Scope and application of the National Model Codes
In Canada, building and fire codes are developed cooperatively with the goal of achieving compatibility between codes. Generally, when a new building code is adopted, it is not applied retroactively. Existing buildings that comply with the code in effect at the time of their construction are generally not required to be upgraded so that they comply with the new code. Unlike building codes, however, fire codes may contain retroactive requirements that apply to all buildings, regardless of when they were built.
The National Building Code of Canada (NBC) has requirements to achieve the objectives of health, safety, accessibility, and the protection of buildings from fire or structural damage. It applies to the construction of new buildings and to the demolition or relocation of existing ones. It also applies when a building’s use changes or when it is significantly renovated or altered.
The National Fire Code of Canada (NFC) applies to new and existing buildings and facilities and regulates activities that create fire hazards. It contains requirements for the maintenance of fire safety equipment and egress facilities, and provides direction on the safe use of combustible materials and dangerous goods in both new and existing buildings and facilities. It also includes requirements for fire safety plans in anticipation of emergencies. In sum, the NFC includes provisions to reduce the likelihood of fires, particularly those that may present a hazard to the community, and to limit the potential damage caused by fires as well as by the handling and storage of hazardous materials.
The National Plumbing Code of Canada (NPC) includes provisions for health, safety, and the protection of buildings and facilities from water and sewage damage. It covers the design and installation of plumbing systems in buildings and facilities. It applies to the construction of new buildings and to the demolition or relocation of existing ones as well as when a building’s use changes or when it is significantly renovated or altered.
The National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) was designed to complement the building codes. It sets out minimum requirements for energy-efficient design and construction of new buildings and additions.
The National Farm Building Code (NFBC) includes provisions for small non-residential farm buildings. Requirements for farm buildings that do not qualify under specific criteria are addressed by requirements in the NBC.
Differences between a code and a standard
Model codes and standards are developed through similar consensus-based committee processes and public review.
Generally, a code:
- is broad in scope, i.e. it covers a wide range of issues, and
- is intended to be given the force of law through adoption by a provincial, territorial or municipal authority.
In the construction context, generally a standard:
- is narrow in scope, i.e. it covers a limited range of issues, and
- is intended to be given the force of law by being referenced in a code adopted by a provincial, territorial or municipal authority or by being referenced directly by a provincial, territorial or municipal regulation.
Some standards do not become legal requirements but are simply used by a specific industry or trade as the recognized articulation of good practice.
A code will often reference several standards, thus giving them the force of law in jurisdictions where that code is adopted. For example, the NBC references more than 200 standards.
Standards development organizations
Standards development organizations are major contributors to construction regulation in Canada, and hundreds of standards are used by the construction industry. These are largely prepared by Canadian standards development organizations accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, such as:
- Canadian General Standards Board
- Canadian Standards Association
- Underwriters Laboratories of Canada
- Bureau de normalisation du Québec
Standards from American organizations, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials and the National Fire Protection Association, are also referenced in the National Model Codes.