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BCC Ruling No. 99-06-662

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IN THE MATTER OF Subsection 24 (1) of the Building Code Act, 1992.

AND IN THE MATTER OF Article and Sentences and of Regulation 61, as amended by O. Reg. 400/91, 158/93, 160/93, 383/94, 20/95 and 395/96 (the "Ontario Building Code").

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Mr. Clare Wamsteeker, Manager, Physical Plant, Brantwood Residential Development Centre, 25 Bell Lane, Brantford, Ontario for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Doug Ferguson, Chief Building Official, City of Brantford, to determine whether a sprinkler system constructed to the NFPA 13R standard achieves sufficiency of compliance with Article and Sentences and (2) of the Ontario Building Code at Nelson Street Group Home, 346 Nelson Street, Brantford, Ontario.


Mr. Clare Wamsteeker, Manager, Physical Plant
Brantwood Residential
Brantford, Ontario


Mr. Doug Ferguson
Chief Building Official
City of Brantford


Mr. Ross Thomson, Chair-Designate
Mr. Douglas Clancey
Mr. Michael Steele


Toronto, Ontario


January 27th, 1999


January 27th, 1999


Mr. Rick Reichard, Principal

Sneider Reichard March Architects
Waterloo, Ontario
Agent for the Applicant

Mr. Jack Schut
Deputy CBO
City of Brantford
The Respondent


  1. The Applicant

Mr. Clare Wamsteeker, Manager, Physical Plant, Brantwood Residential Development Centre, Brantford, Ontario, has received a building permit under the Building Code Act, 1992 and is currently constructing a group home known as the Nelson Street Group Home, at 346 Nelson Street, Brantford, Ontario.

  1. Description of Construction

The Applicant is currently constructing a one storey (with a partial basement), group home with a building area of 223 m2 (2,400 ft2) (excluding garage) that is intended to house only 6 residents as well as up to 3 or 4 full time staff members. The building is of combustible construction and is classified as having a Group B, Division 3 (care) occupancy under the 1997 Ontario Building Code. The separations between the basement and ground floor and between the bedrooms within the group home will have a 3/4 hour fire-resistance rating.

The structure will not be equipped with a fire alarm system, but will be supplied with an interconnected smoke detection system and a sprinkler system. The Applicant is proposing that this latter system be designed and installed in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 13R, "Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height."

  1. Dispute

The issue at dispute between the Applicant and Respondent is whether a sprinkler system constructed to the NFPA 13R standard achieves sufficiency of compliance with Article and Sentences and of the Ontario Building Code. Article requires that a B3 occupancy must be sprinklered even though it may be of combustible construction. The dispute therefore centres on the type of sprinkler system that is required.

The NFPA 13R standard stipulates that a sprinkler system be designed and installed for all occupied rooms. The NFPA 13 standard, however, goes further by also requiring sprinklering in unoccupied areas such as closets and concealed spaces such as attics.

Sentence states that a required sprinkler system must meet NFPA 13, whereas Sentence, provides an exception to Sentence (1) by allowing low rise (four stories or less) residential occupancies to comply with the more relaxed sprinkler standards found in NFPA 13R.

If the subject group home, as a low rise structure intended for a maximum of only 10 people, could also be considered a residential occupancy according to the OBC, then the NFPA 13R standard would be an appropriate requirement for sprinklering.

  1. Provisions of the Ontario Building Code

Article Group B Division 2 or Division 3, One Storey, Sprinklered

(1) A building classified as Group B, Division 2 or Division 3 is permitted to be of combustible construction or noncombustible construction used singly or in combination, provided

(a) except as permitted by Sentence, the building is sprinklered,

(b) it is not more than 1 storey in building height, and

(c) it has a building area not more than 500 m2 (5,380 ft2).

Sentence Automatic Sprinkler Systems

(1) Except as permitted by Sentences (2), (3) and (4), an automatic sprinkler system shall be designated, constructed, installed and tested in conformance with NFPA 13, "Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems".

(2) Instead of the requirements of Sentence(1), NFPA 13R, "Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height", is permitted to be used for the design, construction, installation and testing of an automatic sprinkler system installed in a building of residential occupancy that is not more than 4 storeys in building height.

  1. Applicant's Position

At the outset the Applicant indicated that he had recently been to the Building Code Commission representing a project that was very similar to the one at hand, and since the dispute centred on the same issue he would be making similar arguments as before.

The Applicant submitted that the group home currently under construction should be considered as residential facility under the OBC, thereby allowing the proposed NFPA 13R conforming sprinkler system to be installed. The Applicant argued that the subject group home physically resembles a house from both the exterior, with its small size, and interior, with its homelike floor plans. He noted that the construction techniques are also residential in nature. Moreover, the proposed group home will function like every other family home with the staff acting as parents and residents as children and siblings. In his view, it was not the intent of the 1997 OBC to require the more onerous NFPA 13 sprinkler standard for such small buildings of residential character and function. He suggested that smaller facilities (asmeasured by their floor area or occupant load) in the B3 classification be allowed to comply with NFPA 13R.

Considering that all occupied rooms would be sprinklered (according to NFPA 13R), that fire separations would be provided between floors and bedrooms, that interconnected smoke detectors would be installed, and that evacuation would be quick, the Applicant stated that the life safety of the residents would be adequately protected without relying upon the more rigorous NFPA 13 requirements. Besides, as he argued, the principal difference in terms of protection offered by either sprinkler systems if installed in a such a building is that an NFPA 13 system would protect both occupants and the building, whereas a NFPA 13R system would only protect the occupants. The protection of property, in the Applicant's view, is not worth the additional expense. As he noted, by employing the NFPA 13 sprinkler standard, the construction costs of these already expensive homes would increase.

The Applicant also pointed out that historically there has been some confusion regarding the appropriate Building Code classification in which to determine construction standards for groups homes. He indicated that this uncertainty continued to the present 1997 version of the OBC. He stated that many like group homes were being constructed across the province with some conforming to NFPA 13, while many others were allowed to use NFPA 13R sprinkler systems. In fact, several recent similar projects in a neighbouring municipalities were allowed to proceed based on NFPA 13R proposed systems.

Lastly, the Applicant indicated that many safety and accessibility features had been included in the subject home, with some of these being beyond the minimum standards required in the Code.

  1. Respondent's Position

The Respondent submitted that the subject care home is not a residential facility and thus the sprinkler system should be designed and installed according to NFPA 13. As he noted, the 1997 OBC allows a care facility to be considered as having a Group C (residential) major occupancy using the exemption found in Article The building at hand, he argued, did not meet the criteria for this exemption however, since more than two people would require assistance to evacuate in an emergency. Therefore, in the Respondent's view, a care occupancy is not by definition a residential occupancy. Accordingly, a building classified as having a care occupancy does not qualify for any of the exemptions in Article and instead must conform with NFPA 13 standards for sprinkler design and installation.

The Respondent did, however, offer that the Applicant's proposal to utilize the NFPA 13R sprinkler system would provide reasonable provide. Nevertheless, he indicated that he felt it was beyond his authority to permit the proposed sprinkler system.

  1. Commission Ruling

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that a sprinkler system constructed to NFPA 13R provides sufficiency of compliance with and (2) in the B3 occupancy constructed to Article of the Building Code provided that;

i) bedroom fire separations having a 3/4 hour fire resistance rating are provided in accordance with Ontario Building Code requirements,


ii) manual initiating devices are in a location easily accessible to supervisory staff to initiate the operation of the interconnected smoke alarms.

  1. Reasons

i) The single storey building is small in size, with limited occupant load of 6 residents plus full time supervisory staff.

ii) The additional compartmentation and early warning features provide an additional level of safety from fire.

  1. Recommendation

As these are the second and third cases of a smiliar nature brought before the Commission, the Commission recommends that a code change be considered to review the conditions under which NFPA 13R sprinklers may be used in a B3 occupancy. Dated at Toronto this 27th day in the month of January in the year 1999 for application number 1998-72

Mr. Ross Thomson, Chair-Designate

Mr. Michael Steele

Mr. Douglas Clancey