If a tree falls from the 6th Floor

Maggie Chandler of Vancouverreflections, who in a recent post entitled Raising the Roof on Vancouver Real Estate, made note of changes in the British Columbia building code that will allow wood frame construction to extend upward to 6 floors.

bc-govt-housing-and-construciton-standards-5-13-2009-3-22-15-pm

Courtesy BC Gov’t

Tell Me More

Browsing through the government Housing and Construction Standards site prompted a degree of trepidation. Perhaps it is with an sensitive appreciation of the words describing the construction challenges ahead which instilled a lack of confidence and the following reaction. One wonders if the home buying consumer might similarly react and will they too be unable to take comfort from these words? Must they assume and be content with risk analysis and probabilities? Are you wondering where in their words is the warranty? Considering that it may be the most expensive purchase in their lifetime, will or can you rest assured knowing that the building code is premised on mathematical odds. What happens if this government’s bureau is wrong? Who pays the price if they are?

Burn, Shake and Shrink

Most of the department’s chosen words attempt to invoke trust in their proposal. It is after all, their mandate to ensure building’s are safe and that the consumer can trust the government to ensure the safety of those it serves. Under their Rationale headings you will find words such as:

“the following risks will not likely increase”:

  • Risk of ignition
  • Risk of interior fire spread beyond point of origin
  • Risk of failure of sprinkler system to control fire
  • Risk of occupants not able to recognize fire, and
  • Risk of occupants not able to evacuate the building

To this is added that “the same fire engineering philosophy of compartmentalizing and sprinkler protection results in the probability of no additional fire risk in these areas.” What happened to certainty?

Anxious to make you feel better, the following is proffered with respect to earthquakes and shrinkage.

  • Further work is being undertaken to understand seismic behavior of mid-rise structures of entirely wood construction.”
  • Shrinkage must be a design consideration in wood-frame construction, particularly for buildings of five and six storeys in building height.”

Leaky Rot

So it might burn, it might shake apart or, it might shrink. Left you are to take comfort in that you ‘probably’ will not sleep knowing that the risks are not completely understood. It may due to a quake, fall down or, if it may shrivel like a dried raisin. Should you the consumer assume the risk? Sleep well you might, knowing that what also remains critical, rests in the enormity of leaking condo’s. Rest easy in the confidence of this engineers response.

“there has never been any explicit language that addresses, or creates any limitations, based on the height of a building employing a light wood-frame structural system.”

Ghl Consultants Ltd. Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. report pg 10.

The same engineers follow with:

“A quantitative analysis of the technical risk with respect to ‘structural shrinkage, sound transmission building techniques, moisture, material shrinkage, etc.’ impacts on environmental separators, would be impossible as 6 storey light wood-frame buildings do not currently exist in BC. Because of our unique climate, it would also be difficult to draw a reasonable comparison to the building envelope risks on any 6 storey light wood-frame buildings built in other jurisdictions.” Therefore, it is necessary to to employ a qualitative approach by comparing the risk between 4 and 6 storey residential building and 6 storey noncombustible buildings.”

Ghl Consultants Ltd. Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. report pg 22.

(More reports here)

Just a thought

“Not likely”, “probability”, “further work” and leaving quantitative and qualitative “design consideration” to it is assumed, many of the same or new players who delivered or trained under those who brought us B.C.’S great leaky condo disasters of 4 storey buildings. It makes you wonder two floors worth about the certainty of water problems this type of wood construction might endure. Aside from the notion that we live in an active earthquake zone, does it seem out of line to ask why this proposal would go forward when all data and research has not been completed? Would it be over the top to suggest that with this knowledge you can throw away your alarm clock? In this new 6 storey light wood-frame combustible and possibly leaky building – will you ever sleep again?

How Come?

Why you ask would this type of building be allowed. According to the Gov’t, “There are a number of benefits to building with wood including lower costs and increased environmental sustain-ability.” Reading from their proposal they suggest that increasing the allowable height of wood buildings is part of the Province’s ongoing efforts to encourage innovative building practices and expand domestic markets for B.C. wood products.

The new B.C. Building Code provisions to allow higher wood buildings is as they claim, targeted to “maximizing the benefits that 2 more floors will provide while maintaining the Province’s commitment to public safety.”

This justification, the Gov’t says was made by “A variety of comments that were received from every aspect of the building industry including local governments, builders, architects, engineers and fire officials. Support for the proposed changes ranged from 62 to 85 per cent, and as a result of feedback, modifications were made to strengthen the code requirements.” Nothing evidenced, indicates they had sought comments from the consumer?

Who Wants It?

Suspicious, casual observation, imbues the opinion that lobbying pressure from our largest employer may be present. With emphasis – “Expand domestic markets for B.C. wood products”. Is it probable that our lumber industry may be at play at a time when that industry is in a financial tail spin and further, should one pre-suppose such rationale was spawned in reaction to our general economic malaise? With so many unemployed during these times, does one assume jobs are more important now then ever. Will unemployed tree huggers, those who oppose the destruction of our forests, not mind the escalation of more trees being cut down? Surely the chances of that event have been calculated or worse, outright dismissed? With all the carefully crafted words can you the consumer, be confident in assuming that this lobbying probably exists sufficient to influence decisions the government makes with regard to your safety and financial well being?

As the future potential buyer of this 6th floor product will you be the last tree standing or, will you take comfort as you guess why the tree fell from the 6th floor.

*Reference BC Housing and Construction

**Code Provisions

About Larry Yatkowsky

Larry is a recognized real estate expert. A veteran professional, his experienced counsel leads Vancouverites in his west side community to place their trust in a man passionate about his work. Uncompromising ethics bring a balanced approach to realizing your real estate dreams.

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*Disclaimer: Statistics Courtesy REBGV. While believed to be accurate they are not guaranteed.
**Numbers provided may vary as they are dynamically posted by the REBGV.

Reader Comments:

Andrea C. Says:
May 31st, 2009 at 12:09 am

Another good post!

I think the province is trying to find a use for the countless un-exportable pine-beetle damaged trees still standing in B.C. There is a only a narrow window of opportunity left to harvest and mill these dead trees before they are totally worthless.
Apparently, the extent of destruction in B.C.’s forests is staggering. It’s pretty sad.

June 2nd, 2009 at 8:34 am

Andrea

You may be right. They are trying to find all sorts of ways to make use of this problematic resource.

Here is a site outlining the work being done.

http://www.bcfii.ca/industry_resources/mountain_pine_beetle_info.htm

Problem is that all of this still does not resolve the issues of assurances from the building code changes. 6 floors of wood a problem. Glance through the engineers reports and you are left feeling less than confident.

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