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BCC Ruling No. 99-71-727

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BUILDING CODE COMMISSION DECISION ON B.C.C. #99-71-727

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

AND IN THE MATTER OF Article 3.2.2.41 and Sentences 3.2.5.13.(1) and (2) of Regulation 403, as amended by O. Reg. 22/98, 102/98, 122/98, 152/99 and 278/99 (the "Ontario Building Code").

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Mr. Clare Warmsteeker, Manager, Physical Plant, Brantwood Residential Development Centre, Brantford, Ontario for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Doug Ferguson, Chief Building Official, City of Brantford, to determine whether the proposed sprinkler system, designed according to NFPA 13R, provides sufficiency of compliance with Article 3.2.2.41. and Sentences 3.2.5.13.(1) and (2) of the Ontario Building Code at the St. Paul Avenue Group Home, 485 St. Paul Avenue, Brantford, Ontario.

APPLICANT

Mr. Clare Warmsteeker, Manager, Physical Plant
Brantwood Residential Development Centre
Brantford, Ontario

RESPONDENT

Mr. Doug Ferguson
Chief Building Official
City of Brantford

PANEL

Mr. Kenneth Peaker, Chair-Designate
Mr. Robert De Berardis
Mr. James Lischkoff

PLACE

Toronto, Ontario

DATE OF HEARING

December 2nd, 1999

DATE OF RULING

December 2nd, 1999

APPEARANCES

Mr. Rick Reichard, Architect/Planner
Snider Reichard March Architects
Waterloo, Ontario
Agent for the Applicant

RULING

  1. The Applicant

Mr. Clare Warmsteeker, 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 St. Paul Avenue Group Home, 485 St. Paul Avenue, Brantford, Ontario.

  1. Description of Construction

The Applicant is currently constructing a new care facility intended as a group home for a maximum of seven persons. The Building is described as one storey (with a partial basement and a separated crawl space) in building height, 363.5 m2 (excluding carport) in building area, and is of combustible construction. The building is classified as having a Group B, Division 3 - (group home) care occupancy under the 1997 Ontario Building Code. The structure will not be equipped with a fire alarm system, but will be supplied with a hard-wired interconnected smoke detection system complete with two pull stations and a sprinkler system. The group home will also have five means of egress direct to the exterior at grade level.

The main floor of the subject building is to contain a total of seven bedrooms arranged in a U-shaped configuration on the east, south and west facing walls. Bathroom facilities, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen are to occupy the remainder of the ground floor. The partial basement will contain a storage room and mechanical and electrical equipment room. The separations provided in the floor assembly between the basement (but not the crawl space) and ground floor, and in the wall assemblies between the bedrooms and the rest of the ground floor and between the individual bedrooms themselves will have a 3/4 hour fire-resistance rating. The floor assembly of the crawl space has not been separated due to the fact that the crawl space is not to be used as a plenum and any flues will be fully ducted.

The seven group home residents are to be supervised 24 hours a day with 3 full time staff members present during working hours and 4 full time employees during the evening. After midnight one awake staff will be on duty throughout the night and will be backed up by a roving supervisor who is to drop in periodically. In case of an emergency, three residents would need assistance to evacuate.

The construction in dispute involves the proposed sprinkler system. The Applicant is proposing that the sprinkler 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 the proposed sprinkler system, design according to the NFPA 13R standard, and intended for use in a Group B, Division 3 occupancy, achieves sufficiency of compliance with Article 3.2.2.41. and Sentences 3.2.5.13.(1) and 3.2.5.13.(2) of the Ontario Building Code. Article 3.2.2.41. 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.

Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1) states that a required sprinkler system must meet NFPA 13, whereas Sentence 3.2.5.13.(2), 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. Specifically, the NFPA 13 standard requires that all spaces of a building be protected with sprinklering. This includes unoccupied areas of the building such as closets and concealed spaces such as attics and crawl spaces. The NFPA 13R standard, however, stipulates that such a sprinkler system need only be designed and installed for all occupied rooms.

Certain buildings classified as having a B3 occupancy are permitted under Article 3.1.2.5. to be considered as residential occupancies with conditions. The first condition is that the occupants operate as a single housekeeping unit and that there is sleeping accommodation for no more than ten persons. Only seven bedrooms are proposed for the subject building and since the rooms are not equipped with cooking facilities it is conceivable that it may be considered as a single housekeeping unit. The second condition is that not more than two persons would require assistance to evacuate in case of an emergency. As the Applicant has noted, three occupants would require assistance in an emergency. As a result, the subject building cannot be considered as having a residential occupancy as per Article 3.1.2.5.

At issue therefore, is whether the proposed building offers any compensating measures to achieve sufficiency of compliance with Article 3.2.2.41. and Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1), which require that the sprinkler system be built according to NFPA 13.

  1. Provisions of the Ontario Building Code

Article 3.2.2.41. - 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 3.2.2.7.(1), 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).

Article 3.2.5.13. - 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.

Article 3.1.2.5. - Group B, Division 3 Occupancies

(1) Group B, Division 3 occupancies are permitted to be classified as Group C major occupancies provided: (a) the occupants live as a single housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit with sleeping accommodation for not more than 10 persons; and
(b) not more than 2 occupants require assistance in evacuation in case of an emergency.

  1. Applicant's Position

At the outset, the Agent for the Applicant indicated that has been to the Building Code Commission numerous times over the past year representing similar projects to the one at hand, and since the dispute centred on the same issue he would be making similar arguments as before.

Prior to discussing the technical issues, however, the Agent indicated that he had some general comments about the issue of determining a B3 occupancy with the fundamental shift of care provision for certain challenged individuals from large institutional settings to smaller home-like environments, providers of such care have found some difficulty in using the B3 occupancy. They are finding it too broad and seems to fit a larger building better. Moreover, there is not definition of group homes in the Ontario Building Code. Adding to the confusion, the Agent noted is that a group home can be interpreted as meeting both the definition of care and residential occupancies. The government's response to the Meadowcroft retirement, i.e., in part, the creation of the BC occupancy home was so wide-sweeping that it caught even very small group homes. The B3 occupancy to date, has not provided much flexibility and seems out of sync with the current trends of this type of care provision. Turning his attention to the technical issues.

The Agent acknowledged that while strictly speaking it was not possible to consider the subject building as a residential facility under Article 3.1.2.5. because more than two residents would require assistance in an emergency, he submitted that the care occupancy currently under construction should still be considered as residential occupancy. The Agent argued that the subject group home will operate as a single house-keeping unit with a family like environment. He also argued that the 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. 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 (as measured by their floor area or occupant load) in the B3 classification be allowed to comply with NFPA 13R standard for sprinkler protection. All occupied rooms would be sprinklered, which, he noted, is far more fire protection than is required of the average house.

In terms of compensating measures to achieve sufficiency of compliance with Sentence 3.2.5.13.(1), the Agent noted that the fire separations to be provided between the common areas and the bedrooms and between the individual bedrooms are not required by Code and would offer a higher level of containment than standard construction. These additional separations would act as a direct compensating measure to offset the lesser sprinkler protection provided under NFPA 13R.

The Agent also argued that the hard-wired interconnected smoke detection system would increase the fire safety of the house. He explained that the smoke detectors would be installed (beyond Code requirements) throughout the house, including in some concealed areas such as the crawl space, i.e., among the areas where sprinklers would be necessary under NFPA 13. The Agent indicated that the presence of additional detection would mean that fire in such areas would not go unnoticed and due to early warning would therefore pose no threat to the occupants. Moreover, he added that two manual pull stations, which are also not required, are to be installed and connected to the smoke detection system.

The last major area in which compensating construction is proposed the Agent noted, is the number of egress facilities. He indicated that the Code requires only two exits for a building of this size. The subject structure, however, is proposed to have five exits that will lead directly to the exterior at grade level. This would provide numerous escape options and would directly compensate for the fact that three residents would require assistance to exit in an emergency. As a result, the Agent argued that the overall exiting time would be comparable to a situation in which there were two residents that needed assistance and only two exits.

In response to questions raised during the hearing, the Applicant also offered to provide a connected heat detector in the attic and sprinkler (as per NFPA 13R standards) in the crawl space.

Finally, the Agent stated that the above compensating measures and the NFPA 13R sprinkler system would offer the same level of fire safety for the residents of the proposed group home without relying upon the more rigorous and expensive NFPA 13 sprinkler requirements.

  1. Respondent's Position

The Respondent chose not to attend the hearing. The Commission therefore relied upon his written submission only.

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. The building at hand, he argued, would contain more than two people who would require assistance to evacuate in an emergency. As a result, the subject building does not meet the criteria found in Article 3.1.2.5. of the 1997 Ontario Building Code that allows a care facility to be considered as having a residential occupancy. Therefore, in the Respondent's view, a care occupancy must conform with NFPA 13 standards for sprinkler design and installation.

  1. Commission Ruling

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that the proposed sprinkler system, designed according to NFPA 13R, provides sufficiency of compliance with Article 3.2.2.41. and Sentences 3.2.5.13.(1) and (2) of the Ontario Building Code at the St. Paul Avenue Group Home, 485 St. Paul Avenue, Brantford, Ontario on the condition that:

i. Fire detectors are provided in the attic, basement, crawl space and carport/garage;

ii. The two pull stations are interconnected with the smoke detection system;

iii. The proposed level of fire separations be constructed;

iv. Five exits are provided; and,

v. Sprinklers, designed according to NFPA 13R, are installed in all occupied areas of the building including closets and the crawl space.

8. Reasons

(a) With conformance to the above conditions, the Commission is satisfied that the proposed sprinkler system does not represent an increased hazard to life safety.

(b) The building will be a non-smoking facility.

(c) Staff will receive safety training and fire training, which includes fire drills to be carried out.

(d) Adequate staff will be provided to accommodate the physical condition of the residents.



Dated at Toronto this 2nd day in the month of December in the year 1999 for application number 1999-75.



____________________________

Mr. Kenneth Peaker, Chair-Designate



_______________________

Mr. Robert De Berardis



__________________________

Mr. James Lischkoff