Home building standards toughened over fire response

Lacombe home builders will be required to meet higher construction standards in some cases because firefighters cannot guarantee they can respond within 10 minutes.

Lacombe home builders will be required to meet higher construction standards in some cases because firefighters cannot guarantee they can respond within 10 minutes.

Under the province’s building code regulations, the city previously could apply certain exemptions because it could provide at least a 10-minute fire response 90 per cent of the time.

As the city has grown, the volunteer fire department can no longer meet that standard.

That means under provincial building codes, developers may be required to use fire retardant materials in some cases or increase side setbacks between homes.

Area builders and other interested parties were informed of the situation at a November open house.

The senior field inspector and chief fire administrator with Municipal Affairs were at council on Monday night to provide a further update.

Some builders have raised concerns that the new rules will boost building costs and could affect local development interest.

Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie said the city does not have a choice on the building code issue.

“There is not a whole lot we can do. It is under the building code, which is law.”

However, the province has said that lots registered prior to 2010 are exempt until the end of 2014.

Only about six properties ready for development in Lacombe will be affected now, although future construction will be required to meet the updated building codes.

Changes required depend on the situation.

If a setback is large enough different materials are not required. For homes closer together fire retardant materials, such as siding and glazing, or fire sprinklers may be required.

Changes could add $5,000 to $10,000 more per house on average, he said.

Christie, who has high praise for local firefighters, doesn’t agree with using the 10-minute response time as a trigger point for new standards.

“In my opinion, this shouldn’t be based on response time. This is a materials issue.”

It would be better if the proximity of homes to each other triggered additional standards because that would then be consistent across the province, he said.

New standards are expected to kick on April 1. The city plans to extensively advertise the upcoming changes to alert developers.

Christie doubts the changes will have a significant impact on home building. The Town of Stony Plain has already faced a similar situation and found development remained steady.

Melcor regional vice-president Guy Pelletier said the company is not active in Lacombe currently and Red Deer home builders are not facing similar restrictions.

However, it is an issue that has come up from time to time in other Alberta communities, he said.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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