The Evolution of Building Codes

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin instagrammailinstagrammail

Every construction project, whether commercial or residential, requires a permit prior to project commencement. Those permits, in turn, depend on the National Building Code (NBC) published by The National Research Council of Canada (NRC), which specifies the minimum standards for how buildings should be designed and constructed. The model building code is the foundation of a national system of regulations, practices, and enforcement. Most builders are familiar with the process of obtaining building permits and navigating through various building codes, but where did it all start? Here’s an overview of the history and evolution of building codes, and a few insights on what to expect from building codes in the future.


Since the 1940’s, our National Building Code has been in place to stop jurisdictions from having different requirements for every small county municipality in the country. The overall intent was to enact a model code which afforded engineers, consultants, and manufacturers the ability to do business anywhere in the country. Today, the NRC is comprised of a committee of volunteer stakeholders who develop and pass new building codes to be released on a five-year cycle.


A model building code is implemented to give a baseline on what the code requirements should be for any type of build. While the model code can be considered as the minimum acceptable measures required for builders to operate, there are still differences between provinces. Some provinces adopt new codes immediately after the code is released, but others may choose to make their own amendments and follow up with a provincial building code. In addition, federal projects have different building code requirements than provincial projects. This can pose a challenge for builders and manufacturers to be sure to capture the correct code requirements. That being said, it’s important to be aware of the codes in your jurisdiction at any given time.


For the most part, building codes have not significantly changed when addressing structural design over the years with the exception of one major change that altered the way most Canadian projects were to be designed. Prior to the 2005 building code, there was limited provision for seismic design when it came to low-rise construction. One of the major provisions in the 2005 code stated that seismic analysis of a structural system was required prior to building a new structure. When the new codes were finally released, a majority of Canadian buildings were now required to have seismic provisions implemented into building design. Even though we were aware this new code was coming, it was a bombshell change for many builders and designers. Since then, most new building codes have been modifications and different iterations of refining seismic design.


While the 2020 NBC will focus on energy efficiency, future iterations of the code are expected to present change opportunities related to the Coronavirus pandemic. There is reason to believe the pandemic will change certain aspects of future codes, and these changes could affect the way washrooms, plumbing, and ventilation systems in certain types of buildings are designed and constructed. Researchers and other stakeholders also may be interested in making changes on how HVAC systems recirculate air in buildings. As our industry waits for the next round of building codes to be released, it’s important to stay on the lookout for potential changes that could be seen in the future. Robertson stays current with news related to building codes by maintaining certifications and memberships with industry associations. We are a member of the Canadian Sheet Steel Building Institute, and we have company representatives who attend meetings at the industry level. Our representatives help us stay abreast of the various stages of the building cycle, and things to look out for in each province and jurisdiction. Being involved in industry associations is essential as a manufacturer of an engineered product.


Since the beginning of the NRC, building codes have paved the way for construction companies all throughout Canada while ensuring safety and consistency across the country. And while building codes are complex and sometimes difficult to keep up with, there is an increasing trend in uniformity. From the 2005 seismic provisions, to the potential changes resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic, keeping up with various resources available for builders and manufacturing companies is vital in the success of our industry. For more information, check out our recent podcast on prescriptive and performance building codes.