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PERMITS, Part 4: Building Codes

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

In my previous article PERMITS: Part 3, we looked at the Building Permit process. In this article, I delve into the maze of literature we call...


Building Code.

THE Building Code.

We use codes and pass-codes to keep things secret, but it's no secret that the Building Code isn't well-understood by most folks -- including many (or most) people who are legally responsible for complying with them. In order to obtain a Building Permit, the project as shown in the application must comply with the Building Code.

"Each of the province-specific building codes is actually a modified version of the National Building Code of Canada, which is revised every five years."

In the province of British Columbia, all construction projects must comply with the version of the British Columbia Building Code (BCBC) currently in legal effect. Some of the other provinces such as Ontario and Alberta also have provincially-specific building codes, and the city of Vancouver is the only city to have its own building code, called the Vancouver Building By-law (VBBL). Each of the province-specific building codes is actually a locally-modified version of the National Building Code of Canada (NBC). Every five years, a new, revised edition NBC comes into legal effect. Each provincial building code is subsequently updated to include most or all of the national changes, and many people get their undies in a knot trying to wrap their heads around those very changes.

The BCBC in turn references and mandates compliance with other documents such as the BC Fire Code, the Canadian Electrical Code, and the Safety Code for Elevators. It requires compliance with also a dozen other installation Codes and hundreds of national and international standards. Every few years or so, new editions of each of those Codes and standards will be released. And you have to know them all.

"Each owner must ensure that the construction project complies with all applicable codes and standards."

Well, technically and legally speaking, each owner must ensure that the construction project itself complies with all applicable codes and standards. But you're still legally responsible for them. Just like that 'YES, I have read the Terms of Service agreement' button you clicked just yesterday on your phone or the internet for whatever you were doing online, though you totally didn't read it.

Article of the BCBC states:

  1. Unless otherwise specified in this Code, the owner of a building shall be the person responsible for carrying out the provisions of this Code in relation to that building.

  2. The owner of a building is in no way relieved of full responsibility for complying with this Code by the authority having jurisdiction (a) granting a building permit, (b) approving drawings or specifications, or (c)carrying out inspections.

Enough with the shame game, what's in each Code? Lots. Suffice it to say that as important as the content certainly is, it is VERY DRY READING. The Building Code was not meant to be read as a whole at once, but it serves as a reference during a project.  At the time of this writing, the BC Building Code 2018 is currently in effect for all areas of BC except for the YVR airport and the City of Vancouver (though it does apply to the UBC campus).  Although there are multiple pieces of legislation, I will limit the scope of this article to the BC Building Code, chop it down to a side salad serving size, and serve it with what dressing I can to make it easier to swallow.

The BCBC is comprised of three Divisions: A, B, and C.

  • Division A: a giant list of reasons why the requirements in Division B are there and a separate giant list of how the reasons are satisfied by requirements

  • Division B: where almost all the good stuff is; in this article's explanation of the BCBC, I will focus on just Division B.

  • Division C: the administrative portion that isn't relevant to our discussion here

BCBC 2018 Division B is broken down into ten Parts, but I'm not going to talk about them all.  The big ones you'll run into are PART 3 and PART 9.

PART 9 applies to houses and small offices or shops under roughly 6,000 sq.ft. - a reference for homeowners and for architects of houses or small interior renovations

PART 3 applies to everything else; most work that architects and engineers do falls under this Part.  A Part 3 building must comply with Parts 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10:

  • Part 4: Structural design approach and required structural loads

  • Part 5: Requirements for keeping the wind, the rain, and the cold out and also for maintaining acceptably quiet spaces

  • Part 6: Heating, cooling, and ventilation

  • Part 7: It's essentially a placeholder for the separate binder of the Building Code, which covers plumbing.

  • Part 10: energy efficiency; I will write a separate blog post on just this topic

  • Part 1 applies to all buildings.  Remember the list of hundreds of codes and standards I mentioned above? This is it.

  • Part 2: (reserved empty space)

  • Part 8: Builders and contractors must ensure their construction sites comply with the safety requirements in this Part.

Part 9

Part 9 requirements also apply to some small stores, small warehouses, and small office buildings. You don't need an architect to design such a building. Part 9 is targeted primarily at owners of houses and is therefore detailed in what it requires.

  • General and Definitions

  • Materials, Systems and Equipment

  • Structural Requirements

  • Design of Areas and Spaces

  • Glass, Windows, Doors and Skylights

  • Stairs, Ramps, Handrails and Guards

  • Means of Egress - ensuring that occupants can leave the building safely in case of an emergency such as a fire

  • Fire Protection

  • Sound Transmission

  • Excavation

  • Dampproofing, Waterproofing and Soil Gas Control - prevent groundwater or radon from getting into the basement or coming up through the floor

  • Drainage - sanitary and stormwater (rainwater) sewer lines

  • Footings and Foundations, Floors-on-Ground, and Columns - parts of the building that hold up everything else

  • Crawl Spaces and Roof Spaces - spaces below and above the building

  • Masonry and Insulating Concrete Form Walls Not In Contact with the Ground

  • Masonry and Concrete Chimneys and Flues

  • Fireplaces

  • Wood-Frame Construction and Sheet Steel Stud Wall Framing

  • Heat Transfer, Air Leakage and Condensation Control

  • Roofing

  • Cladding and Stucco

  • Interior Wall and Ceiling Finishes, and Flooring

  • Plumbing Facilities

  • Ventilation, Heating, and Air-conditioning

  • Electrical Facilities

  • Garages and Carports

  • Energy Efficiency

  • Secondary Suites

  • Objectives and Functional Statements

  • Reference information

Part 3

If your definition of 'house' is a multi-million dollar mansion over roughly 6,000 sq.ft., or you're building a larger building, you'll need to understand Part 3. Buildings that fall under Part 3 require architects or engineers. Please ready my article YOU DON'T NEED TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT to understand why it's a great idea to hire an architect. It is applied in conjunction with Part 4 (structural requirements, used by structural engineers), Part 5 (building envelope requirements), Part 6 (heating / cooling / ventilation requirements, used by mechanical engineers), Part 7 (actually Volume 2 - plumbing), and Part 10 (energy efficiency).

3.1 General

3.2 Building Fire Safety

  • construction requirements

  • spatial separation

  • fire alarm systems

  • firefighting and sprinkler systems

  • special requirements for highrises

  • emergency lighting and emergency power

  • mezzanines

3.3 Safety within Floor Areas

3.4 Exits: doors, ramps, and stairs to ensure people can evacuate the building safely in case of an emergency such as a fire

3.5 Vertical Transportation: primarily elevators

3.6 Service Facilities: mechanical and electrical spaces and systems

3.7 Health Requirements: washrooms

3.8 Accessibility: requirements to address occupants who may be in a wheelchair, occupants who are partly or wholly blind, or occupants with other sensory or physical limitations

3.9 Reserved (administrative empty space)

3.10 Objectives and Functional Statements: explanations for the reasoning behind all the requirements in all the previous sections of Part 3.

As construction and renovation projects come to a close, everybody is chasing the Occupancy Permit, as I describe in my article PERMITS: Part 5.


Poor Johann just can't catch a break. Butchering the supports for the railing further tears at his soul, but eventually he completes the modification to his deck according to the Building Permit drawings that the City has approved. He calls Don the building inspector for a final inspection. Don looks over the deck and shed but then pauses at the steps down to the adjacent lawn. He quickly walks up and down the stair a few times, pulls out his bright orange measuring tape, and measures the steps. Shaking his head a little, he tells Johann that the steps don't meet the length and height limitations set by the building code. Johann nearly loses his cool and recoils. Exasperated, he rebuts with the Building Permit drawings with the City's big red 'APPROVED' stamp right on the front. Don tries to calm Johann and points out that on the application form at the bottom is a glob of small text that states that the City's review doesn't relieve the owner of the responsibility for meeting the building code. He jots down on his inspection sheet a code reference for Johann to look up, and hands the 'Fail' inspection report to Johann. As Johann accepts the situation, the two men agree that it's probably a fairly quick and easy fix. Don offers to stop in again the following day with the assumption that Johann will have the steps fixed, and the deck can then be put into active BBQ service.


Applying for the Building Permit didn't go as smoothly as Eva had hoped.  She didn't even finish making the application at the Permits desk at City Hall before she ran into problems.  The intake clerk points out that the site plan appears to be missing some information, thermal calculations aren't listed, and Eva probably needs quite a few more construction details.  Nonetheless, all the required documents seem to be accounted for, and the clerk accepts the package for processing. 

A couple months later, Eva receives an email from the city telling her that her application has been rejected.  A long list of errors and missing information is included in an attached letter.  Some of them are specific, but many are vague and reference parts of the Building Code.  She's never seen the Building Code and doesn't know where to start, so she turns to Gitterdunn for advice.  Jess tells Eva that they always build to code, but cities have been getting unreasonably fussy in approving building permits over the past few years.  He says that the drafters should know more about the obscure parts of the Building Code, so Eva turns to Blue-It for help.  Blue-It sounds surprised that the city wants more information, but since they aren't experts in the building code, they tell her, she should ask an architect.

Frustrated, Eva phones Pete and explains the situation.  She reads off some of the items on the city's list, and he seems to understand exactly whey they all mean.  Pete offers to put together a fee for re-doing the materials.  Eva asks if they can just re-use the Blue-It drawings, but Pete replies, "Blue-It owns the copyright to those drawings, so I'll need to draw everything from scratch.  I have to go through all the material thoroughly, and the drawings and specifications have to be prepared by me anyway, since my seal is going on them."  Eva asks Pete if that's absolutely necessary, but he assures her it is.

Within a week, Eva has agreed to Pete's proposal and hired him to prepare the new package.  "That's really too bad that the drafting company you hired didn't catch those things.  There are some new rules in the code, but some of those other things are just a matter of how well you know all the little rules."  Eva asks Pete to help her understand some of the items in the city's letter, and he gladly agrees.  He shows her the Building Code, and she finds it to be terribly dense reading with confusing wording and cross-references everywhere. She was expecting a meaty document, but this is overwhelming.  Pete interjects, "Most of the Building Code doesn't apply to a single-family house; pretty much everything is spelled out in Part 9."

The first item, Pete begins, is the thermal transmittance values for the roof, walls, windows, and even the floor, meaning how well they insulate.  He shows her the table of required values and another two sections that explain how to do the calculations.  He points out that Coquitlam has not yet adopted the Energy Step Code - a far more complicated set of requirements.

The next item he explains is the window she wants to add on the side, facing the next-door neighbour.  Pete tells her that he persuaded her not to add the window in the Development Permit drawings because of the 'limiting distance'.  He shows her where to look up how much window she can have on the side of the house that close to the fence. Pete continues with the city comments on the stucco.  He explains that while EIFS does provide greater insulation, it increases the risk of trapped moisture and must have a very good drainage layer.

The last item they discuss is the continuity of the air barrier.  Pete tells her that the design of the 'building envelope' is a complex thing, and there are even differing schools of thought.  He tells her that he'll ensure the details show how Gitterdunn must install the different membranes, but they should meet another time to discuss the airtightness and the insulation continuity.

Join our friends in Part 5: Moving In.


The information above is correct to the best of my understanding, hopefully eliminates some mystery, reduces confusion, and piques your interest. However, the information is provided as mainly entertainment and should not be relied upon as legal reference. Please consult with the authorities, registered professionals, and legislation in your area, as I will not be liable for any differences you may encounter. In Canada, a property owner must ensure that the property meets all relevant building codes. But you already knew that, didn't you?

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