Applying Building Codes

What Are Building Codes

A mix of acts, regulations, by-laws, codes, standards, municipal design guides, and—to some extent, by reference—even manufacturer's specifications, collectively make up what is colloquially referred to as, the "building code". This body of documentation defines a minimum standard for the construction of new buildings.

Provincial Establishment of Building Codes

Building codes are established by provincial authorities, with federal input via the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Canadian Codes Center which publishes model codes. The NRC model building codes are: the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB), National Building Code of Canada (NBC), National Fire Code of Canada (NFC), and National Plumbing Code of Canada (NPC). Other codes are created by associations, including the Canadian Standard Association's (CSA), which produces the Canadian Electrical Code, C22.1; and the United States of America National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which produces the Life Safety Code, 101.

The codes produced by these standards bodies may be adopted, in whole or part; or copied and modified (often substantially); to meet specific provincial requirements. Ontario has made the most modifications, while Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec have generally made additions. The remaining provinces have adopted some or all of the building, plumbing, and fire codes with Newfoundland and Labrador taking the unusual step of partially adopting of the building code. These article will review the codes adopted by Newfoundland and Labrador and discuss where some confusion may exist as to which code may apply.

Developed Own


Made Additions

British Columbia, and


New Brunswick,
Nova Scotia, and
Prince Edward Island

Partially Adopted

Newfoundland and Labrador

Application of Building Code in Newfoundland and Labrador

New Construction, Building Rehabilitation, and Existing Structures

Existing Structures

In most circumstances, the application of building codes does not require changes; meaning repair, renovation, modification, or reconstruction; of existing buildings, unless additional construction occurs (see building rehabilitation below).

New Construction and Building Rehabilitation

New construction must adhere to adopted codes. In Newfoundland and Labrador, legislation adopting published codes include the provincial legislation: The Fire Protection Services Regulations, Building Accessibility Act, Buildings Accessibility Regulations, and Building Standards Act; and applicable municipal building by-laws.

Where existing buildings are rehabilitated, the application of codes are complicated and depend on many factors, including the occupancy, scope of construction, age, building materials, and size. The occupancy, which is a basic function or use, and includes education, health care, residential, and business, among others; the age, including historical designations; and the scope of the construction, which includes repair, renovation, reconstruction, and extension; have the greatest impact on applicable codes. Building materials and size affect the requirements within the applicable codes which were determined by the previous factors.

Fire protection, accessibility, and public safety legislation determine many of the code requirements. Then the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) may make additional requirements.

Relevant Legislation

Fire Protection Services Regulations

The provincial Fire Protection Services Regulations adopts the National Building Code of Canada, 2010 edition, for the construction of all buildings except Part 9, "Housing and Small Buildings", where relative to one and two family dwellings, within Group C (i.e. "residential occupancies"). Existing buildings must meet the requirements of the National Fire Code of Canada, and applicable chapter of the National Fire Protection Association, Document 101, known as the "Life Safety Code", for the use and operation of all buildings. The regulation permits changes to existing buildings that maintain or improve the health, safety, and well-being of occupants in existing buildings, without requiring full compliance with the adopted codes (exceptions may apply). However, the AHJ may make additional requirements, as mentioned above.

Houses: the building code is not adopted for the construction of, and the life safety code is not adopted for the use and operation of houses: by this regulation. For those types of buildings, it is necessary to consult other provincial legislation, as well as any city or town by-laws.

Section 3 of the Regulations: Codes adopted

3. (1) The following codes are adopted with the additions, alterations or changes as directed by and described in the schedule:
     (a) for the construction of all buildings
          (i) the National Building Code of Canada , 2010 edition, except Part 9 where relative to one and 2 family dwellings within Group C, and
          (ii) the National Fire Code of Canada, 2010 edition; and
     (b) for the use and operation of all buildings, processes, areas and vehicles
          (i) the National Fire Code of Canada, 2010 edition, and
          (ii) the NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, 2009 edition, as published by the National Fire Protection Association.
(2) Notwithstanding
     (a) Division A, subsection of the National Building Code of Canada, 2010 edition and the National Fire Code of Canada, 2010 edition; and
     (b) Division B, Subsection 1.3.1 of the National Building Code of Canada, 2010 edition and the National Fire Code of Canada, 2010 edition
the standards referenced in all codes adopted by these regulations shall be the current editions of those standards at the date these regulations come into force.
(3) Where, after the coming into force of these regulations, referenced standards in codes adopted by these regulations change or are updated, those standards are adopted 6 months following the date of their publication.

Buildings Accessibility Act

Note: As of December 2017, this Act is under review and may be replaced in the near term.

The Buildings Accessibility Act incorporates the text of the 2005 National Building Code of Canada. Unfortunately, that text is generally less stringent than the text of the 2010 edition which leaves some room for improvement to minimum acceptable designs (and causes some debates in design groups!). However, since the act does not apply to buildings existing on December 24, 1981, with the exception of buildings, or class of buildings, that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may prescribe by regulation, deviations from these requirements are not a failure to meet a specific requirement. The Buildings Accessibility Regulations do, however, apply to the reconstruction of an existing building where the cost of reconstruction of the building is equal to or exceeds 50% of the cost of erecting a new building of the same character and dimensions. Where this gets confusing is that the fire protection regulations also adopts accessibility codes in that they are part of the National Building Code of Canada, 2010, and that it does not exempt pre-1982 buildings.

The general rule of thumb here is that the most stringent code that may reasonably by applied, applies. Ultimately, it may take some intervention to remove the ambiguities.

Building Standards Act (or Lack Thereof)

The Building Standards Act applies to the entire province, except the City of St. John’s and most municipalities. The act allows for regulations to be made, and building codes adopted, however no record exist of any orders or regulations made under section 3 of the Building Standards Act (Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2013).

Summary of Building Code in Newfoundland and Labrador

The fire protection legislation applies to new, commercial, buildings; and the building standards legislation could apply to all buildings (but no order was reported when questioned). Therefore, the question of what building codes applies to old commercial buildings, or one and two family houses, depends on the local municipality.

Municipal Establishment of Building Codes

St. John's

The City of St. John’s has declared that the National Building Code of Canada, National Fire Code of Canada, National Plumbing Code, and the Life Safety Code, and its supplements, are taken as part and parcel of the Building By-Law and Plumbing By-Law, and is applicable to all buildings. Where conflicts exist, the National Research Council model codes take precedence over the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) document.

Mount Pearl

The City of Mount Pearl has declared that the National Building Code of Canada, National Fire Code of Canada, National Plumbing Code, and the Life Safety Code, and its supplements, are taken as part and parcel of the Building By-Law and is applicable to all buildings.


The town of Paradise restates that the provincial building and fire regulations as well as any applicable municipal regulations shall apply to the Paradise Municipal Planning Area. If further requires the National Building Code of Canada, Fire Code of Canada, and all ancillary codes and regulations, shall also apply to the entire Paradise Municipal Planning Area. It is not clear what ancillary codes and regulations exist, nor does it address future revisions of the national model codes.

Conception Bay South

The town of Conception Bay south has declared that the National Building Code of Canada, National Fire Code of Canada, National Plumbing Code, and the Life Safety Code, and its supplements, are taken as part and parcel of the Building By-Law and is applicable to all buildings.

Corner Brook

The City of Corner Brook has declared that the National Building Code of Canada 2005, and National Plumbing Code 2005  are taken as part and parcel of the Building By-Law and is applicable to all buildings.

Add Your Comments

Why not continue the discussion by adding your comments below? Have you been told, "that's not up to code" and wondered why? ...or if it was even true? I'd love to learn what situations you have encountered, or questions you have run into! Those questions and answers will form the basis of Building Codes In Newfoundland and Labrador, Part 2. Thank you!


01 41 13
01 41 16


National Building Code of Canada


National Plumbing Code of Canada


National Fire Code of Canada


Canadian Electrical Code


NFPA Life Safety Code 101


Canadian Standards Association
Underwriters Laboratories of Canada
International Organization for Standardization
American Society for Testing and Materials
American National Standards Institute


Building Accessibility Act, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Building Accessibility Regulations, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Building Accessibility Act, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Building By-Law, City of St. John's
Fire Protection Services Regulations, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador



Egress Windows in Bathrooms

Is there a fire code requirement for a window in a bathroom?

Egress Windows Are for Bedrooms

A window suitable for exiting a building, known as an egress window, is defined in the National Building Code of Canada, and the Life Safety Code. Which code that applies would depend on your local authorities. In both cases, egress windows are a requirement for bedrooms, but the are not  required for bathrooms.

There may be a requirement for a window in a bathroom if it is not equipped with a dedicated fan. If that matters to your circumstances, I would suggest installing a fan regardless of if you keep or remove the window.

Hose Cabinet Removal

If a commercial building has a sprinkler system is an old hose cabinet required or can it be legally removed?

Required in Non-Sprinklered Areas

Hose stations are intended to be use where buildings have a standpipe system but are not sprinklered in all areas. It is intended for these cabinets to be provided in these unsprinklered areas to allow emergency responders to figure fires that cannot be controlled by local sprinklers. Other NFCC and local rules may apply, therefore a complete code assessment is recommended.

Mould Resistant Drywall

Hi the insurance is redoing our whole house and in the bathroom they have just regular drywall. Is that up to code or does it need to be mold resistant

Gypsum Sheathing Standards

Gypsum sheathing is covered by section 9.29 of the NBCC. Many types of CSA and ASTM standard products are acceptable and there is no requirement for it to be of a mould, moisture, or mould/moisture type. These products do have enhanced performance however, for standard applications, they should not be selected to remedy a building environmental issue; in other words, correct any moisture issues. There is one exception: substrates for tub and shower tile surround installations are required to be moisture resistant, however concrete backerboard is a much better product for this use.

Heat vs Smoke Detectors

In a new commercial building, must there be a smoke detector (not solely a heat detector) installed?

Check For Dwelling Units First

Commercial buildings may fall under Part 3 or 9 of the NBCC, depending on their size and occupancy (type of use). For some residential, business, and merchantile occupancies, buildings 600 square meters and less may fall under Part 9. Under Part 3, if a sprinkler system is installed, there may also be additional requirements for a fire alarm system; and in Part 9, depending on the number of stores, occupant load, and access to exits. Parts of the Fire Code of Canada and local rules may also apply, but must be answered by other qualified sources. Therefore, a complete code assessment is necessary to properly answer this question.

It is possible to make some generalizations to help understand the complexity of the question. First it is important to define smoke detectors and heat detectors as both being types of fire detectors, and that fire detectors may be part of a fire alarm system but may also exist separately. Furthermore, smoke alarms are smoke detectors with an audible alert.

In Part 3 (most commercial and large residential buildings), where fire alarm systems are installed, fire dectectors are required in storage, service and janitorial rooms; elevator and dumbwaiter shafts; and laundry rooms (this means a smoke or heat detector is acceptable). Part 9 has similar requirements, again when a fire alarm system is installed. In addition, those fire alarm systems must have smoke detectors (i.e. not heat detectors) in sleeping rooms, means of egress from sleeping rooms, some corridors (depending on multiple conditions), stairways, near draft stops, and for triggering automatic doors: this is not a complete list. The question then becomes, are smoke detectors required where fire alarm systems are not required, and the answer depends on if dwelling units are part of the building, in which case smoke alarms are required where fire alarm systems were not.

Another way to look at this would be that smoke alarms alert more quickly and places where an occupants ability to self-preserve is impaired (e.g. they are asleep), additional alert time is necessary. Again, this is a generalization and a complete code assessment is required.

Unfinished Basement

We are going to start finishing the basement in our home, housed is about 19 years old but we only reasonably purchased it. The basement is just an open space with 8' concrete walls containing 3 small windows and an exterior door. It also contains an air exchange, oil furnace and panel box. I'm wondering what building codes I need to review before I start. Goal is to add living space ( rec-room and play room) and partition off a utilities room. Thanks

Applicable Codes

Hi Brad, thanks for the question. Part 9 of the National Building Code of Canada, and various sections from the Canadian Electrical Code, would apply, as would the National Plumbing Code of Canada if you make changes or add a washroom. A few items stand out: insulation and air vapour barriers, if any of the windows may potentially be contained in a spare bedroom, extending the air exchanger, maintaining clearances and air supply for the furnace, dimensions of the existing stairs, adding fire and CO detectors, sizing of the distribution panel for new circuits, and accessibility of the panel box in the completed basement. It sounds like you're planning a DIY renovation, in which case you may especially benefit from having a designer plan it for you. You may also find your building department to be very helpful by outlining their expectations and by inspecting your work. -RJ


Thanks, I have read this a couple times but forgot to comment.

R-value in Exterior Walls and Attic

Just curious what codes are for exterior walls and attic insulation for NL. Are new homes 2x6 exterior studs for an R20/24 value. And are attics R40 or above? If so what year were these changes brought into affect? Looking to buy in Paradise and want to get most energy efficient home I can.

Getting the Most Energy Efficient Home

Hi Eric, thanks for the question. The exact dates are tricky; I will reply again to answer that part of your question. As for the energy efficiency part, here are a few thoughts: Technically, glass-fibre stuffed in a 140 mm (5.5") wall cavity equals RSI 3.5 (R-19) for the stud bay (apparent value) however the wall assembly, which includes a lot of wood framing, has an effective value roughly 10% lower. You can get higher values in the same space using other materials, but the cost/benfit varies. Those adjustments are not factored when municipalities are evaluating thermal performance, but it is important when you are designing a home to be as energy efficient as possible. R20/40, as you stated, is commonly accepted, but only 1/2 what I would recommend before spending money on other forms of savings (e.g. minisplits). Therefore, if you are designing a new home, go for much higher, and make sure you home has smart thermal construction details. If you are purchasing a home, an apparent value of RSI 3.5 (R-19) is what you will almost universally find in a 2" x 6" stud. Most 4:12 and higher roof slopes have attics that can accept more insulation, so this will matter less. Just be mindful of installing rafter baffles and ensuring you have adequate attic ventillation. Set a target of RSI 10.6 (R-60) to RSI 14 (R-80). One final point: adding foam insulation to the outside of wall assemblies can be disasterous: having too little can cause a condensation problem with a dew point behind the sheathing.

Disclaimer (AHJ)

All content is presented as general information only — actual design and site conditions vary widely and must be considered by a qualified professional. There is no guarantee on the complete accuracy of this information, and the author assumes no risk whatsoever. Technical information is offered only as a guidance and does not supersede legislation, local building codes, or authorities having jurisdiction.