Happy Building Safety Month, everyone! This year, the Ontario Building Officials Association’s theme for the month is “Build it by the Book.”
What a great theme! It’s particularly important in 2022, because building it by the book has never been more challenging in the world of fire safety. Why? Because the book has changed.
We have seen a number of crucial updates to the fire code in recent years. These are particularly important in building any building by the book.
Integrated Testing - The New Part of the Ontario Building Code
For the last few years, the FCS team has been spending a lot of time guiding our clients through a fairly recent addition to the fire code: S-1001 – Integrated Systems Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems Assessment.
This is a relatively new standard (June of 2020), and it’s gradually being rolled out on a municipality-by-municipality basis. It represents a significant change. You need a test to ensure all of your life safety system’s elements are communicating properly to confirm that the proper sequence of events takes place in an emergency situation.
Your individual components have always been tested individually, but there is now a standard to ensure their integration.
Changes are Leading to Safer Buildings
Integrated testing requires more work from building owners, builders, and engineers. However, we can assure you that this extra step does make our buildings much safer.
Our team has performed a number of integrated tests across the GTA, and these tests have unearthed a number of potentially dangerous problems that may have gone unnoticed without an integrated test. Anyone building by the book 3 years ago would have probably missed them!
We were recently in a brand new building. A few years ago, it would have been 100% code-compliant. However, integrated testing showed us that two of the mag locks in the garage didn’t release when the fire alarm went off. And they were two of the main exits! If you tested the mag locks on their own, they would appear to be functional.
Integrated testing was the only way to find this problem.
Building By the Book Will Help You Find ‘Hidden’ Problems
The above example wasn’t an isolated incident. We’re actually noticing a number of trends in buildings as we design and carry out more of these tests. For example, we’re finding pressurization issues in below-grade stairwells, particularly in newer buildings.
When you have a pressurized compartment, you need to vent that compartment. We’re seeing that new buildings are starting to use automatic doors for that opening, which is allowed by the building code. The problem is, whenever you have a pressurized compartment (say, an elevator shaft or a stairwell) you need to make sure the pressure within is higher than the pressure on the other side of those doors. That way, you can remove smoke to provide safe passage to occupants.
However, we’re finding that some of these automatic doors are so large that it creates a chimney effect. The pressurization fan is blowing at the bottom of the stairs and essentially sucking air from the common areas into the stairwell, as opposed to keeping it out. The scary part is that you can only find this problem two ways:
1) During integrated testing, or
2) During an actual emergency situation
Because nobody was really taking a close look at pressurization until integrated testing became the law, we’re finding potential issues like this all the time. We’re also finding elevators that may struggle to operate under excessive pressure.
As scary as these scenarios may be, we’re not trying to scare you with this blog. We’re simply trying to illustrate that fire safety has come a long way in only 2 years. Once again, you could have built your building 100% by the book in 2019, yet still had some very serious hidden problems. Fortunately, integrated testing is now required, and we can guarantee it is going to make all new buildings safer than they’ve ever been.
We Can Help You With Integrated Testing
New standards come with new questions and new challenges. We’re here to help you through the entire process so you can build your building by the book.
We are integrated testing experts! We are Canada’s 1st ULC Authorized S-1001 Integrated Systems Testing Service Provider. Click here to contact us any time.