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BCC Ruling No. 99-15-671

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BUILDING CODE COMMISSION DECISION ON B.C.C. #99-15-671

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

AND IN THE MATTER OF 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 Ms. Sharon Gregory, President, Shardon Building Corporation, Kanata, Ontario, for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Richard Hewitt, Chief Building Official, City of Ottawa, Ontario, to determine whether the basement level bathrooms, as constructed, with ceiling heights ranging from 1,950 mm (6 ft, 5 in) to 2,075 mm (6 ft, 10 in), provide sufficiency of compliance with Article 9.5.2.1. of the 1990 Ontario Building Code at 387 - 393 Bell Street South, 12 - 24 MacLean Street, and 395 Bell Street South (Units 1 - 13), Ottawa, Ontario.

APPLICANT

Ms. Sharon Gregory, President
Shardon Building Corporation
Kanata, Ontario

RESPONDENT

Mr. Richard Hewitt
Chief Building Official
City of Ottawa

PANEL

Mr. Roy Philippe (Chair)
Ms. Susan Friedrich
Mr. Michael Steele

PLACE

Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario

DATE OF HEARING

March 11, 1999

DATE OF RULING

March 11, 1999

APPEARANCES

Ms. Judy Jeske, Sr. Associate
Leber/Rubes Inc.
Ottawa, Ontario

Agent for the Applicant

Mr. Neil Dillon, Chief
Building Code Inspections
City of Ottawa
For the Respondent

RULING

  1. The Applicant

Ms. Sharon Gregory, President, Shardon Building Corporation, Kanata, Ontario, received a building permit under the Building Code Act, 1992 to construct an eighteen unit residential townhouse condominium project at 387 - 393 Bell Street South, 12 - 24 MacLean Street, and 395 Bell Street South (Units 1 - 13), Ottawa, Ontario.

  1. Description of Construction

The Applicant is currently constructing a low-rise, two storey (plus basement), Group C -residential condominium project, with a total of 18 attached units. While the individual units range in size from 39.5 to 46.5 m2 (425 to 500 ft 2), the entire structure is divided into two parts with building areas of 598 and 269 m2 (6,434.5 and 2,894.5 ft2), which are separated by a firewall. The units are of combustible construction and are not equipped with a fire alarm system nor a sprinkler system.

The construction in dispute concerns the ceiling heights in the basement level bathrooms of 14 of the 18 units. A ceiling mounted overhead duct in these units resulted in a lowering of the ceiling height. The reduction of ceiling heights ranges between the affected units. Seven of the units have ceiling heights ranging between 1,950 mm (6 ft 5 in) and 2,037 mm (6 ft 8 1/2 in), while the headroom in the other seven measures between 2,037 mm (6 ft 8 1/2 in) and 2,075 mm (6 ft 10 in). The disputed bathrooms contain a lavatory, water faucet and shower stall. All of the subject units are provided with another three piece bathroom on the second floor.

  1. Dispute

The issue at dispute between the Applicant and Respondent is whether the as constructed basement level bathroom ceiling heights, which vary between 1,950 mm and 2,075 mm, provide sufficiency of compliance with Article 9.5.2.1. of the 1990 Ontario Building Code. This provision sets out in Table 9.5.2.A. the required heights for rooms or spaces in residential occupancies. For bathrooms, Table 9.5.2.A. stipulates that the minimum height must be 2,100 mm (6 ft 11 in). Nevertheless, this provision appears to deal with bathrooms that are located above grade. Table 9.5.2.A. also describes the necessary height of basement areas. Specifically, it states that 75 per cent of a basement area must be at least 2,100 mm in height and that in areas served by ducts the height can be reduced to 1,950 mm.

At dispute then is whether a below grade bathroom must conform to the required height for bathrooms (2,100 mm), or whether the general height requirements for basement can be applied. If the disputed bathroom ceiling heights are not found to sufficiently comply with Article 9.5.2.1., extensive demolition of the concrete floor slab in the basement may be required.

  1. Provisions of the 1990 Ontario Building Code

Article 9.5.2.1. Heights of Rooms or Spaces

(1)Heights of rooms or spaces in residential occupancies shall conform to Table 9.5.2.A.

  1. Applicant's Position

The Applicant submitted that the basement level bathrooms with ceiling heights less than 2,100 mm provide sufficiency of compliance with Table 9.5.2.A. of the OBC. They presented the following arguments as the basis for sufficiency of compliance.

First, units of this size are only required to have one washroom as per the OBC. The bathroom on the second floor of each unit is a full, three piece facility and conforms to all requirements, including ceiling height. The basement level bathrooms are therefore, they argued, provided for convenience purposes. Moreover, the Applicant asserted that the second floor bathrooms would be the primary washrooms since they are closer to the sleeping rooms and living areas within each of the units.

Secondly, ceiling heights of 1,950 mm do not make a room or space unusable. In fact, the Applicant noted that the Code specifically recognizes that basement ceiling heights may need to be reduced in certain areas due to mechanical or structural reasons. The situation of reduced ceiling heights, they pointed out, is not only recognized for new construction in Table 9.5.2.A., but is extended even further under Compliance Alternative C88.1 found in Part 11 of the 1990 OBC. This provision allows a 1,950 mm ceiling height throughout certain renovated dwelling unit types which are more than five years old.

Thirdly, the reduced ceiling height in the bathrooms is not a safety issue. As they argued, if the Code permits a full 25 per cent of a basement area to be reduced in height to 1,950 mm to accommodate ducts and beams in new construction, then the lowered ceiling must be viewed more as an issue of convenience. The disputed ceilings would not cause any more inconvenience than any other area of the basement where the ceiling height may be restricted, the Applicant noted.

The Applicant also offered some background as to how the subject construction dispute arose. In their reading of Table 9.5.2.A. the prescribed ceiling heights for bathrooms appeared to apply to those located above grade only. As a result, their design followed the height requirements for basement areas which, in their view, permitted a reduction to 1,950 mm specifically beneath ducts. The municipality, they claimed, had originally approved the plans on the basis of this height exception. Some time soon after occupancy permits had been issued for the first units to be completed, the municipality then indicated that the basement level ceiling heights should 2,100 mm, consistent with a bathroom located elsewhere in the house. At this time, however, construction had proceeded past this point in the unfinished units.

The Applicant also indicated that they had proceeded in good faith and believed they were complying with the Code. Due to the nature of the problem and lateness of when it was discovered during the job, their options to rectify it were severely limited. They stated that lowering the floor level would be very expensive.

Lastly, the Applicant indicated that most of the units remain to be sold and that the prospective buyers would obviously have the opportunity to inspect the as built condition before purchasing.

  1. Respondent's Position

The Respondent submitted that the subject basement level bathroom ceilings do not meet the standards set out in Table 9.5.2.A. In their view, a ceiling height of 2,100 mm is required. They indicated, however, that they shared the Applicant's view that one could perhaps interpret Table 9.5.2.A. to read that the 2,100 mm standard applied to above grade washrooms only.

The Respondent noted that the sumitted plans showed a basement ceiling height of 2,400 mm (8 ft 0 in), which after the floor slab was poured and the walls framed would leave a 2,100 mm headroom in the basement. They indicated that it was construction circumstances relating to the narrowness of the units that caused the difficulties with the ducts with an enclosing bulkhead being located in the bathrooms, thereby causing a lowering of the ceiling height.

They stated they were aware of at least one purchaser who was concerned about the low bathroom ceiling height.

Nevertheless, the Respondent indicated that they felt the Applicant's arguments concerning sufficiency of compliance did have merit, however, they did not believe that they had the authority to accept the proposal.

  1. Commission Ruling

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that the proposed basement bathrooms with a minimum ceiling height of 1950 mm (6 ft 5 in), provides sufficiency of compliance with Article 9.5.2.1. of the Ontario Building Code.

  1. Reasons

i) Only bathrooms, water closet rooms or laundry areas which are located above grade are required to be 2,100 mm in any area where a person would be normally in a standing position.

ii) For basements, the minimum ceiling height over 75 percent of the basement area is at 2,100 mm, except that the clearance may be reduced to 1,950 mm under beams and ducts. Therefore, 25 per cent of the floor area may be reduced to 1950 mm, and this basement area complies with this condition.

iii) The low ceiling is a result of the location of the duct work above the washroom. The building official indicated that locating the ducts in any other area, would compromise the headroom at stairs and circulation paths.

Dated at Toronto this 11th day in the month of March in the year 1999 for application number 1999-04.

Mr. Roy Philippe, Chair

Ms. Susan Friedrich

Mr. Michael Steele