Building Codes and Regulations | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Building Codes and Regulations

Under Canadian law the regulation of buildings is a provincial responsibility and is carried out through various laws, Acts, codes and regulations, often administered at the municipal level.

Building Codes and Regulations

Under Canadian law the regulation of buildings is a provincial responsibility and is carried out through various laws, Acts, codes and regulations, often administered at the municipal level. Provincial legislation empowers government agencies or departments to regulate different aspects of buildings, depending on the objectives of the specific law or Act. Such legislation permits the establishment of detailed regulations by which the objectives of the law are to be met; or it may refer to other documents. For example, laws protecting the safety and health of building occupants usually refer to building codes for additional requirements.

Building codes generally apply to new construction and have traditionally been concerned with fire safety, structural sufficiency and the health of the building's occupants. More recent codes have dealt with accessibility for handicapped persons and with energy conservation.

Zoning and planning legislation play an important role in regulating buildings by restricting the type, size, spacing, setback and use of buildings and by controlling general land use in a community. Their purpose is to maintain certain neighbourhood characteristics and to allow for a community's orderly development.

In addition to building codes, there are various miscellaneous Acts aimed at specific building types or at specific services within buildings. Liquor-licensing, hotel, theatre and factory Acts, for example, may affect the construction or use of specific types of buildings. Regulations under such Acts may parallel, or even conflict with, building-code provisions, although the trend is to rely on building codes where practicable. Plumbing, electrical, elevator, and boiler and pressure-vessel codes are examples of STANDARDS aimed at particular building services and may be enacted separately or combined in a single Act.

Fire-prevention bylaws or fire codes regulate the ongoing safety of existing buildings. They regulate maintenance provisions for the purpose of fire safety, control the handling and storage of flammable materials in buildings, control furnishings (where appropriate) and regulate hazards related to certain industrial processes. While building codes are generally administered by building departments, fire-prevention bylaws and fire codes, which take over where building codes stop, are administered by the fire services.


Although the regulation of buildings now falls within provincial jurisdiction, past governments delegated this responsibility to municipalities, with the result that building regulations diversified. Since municipal resources varied widely, the quality and efficiency of building regulations also varied; before WWII building regulation was nonexistent in many areas.

To promote uniformity, a model set of requirements, the National Building Code of Canada (NBC), was published in 1941 under the auspices of the NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (NRC). By 1987, 9 editions had been published. From its inception, the National Building Code had a major unifying influence on building-code requirements, although it had no legal status unless adopted by an authority having jurisdiction. The postwar construction boom resulted in the demand for a revised NBC. In 1948, the NRCC created the Associate Committee on the NBC to update and maintain the document and provide broader input. The Associate Committee revised the code in 1953. New editions are published about every 5 years.

In 1956, the NRC created the Associate Committee on the National Fire Code, which produced the first edition of the National Fire Code in 1963. The 2 Associate Committees were disbanded in October 1991 and replaced by the Canadian Commission of Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC).


The CCBFC works with the assistance of the NRC to produce the NBC and the National Fire Code. The Commission also produces the Canadian Plumbing Code, Canadian Farm Building Code and Measures for Energy Conservation in New Buildings. All are written as model legislation for adoption by authorities having jurisdiction.

A number of standards-writing agencies produce standards on various aspects of building, which are referred to in building codes or in other regulations. The National Building Code, for example, refers to 192 such standards, including standards for construction materials, design, installation, equipment and testing. Provincial Acts also refer to such standards or base their regulations on them. For example, the Canadian Electrical Code, produced by the Canadian Standards Association, forms the basis for electrical requirements in every province.

Other standards-writing bodies in Canada include the Canadian General Standards Board, Underwriters Laboratories of Canada and the Canadian Gas Association. All such bodies are privately financed, except the Canadian General Standards Board, which operates out of the Department of Supply and Services. The standards produced by these bodies play a major role, along with building codes, in regulating the construction of buildings in Canada.