Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 5:48 EDT

When it comes to construction, put safety first, not wood

December 7, 2012

Sound judgment and project specifications – not political agendas -
should determine the building materials used in Canadian construction

TORONTO, Dec. 7, 2012 /CNW/ – Canada’s National Building Code encourages
the use of different materials to optimize building performance, and
cities like Halifax should do the same, say several Canadian builders
and engineers.

Their statements follow a report released recently by the City of
Halifax recommending the use of wood as a first choice in municipal
building construction. Spearheaded by Halifax City Councilor Jennifer
Watts, the report says that environmentally, wood building materials
“have lower energy, water and air quality impacts than alternatives,”
while economically, the use of wood would benefit Nova Scotia’s
forestry and lumber sectors — “mainstays” of the provincial economy.

“While economics and environment are both valid considerations in
construction, what about public safety?” says Paul Hargest, President
of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). “Ask
anyone where they would rather be in the event of a fire — a structure
made of wood, or one built with materials such as masonry or concrete.”

Canada’s National Building Code not only encourages the use of different
materials for optimal building performance, but also limits the use of
wood to buildings four storeys and less — a fact, says Hargest, that
strongly suggests wood is not always the best material for the job.

“Experienced designers, forensic building investigators and those
familiar with building codes know that ‘performance’ is a sliding scale
— one that depends on where you want to set the bar,” he says.

Put another way, the performance of one material, while significant in
its own right, does not equal that of another. The “scale” slides from
one material to another.

Yasser Korany is Associate Professor of Structural Engineering at the
University of Alberta. He says, “Depending on the academic training
received, an engineer may or may not be well-schooled in or comfortable
with the use of wood. Concrete and steel are both common curriculum
elements given the fact that they’re the most widely-used materials.
Wood, however, is not, and to force an engineer to design and construct
with it could ultimately compromise a building’s structural safety and

Only one province in Canada has implemented “wood first” legislation –
British Columbia, in 2009 — and now, the province’s Chamber of Commerce
is seeking to amend the law so that wood is no longer prescribed as
“the primary building material in all provincially funded buildings”.

Meanwhile, federal policymakers have considered proposals to step up the
National Building Code to better protect communities from wildfires –
fires like the May 2011 blaze that tore through Slave Lake, Alberta,
costing more than $1 billion in damage, fire-fighting and relief.

The proposals were rejected — a move criticized by engineers like
Alberta’s Dr. Mark Hagel, who says, “The building codes are supposed to
protect the public so that the average citizen does not have to become
an expert in building materials simply to purchase a home.”

In response to the Halifax report, Hagel asks, “Since when did
deforestation become environmentally friendly? Yes, trees are planted
for reforestation, but trees taken from old- growth forests can take
centuries to regrow, so in that sense are non-renewable in a reasonable
amount of time.”

He adds that masonry, for one, is highly recyclable and often outlasts
wood by centuries, typically with much less maintenance and at a lower

There are many different materials available for construction in Canada,
and in the words of CCMPA’s Paul Hargest, “Why not let professional
discretion, practical application and fair competition determine what
works best?”

The Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association operates as Region 6
of the National Concrete Masonry Association, and is the representative
voice for the Canadian concrete block manufacturing industry. The
Association supports concrete masonry producers and suppliers in a
number of areas including standards, training, technological research,
government relations, and marketing and communications. Through these
areas, the Association works to ensure the highest standards of quality
and maintain the industry’s strong market presence.

SOURCE Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association

Source: PR Newswire