It’s relatively easy to tell how Manitoba’s building code regulations apply to farmers. But according to building code specialists in Alberta and Saskatchewan, farmers need to do some serious research before starting any on-farm construction projects.
While the Alberta Building Code does not apply to family farm operations, that doesn’t mean you should think you’re on your own in terms of deciding what construction standards should be met, says Michelle Davio of Alberta Municipal Affairs, the provincial government branch that oversees the application of its building code.
Davio’s warning, repeated by provincial counterparts in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, hinges on two points: safety and best practices.
Canada has a national farm building code that outlines construction practices and safety features that protect people, livestock and equipment from losses caused by events such as fire, heavy snow loads or high winds. The national code is adopted by some provinces, which then add their own rules about its application and enforcement, explains Davio.
This is where things get interesting — and confusing. Manitoba and Alberta, for example, require that all family farm homes meet national building code standards, thus establishing baseline standards for structural integrity (basement, roof and wall systems) and fire protection.
Saskatchewan, on the other hand, exempts farm homes from code compliance.
When it comes to farm buildings, Manitoba’s legislation specifies codified standards for all buildings of 600 square metres (m2) and larger, regardless of where located — this is a legal standard. Saskatchewan and Alberta appear to exempt buildings constructed on farms, but the rules are not as cut-and-dried as they may seem. Here’s what you should know in your province:
Two years ago, following a run of heavy economic losses from fires involving farm buildings, Manitoba adopted a new Manitoba Farm Building Code. Under the new rules, all buildings over 600 m2 are classified as “light industrial” or “medium industrial,” even when located on a family farm, says David Schafer, fire commissioner. His office is the primary contact for owners, designers and contractors of farm buildings 600 m2 and greater.
Under the regulation, fire alarms must be installed in all farm buildings over 600 m2, and attics in those buildings must have fire stops for every 300 m2. Travel distance to an exit must be less than 30 metres.
According to Schafer, the rules reflect knowledge about the best practices relative to size and complexity of modern farm buildings and the need to set “minimum construction standards to ensure production efficiency (and) protect against major financial losses and improve workplace safety.”
Manitoba is serious about codes, evidenced by the recently-established farm building code subcommittee, with representation from stakeholders including the ag and construction sectors, which is reviewing Manitoba’s farm building code and will make recommendations on future upgrades.
Saskatchewan’s Uniform Building and Accessibility Standards Act is administered and enforced by local authorities, including rural municipalities, says Bill Hawkins, the province’s chief building official. The law exempts on-farm buildings that support the practice of farming (including farm dwellings).
Buildings built to generate income from commercial ventures are not considered farm buildings and are subject to compliance with the national building code. These might include fabrication and service operations, or retail outlets that market farm products and allow the public entry for business purposes.
While the legislation does not distinguish farm buildings by size, Hawkins encourages farmers to embrace the codified standards — regardless of whether they are legislated and regardless of the size of the building being constructed.
Given the cost of construction plus the cost of potential downtime for repairs or loss of property, meeting construction standards remains an important first-step in protecting your on-farm investment, says Hawkins.
The Alberta Building Code does not apply to certain farm buildings of “low human occupancy” that are used to house livestock, or store or maintain equipment and materials associated with a farm’s operation.
That changes if the farm is classified as an “agri-business,” which is the case with feedlots and commercial greenhouses, for example. Davio says that buildings used for dairy manufacturing, meat processing and as abattoirs must also meet legislated standards, primarily because there are human health implications.
Like Hawkins in Saskatchewan, Davio urges farmers to view building codes as investment protection. “There may not be a code per se, but there are still best practices and good construction standards you might want to meet.”