Are Canadian High Rises at Risk of Fire?

If you’re looking to live in Toronto, it is most likely that you will be moving into a high-rise building. High housing costs have brought condo living into the mainstream, with an anticipated 29 new building planned for 2017 alone. Currently there are approximately 260 high rise buildings in Toronto, and the new projects, just keep getting higher. In fact, there is currently 8 tower proposals pending that are more than 300 metres in height.

The recent tragedy in London with the Grenfell tower has caused several communities to take a deeper look at whether, they too, are at risk.  In the case of the Grenfell tragedy, it is believed that the external cladding, which is added to older buildings to increase insulation and improve the external appearance, increased the flammability of the building. Cladding is used in buildings to provide a more aesthetically pleasing appearance, provide insulation, and prevent water penetration.

Regulations in Canada specify that cladding can be used on buildings at least four storeys in height provided that they have a fire rating of at least one to two hours. However in a recent article by the Canadian Press, forensic engineer, Doug Pervoic, emphasized that challenges arise when builders try to cut costs by resorting to cheaper materials.

On a positive note, the high rise residential buildings in Canada are built with non-combustible construction,including materials like brick, cement, metal, glass or stone, and are built so that the fire can be contained within one or a few units.

In 2010, the Ontario Building code was amended to require that any building more than three storeys high include sprinkler systems. Prior to this change, Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America where sprinklers were not mandatory. In fact, between 1995 and 2008, 89 people died in high rise fires in Toronto. More than 40 % of homeowners aged 65 and over live in high rises.

However the lack of sprinkler systems in the older buildings still place residents at risk.  The question is, why aren’t more building residents advocating for them?

There is no doubt that there is a substantial cost involved with installation. This is not a retrofit that can happen overnight, but it should be one that building managers urgently consider.