Codes & Standards
Enforcement of fenestration standards in Canada is uneven, but one provincial solution might be working.
May 4, 2023 By Treena Hein
If you could magically look at all the new residential builds happening right now across Canada, there’s a good chance that, at some sites, windows and doors are being installed that are non-compliant for structural code, air-water tightness or energy performance (and maybe all three).
In addition, there may even be false/unproven energy performance claims on products being installed and customers successfully getting rebates based on these labels. When this happens, it creates ongoing frustration for manufacturers and dealers who invest considerable time and money making their products and installations compliant but are forced to compete with those who do not, and are therefore able to cut costs and win projects.
In broad strokes, it’s a problem that no one in the industry knows what percentage of windows and doors being installed in Canada are currently non-compliant and how much this differs regionally. And no one can answer the even bigger question, either: How many of these poor products and/or installations are being caught through inspection?
Of course, these questions – which apply to new builds and also renovations – are not possible to answer without a huge monetary and time investment. It’s therefore perhaps best to focus on solutions.
Is it simply a matter of boosting enforcement with more and/or better-educated building inspectors? Do we need a national mandatory labeling/product certification system too? First, let’s look at what’s happening across Canada.
A focus change in B.C.
Looking back at B.C.’s recent enforcement history, Fenestration Canada technical director, Terry Adamson, explains that, about 10 years ago, there was an increase in enforcement on labelling in new construction when the window standards changed in 2012.
“That’s trailed off, though,” he says. “The focus of manufacturers currently has moved primarily to energy performance in B.C., and structural criteria has taken a back seat to that. The focus is very much on meeting the energy targets. All across western Canada, the majority of manufacturers are testing and labeling, but not for everything. The air-water testing in windows does not receive the same scrutiny as energy performance, allowing wider non-compliance of products.”
This is what’s been observed for years at Van Isle Windows on Vancouver Island. Although the firm mostly does window and door replacement, “our company does have a ‘supply only’ component and these windows are inspected, but only to confirm that they meet the current energy ratings required by the building codes,” says installation manager, Marc Georg.
A wide range of enforcement…that’s what those at Centra Construction Group in B.C. have noted in Alberta since the firm acquired a manufacturer in Calgary. Anton Van Dyk, vice president of product development and innovation, also explains that they are seeing even consulting firms with offices in Vancouver and Calgary have different methods of code enforcement.
Adamson lists another problem: the fact that enforcement is hit and miss because there aren’t enough building inspectors or energy advisors in some jurisdictions across the country. He notes, “Some officials are strict with enforcement while others may not have the resources to focus on fenestration. In B.C., the Step Code is being overseen by energy advisors on new builds, but that industry is stretched with many new advisors learning the intricacies of fenestration and it’s really up to manufacturers to insure their products meet all the codes.”
There’s also a fundamental problem with inspectors in that inspection of windows and doors is not strictly required. “In B.C. – and I’ll assume this is similar across the country – inspectors have the power to enforce but are not required to enforce,” says Adamson. This means, says Allan Doyle, vice-president of engineering at Global Windows in Richibucto, N.B., that there is no legal liability for inspectors if the code isn’t enforced. Furthermore, he says, enforcement in most provinces is carried out at the municipal level with every municipality having its own set of rules.
For its part, the Siding and Window Dealers Association of Canada (along with other groups) is also concerned that building inspectors often are not fully trained and up-to-date on window and door code requirements. “In fairness to hard-working inspectors who have every aspect of the construction to review, windows are not at the same level of priority as electrics or other aspects of construction that can cause a significant danger if not correct,” says SAWDAC technical director, Phil Lewin. “We believe that, in many cases, as long as an inspector sees a piece of paper with print on the windows, the inspector (with limited time and sometimes limited knowledge) moves on to inspecting other aspects of the build and doesn’t look at the label. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the products are not up to code but that there is relatively little strict enforcement. One situation where it is strict is where there is a government grant and all the proper documentation is required.”
Reaching out to inspectors
Doyle reports that over the last couple of months FenCan has started trying to bring inspectors into the fold by give them free membership and educating them on windows and doors to a greater extent. “Every region in Canada has a Fenestration Canada chapter now and it’s very positive that we already have a building inspector on the committee in the Atlantic Canada chapter,” he says. “We know we need to demystify windows and doors for them, giving them the confidence to enforce the code knowing they have the support of the industry.” This inspector has been working with the window industry for more than 10 years, says Steve Alward, product manager at Atlantic Windows in Port Elgin, N.B. “He’s helped other inspectors in New Brunswick and manufacturers that sell in this province become more aware of both energy and structural requirements.”
On a related note, Doyle says that, during the last year or so, more businesses are reaching out to FenCan about energy ratings and labelling because of the Canada Greener Homes Initiative. “We’re interacting with companies about this all the time,” he says. “If we can somehow go back to the government and just make sure the NAFS number is on the label also, the right one for whichever municipality or geographical area, that would be a start. It wouldn’t be for all products – this initiative is just about the energy- focused ones – but at least these high-end products would get recognition of meeting structural code.”
Partial solution – enforcement before build
In some areas of Atlantic Canada, some enforcement is currently happening at the permitting process level. “We support this as a manufacturing association,” Doyle says. “With this system, manufacturers submit their quotes with all the window and door products listed – energy ratings and so on – and the inspector says yea or nay at that point. Even for renovations, that would work reasonably well.” Doyle believes however, that there needs to be another inspection after installation to make sure the same products quoted have actually been installed and that the installation is also done correctly.
Alward adds that Atlantic Canada is unique, from what he’s gathered during discussions with colleagues across the country. “With the exception of some national brands, manufacturers in other regions have a very small distribution base and a great number of manufacturers are supply and install as well,” he explains. “Compliance is therefore really narrowed to a handful of individual inspectors in perhaps a single jurisdiction. Atlantic Canada has very few supply and install manufacturers. The majority of companies are wholesale distribution to a dealer base. That dealer base is typically spread over four provinces.” This means the industry connection to the homeowner, and even to builders, can be hands-off – and building inspectors are another step away.
Success in Quebec
Similar to B.C., enforcement levels have decreased in Quebec over time. To solve this issue, a partnership was formed among the provincial government and a construction industry association called the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec (RBQ), according to Jean-Francois Kogovsek, FenCan director and fenestration industry consultant in St-Bruno, Que.
The partnership resulted in GCR (Garantie de Construction Résidentielle) being put in place by RBQ in 2014, a non-profit accreditation for new residential construction. “It’s now mandatory since January 2023 but has been very popular before that,” says Kogovsek. “People want it, and builders pretty much needed to be part of the program to get any business.”
Builders have to pay to be part of the program and correct anything that is found out of order by the GCR inspector. “The inspectors are educated all the time, to make sure they understand the window and door part of things and everything else,” says Kogovsek. “It’s insurance that the residential building is built as per the Building Code and the CSA A440.4 Standard requirements.”
For their part, Adamson and Doyle had not heard of this initiative and are keen to take a closer look. “If it’s working in Quebec,” says Adamson, “maybe we can take it into other regions.”
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