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BCC Ruling No. 98-41-646

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

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

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Ms. Deborah Gemmel, Executive Director, Participation House Waterloo Region, 20 Union Lane, Apt. 20, Kitchener, Ontario, for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. James Witmer, Chief Building Official, City of Kitchener, Ontario to determine whether a sprinkler system constructed to the NFPA 13R standard achieves sufficiency of compliance with Article and Sentences and of the Ontario Building Code at Participation House Group Home, 120 Tagge Street, Kitchener, Ontario.


Ms. Deborah Gemmel
Executive Director
Participation House Waterloo Region
Kitchener, Ontario


Mr. Jim Witmer
Chief Building Official
City of Kitchener


Mr. Roy Philippe (Chair)
Mr. Ross Thomson
Mr. Robert De Berardis


Toronto, Ontario


November 5, 1998


November 5, 1998


Mr. Rick Reichard, Partner
Snider Reichard March Architects
Waterloo, Ontario
Agent for the Applicant

Ms. Lynn Balfour
Deputy CBO
City of Kitchener
For the Respondent RULING

  1. The Applicant

Ms. Deborah Gemmel, Executive Director, Participation House Waterloo Region, has applied for a building permit under the Building Code Act, 1992 to construct a group home known as Participation House Group Home, at 120 Tagge Street, Kitchener, Ontario.

  1. Description of Construction

The Applicant is currently constructing a one storey (with full basement), group home with a building area of 293.7 m2 (3,160.2 ft2) that is intended to house only 6 residents as well as up to 3 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 structure will not be equipped with a standpipe and hose system nor a fire alarm system, but will be supplied with an interconnected smoke detection system and a sprinkler system. This latter system will 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 small structure intended for only a maximum of 9 people, can be considered a residential occupancy as well according to the OBC, it would be allowed to conform to NFPA 13R.

  1. Provisions of the 1997 Ontario Building Code

Article 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).

Sentences and (2) Automatic Sprinkler Systems

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

(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

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 (as measured by their floor area or occupant load) in the B3 classification be allowed to comply with NFPA 13R.

The Applicant also discussed NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and how according to its criteria the subject group home could be considered, due to the limited number of residents and the full time staffing, as a medium to fast evacuation facility.

Considering that all occupied rooms would sprinklered (according to NFPA 13R), that fireseparations 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 a 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 significantly.

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, a recent similar project in a neighbouring municipality was allowed to proceed based on a NFPA 13R proposed system.

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. Chief Building Official'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. A structure cannot be both a residential and a care occupancy at the same time. These occupancies are mutually exclusive in the OBC. 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.

As well, the Respondent rejected the Applicant's attempt to use the definition and standards found in NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. NFPA 101 was not used in the design of the building, he noted. In his opinion, the OBC does not allow for the use of NFPA 101 as an equivalent in lieu of OBC standards.

7. 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 of the Building Code provided that

a) corridor and bedroom fire separations having a 3/4 hour fire rating are provided


b) manual initiating devices are located in supervised locations to initiate the operation of the interconnected smoke alarms.


i)The single storey building is small in size, with limited occupant load of 6 residents and 3 supervisory staff .

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

Dated at Toronto this 5th day in the month of November in the year 1998 for application number 1998-50.

Mr. Roy Philippe, Chair

Mr. Robert De Berardis

Mr. Ross Thomson