Through our review process staff have attempted to re-assess the life safety benefit of the current upgrading requirements and also to consider other competing public interests such as the revitalization of the older parts of the City and the retention of heritage buildings. This review has resulted in a rationalization of these requirements which will reduce costs while still providing an acceptable degree of life safety improvement.

In addition to the changes to the Vancouver requirements for existing buildings it is also proposed that the City adopt the Province's alternative requirements for heritage buildings. These requirements provide a greater degree of flexibility to encourage the preservation of designated heritage buildings.

The proposed By-law will eliminate upgrade requirements triggered by voluntarily improvements of various life-safety systems such as:

· fire alarm systems
· sprinkler systems
· exits
· seismic work
· building envelopes

Under the current By-law one type of voluntary life safety improvement could lead to a requirement for additional life safety improvements. This additional cost could dissuade an owner from doing any improvements at all.

The changes proposed to Part 10 at this time are seen as an interim step. Staff believe that there is a need to review the basis on which upgrading requirements are determined. Currently the degree of upgrading required is based on the ratio of the cost of the proposed renovations to the assessed value of the building. Other models which more accurately reflect the cost of life safety upgrades, the benefits achieved, and the practicality of the requirements in relation to the proposed work need to be explored.

The Vancouver provisions are broadly used as a guideline by other municipalities where there are no specific provisions and the degree of upgrading is left to the discretion of the Building Official. For this reason staff propose to invite officials from other municipalities in the region to participate in a joint process of reviewing this issue and developing a new model. It was not possible to complete this broader model within the time frame which was needed to complete this revision to the By-law. It is intended that staff will initiate this process in the near future.

Part 11 - Appeals, Offences and Penalties

Part 11 is a relocation of existing requirements into a new administrative section that deals with appeals, offences and penalties and transition provisions for the current By-law.

Appendices A, B, C, D and P

The information in the appendices is included for explanatory purposes only and does not form part of the requirements of the By-law. Only appendix notes to items that are unique Vancouver provisions in Parts 1 to 11 have been added. The majority of the appendix notes are the same as the Provincial explanatory material. Similarly to the body of the Code, the unique to Vancouver language in the appendix notes is highlighted by printing over a grey background.

Effective Date

Before the proposed By-law comes into effect several issues need to be addressed. If Council approves this report the formal By-law amendments will be brought forward for approval as provided in the recommendations. The Building By-law will then be printed and will be made available for purchase by Design Professionals and others. Until this point in time, industry will not be able to prepare permit applications based on the proposed Building By-law provisions. Therefore, a transition period will be required so that applications currently in the design or approval process can be permitted under the provisions of the existing Building By-law.

These transition issues are dealt with under Part 11 of the proposed By-law. This Part provides that the effective date for the new Building By-law will be October 31st, 1999, and that permits issued or applied for, prior to that date will remain valid, and will be subject to the existing Building By-law as long as work commences within six months.


This proposed revision of the Vancouver Building By-law represents a significant improvement over the current edition. It achieves the following major objectives.

· Retains specific Vancouver provisions based on previous Council policy directions and circumstances unique to Vancouver,
· Incorporates the provisions of the latest version of the National Building Code of Canada and the British Columbia Building Code,
· Eliminates a large number of unnecessary differences between Vancouver and the remainder of the Province,
· It should significantly reduce the number of equivalency requests processed by the Department because it incorporates concepts that have been routinely approved on an equivalency basis,
· Addresses the industry concern about regulatory consistency by eliminating a large number of unnecessary difference between Vancouver and Provincial regulations.
· Rationalizes the requirements for life safety upgrades of existing buildings and attempts to achieve a better balance between life safety, economic viability and other public objectives such as heritage retention.

* * * * *







Graham Harmsworth Lai & Associates Ltd.


Andrew Harmsworth



Anna Maharajh


B.R. Thorson Consulting Ltd.


Barry Thorson


Gage-Babcock & Associates


Bill Maudsley


Protection Engineering Inc.


Bill May


Masonry Institute of B.C.


Bill McEwen


Canadian Fire Technology Inc.


Bob Heikkila


Canadian Fire Technology Inc.


Brad Walton


Pro Pacific Architecture Ltd.


Brian Palmquist


Electrical Contractors Association of BC


Cliff Pilkey


Mechanical Contractors Association


Dana Taylor


Graham Harmsworth Lai & Associates Ltd.


David Graham




Doug Clark


Locke MacKinnon Domingo Gibson


Ed MacKinnon


Gage-Babcock & Associates


Fred Wong


Locke MacKinnon Domingo Gibson


Glenn Gibson


Graham Harmsworth Lai & Associates Ltd.


Graham Harmsworth

B.C. Wall & Ceiling Association


Gregg Lowes


Bumen Architecture and Code Consultants


Jean Bumen




John Davidson


UBC Fire Protection Engineering


John Ivison




John Leech


Canadian Homebuilders Association of B.C.


Keith Sashaw


Pioneer Consultants Ltd.


Ken Chow


Robert Freundlich & Associates Ltd.


Kevin Cheong


Eng, Wright Bruckner


Martin Bruckner


Urban Development Institute


Maureen Enser


Chercover Engineering


Merwin Chercover

Tielker Sim and Associates


Michael Apostolides



Mike Ernest


Protection Engineering Inc.


Murray Currie-Johnson



Paul Blanchard




Philip Ring




Ross Rettie


Homeowner Protection Office


Shayne Ramsay




Warren Perks


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