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The National Research Council (NRC) is the Government of Canada's largest research organization, supporting industrial innovation, the advancement of knowledge and technology development, and fulfilling government mandates. As the lead organization responsible for building code development, NRC has an impact on the work of the HVACR sector.  It might be interesting, therefore, for HRAI members to learn about some of the more interesting projects NRC is working on at the moment.


HRAI19082018IWith hurricane season in full swing, we might wonder what governments are doing proactively to try to minimize the negative effects of extreme weather events. Among other things, “NRC is conducting research to determine what changes might be needed to our National Building Code, standards and technical guidelines to keep us up-to-date with some of the new realities,” says Philip Rizcallah, Program Director for the Construction Research Centre at NRC.

According to NRC: “As damaging floods, droughts, heat waves and high winds increasingly stress the built environment, the need to adapt our buildings and infrastructure to withstand new climate loads becomes more pressing…the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Infrastructure Canada have undertaken a project to update building codes, specifications, guidelines and assessment tools to help keep Canadians safe and resilient to our changing environment.”

“If you’re building in an area that is flood prone, there may be a need for new requirements to mitigate the effects of a major storm event,” says Rizcallah. “Or you might be building in an area that is known for forest fires. It may be that the types of building cladding permitted, and some other practices need to be re-examined.”

In 2016, the NRC and Infrastructure Canada launched the Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI) Project, a $40 million initiative. The first phase of the research, started in 2017, focused on the engagement of expert researchers and consultants to prepare a detailed project plan across five domains: buildings, bridges, roads, wastewater and rail transit. The team undertook a research gap analysis to identify the best path forward to achieving climate resilience in these areas. Examples of specific research areas would include overheating in buildings, flood resilience and wildfire-urban interfaces.

“Some of our findings have already been incorporated into some standards,” says Rizcallah. We’re trying to use predictive models so that our planning reflects future weather patterns rather than historical models. We expect the first wave of changes in 2020 and a second group in 2021 or 2022.”


HRAI19082018JThe NRC has also been working on code updates involving the use of mass timber for taller buildings than have been permitted in the past. Technological advances have addressed some traditional fears and allowed the forestry industry to advance its case for greater use of wood in major projects.

A recent study underwritten by the Canadian Wood Council noted that newer mass timber products and configurations offer important advantages compared with light wood frame techniques, to which we are accustomed, in terms of fire, acoustic performance, structural performance, scale, material stability and construction efficiency.

Although some of the products and building practices are modern, and the review of possibilities is current, the same study points out that tall wood buildings are not a new concept. It says: “1400 years ago tall pagodas in Japan were built to 19 storeys in wood and still stand today in high seismic, wet climate environments. Several countries around the world have a history of building tall wood buildings. In Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood, 7 and 10 storey heavy timber buildings have stood for the last hundred years.”

The report also notes that on “a weight-to-strength ratio, engineered wood products generally match, and in some cases exceed the performance of reinforced concrete; Mass Timber behaves very well in fire and is significantly different in fire performance to that of light wood frame.”

One major project that is now being planned in Toronto involving mass timber is called Quayside by Sidewalk Labs. It is expected to consist of about 3,000 residential and mixed-use units on a 12.5 acre site on the waterfront in downtown Toronto. Developed under a partnership between Harbourfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Google-Alphabet), the project will incorporate numerous future-city features such as warming ground plates with programmable diodes to flexibly adjust street lanes in real time, robotic underground package delivery, passive house building envelopes, prefab construction, new strategies for zoning and traffic planning/priorities, and so on.

One of the main design choices for this project is extensive use of mass timber for two-storey base podiums containing retail and light industrial modes. The podiums would support numerous storeys of multi-unit residential. How high can they go? Quayside is still in the planning stages. Designs are not final, and presumably will be impacted by code changes such as those being examined by NRC.

Rizcallah notes that some changes to the National Building Code involving mass timber were introduced in 2015 and says they are planning for additional changes in the near future. “There are some complications that we are still studying, involving residential vs. office environments, fire sprinkler rules and so forth. Right now we are looking at whether we can permit 12 storeys in the 2020 code.”


HRAI19082018KAnother initiative underway at the NRC is to find ways to make code documents more accessible. “We’re working on methods to fund a program that would make it free to download the National Building Code, the fire code, energy code, and plumbing code. We’re not there yet but we are hoping for 2020 or shortly after that.” He explains that NRC has adopted the position that cost should not be a deterrent to public education about proper building practices.

“In some municipal offices, as an example, there are hundreds of people who work with these documents, and it can cost as much as $1,000 per person to supply them with up-to-date materials. It then becomes a budget discussion, and choices might be made that are not in the public interest.” He gives another example of an ordinary resident renovating a bathroom. “People should not be required to spend several hundred dollars to clarify what the code says for a small renovation. They should be able to just download the relevant section. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”