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When It Comes To Construction, Put Safety First, Not Wood

Sound judgment and project specifications - not political agendas - should determine the building materials used in Canadian construction

TORONTO, Dec. 7, 2012 /CNW/ - Canada's National Building Code encourages the use of different materials to optimize building performance, and cities like Halifax should do the same, say several Canadian builders and engineers.

Their statements follow a report released recently by the City of Halifax recommending the use of wood as a first choice in municipal building construction. Spearheaded by Halifax City Councilor Jennifer Watts, the report says that environmentally, wood building materials "have lower energy, water and air quality impacts than alternatives," while economically, the use of wood would benefit Nova Scotia's forestry and lumber sectors — "mainstays" of the provincial economy.

"While economics and environment are both valid considerations in construction, what about public safety?" says Paul Hargest, President of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). "Ask anyone where they would rather be in the event of a fire — a structure made of wood, or one built with materials such as masonry or concrete."

Canada's National Building Code not only encourages the use of different materials for optimal building performance, but also limits the use of wood to buildings four storeys and less — a fact, says Hargest, that strongly suggests wood is not always the best material for the job.

"Experienced designers, forensic building investigators and those familiar with building codes know that 'performance' is a sliding scale — one that depends on where you want to set the bar," he says.

Put another way, the performance of one material, while significant in its own right, does not equal that of another. The "scale" slides from one material to another.

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