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Unlike any other city or municipality in British Columbia, the City of Vancouver is authorized by the Vancouver Charter to pass its own building bylaws regulating the design and construction of buildings as well as administrative provisions for permitting, inspection and enforcement.
On 1st April, 2014, Vancouver City Council adopted the 2012 British Columbia Building Code, with additional requirements and revisions specific to Vancouver, to create the 2014 Vancouver Building Bylaw (the “Vancouver Building Bylaw”). The Vancouver Building Bylaw was originally scheduled to come into effect on 1st July, 2014 but that date has been extended to 1st January, 2015. The current 2007 Vancouver Building Bylaw will remain in effect until that date.
The Vancouver Building Bylaw includes amendments to improve housing for seniors and people with disabilities as well as amendments to promote the City’s objectives of the “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan”. This environmental action plan contains specific goals addressing issues such as reducing carbon footprint, achieving zero waste and preserving the City’s ecosystems, which the City hopes to achieve by 2020 to constitute the world’s “greenest city”.
The Vancouver Building Bylaw may affect how professionals, including architects, engineers and building envelope consultants, design projects subject to the bylaw and may impose additional administrative requirements associated with a project. It may also impose further obligations upon professionals during the construction process in the form of field review to ensure that the additional requirements of the bylaw are being met.
Requirements of New Vancouver Building Bylaw
The Vancouver Building Bylaw covers one and two family dwellings, including single family homes, townhouses and secondary suites (buildings classified as Part 3 or Part 9 non-residential buildings), and is intended to address issues such as: accessibility, energy utilization, and rain screen cladding systems. It includes new requirements and improvements for:
- Building permits;
- Building envelope requirements;
- Health and life safety;
- Energy efficiency;
- Adaptable housing;
- Certified Energy Advisor evaluation of energy efficiency prior to City insulation inspection;
- Energy modelling report prior to application; and
- Sprinkler systems.
In connection with Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the Vancouver Building Bylaw requires that all new buildings subject to the bylaw be designed to meet strict energy standards to reach energy reduction targets for new buildings of 20% below 2007 levels by 2020, and to be carbon neutral by 2030. A 240-volt electrical vehicle outlet is required in each carport or garage.
To address accessibility issues, the bylaw requires that all doorways and corridors be wider to accommodate wheelchairs. There are new requirements with respect to the placement of kitchen and bathroom faucets, kitchen sink drains and dimensions for bathrooms. Also amended are the requirements for the placement of outlets, electric switches and living room windows.
As part of building envelope requirements, improved insulation is mandated for windows, sliding glass doors, skylights, walls, attics and under slab insulation. There are also new requirements for air tightness.
“Noise pollution” from exterior and interior sources is becoming a bigger issue in construction and has been the subject of at least one known claim in the context of the remediation of the building envelope of a condominium complex. Explicitly addressed in the Vancouver Building Bylaw is one aspect of noise control; the bylaw requires HVAC equipment to conform to the noise-control bylaw.
No More Doorknobs
One new requirement in the Vancouver Building Bylaw has attracted considerable attention, as well as some derision. With the bylaw, Vancouver has become the first city in Canada to ban doorknobs. In place of doorknobs, all new construction under the bylaw will require the use of accessible levered handles. This is part of the minimum accessibility standards.
Prior to obtaining a building permit under the Vancouver Building Bylaw, a new house plan must be evaluated by a Certified Energy Advisor (“CEA”) using EnerGuide Rating System and the “P-File” submitted with the plans.
Prior to the City’s insulation inspection, an authorized Energy Advisor must: (1) provide confirmation of visual verification of window ratings; (2) complete a Vancouver Thermal Bypass checklist; and (3) complete a pre-drywall blower-door test.
Prior to final inspection, the builder must submit a copy of the final EnerGuide Report, prepared by the CEA. Further work may be required if the home performs significantly worse than the 3.5 ACH. Also required is a completed checklist by the CEA confirming that electrical, pipe insulation, and other energy requirements of the VBBL were met.
Transition Between 2007 and 2014 Vancouver Building Bylaw
If an application for a building permit is made before 1st January, 2015, the applicant can choose to apply under the 2007 bylaw or the 2014 bylaw.
Applications for building permits under the current bylaw must be submitted to the City of Vancouver by 19th December, 2014.
Not surprisingly, the City of Vancouver has received a large number of development applications under the current bylaw and reports that applications have increased by 40% from the same time period the previous year.
As a result of the influx of applications, builders have reported increased delays in the processing of their permit applications from a time period of one week to up to three months, which builders say have resulted in construction delays and increased costs.
While the new Vancouver Building Bylaw is intended to make buildings more accessible and environmentally friendly, opponents have criticized it on the basis that the changes will result in increased construction cost. The bylaw imposes new design criteria on those professionals involved in the construction of buildings subject to the bylaw, and may impose additional administrative and field review obligations. Time will tell whether these obligations will result in new types of claims against building professionals.