Construction activity has stalled on the Sunshine Coast — and last year’s changes to the province’s building code are at least partly to blame, chief building inspector Peter Longhi told Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors on Nov. 21.
“Some 2012 building code changes are causing a lot of angst,” Longhi told the planning and development committee. “Setbacks for fire separation between buildings basically doubled for us because fire departments can’t be out in 10 minutes.”
October building permit revenue was “not quite a historical low, but certainly low enough to cause us concern with what’s going on on the street,” Longhi said.
In effect since Dec. 20, 2012, the new B.C. building code introduced more than 800 changes to building permit and plumbing permit requirements, including more stringent seismic design rules for houses and new guidelines for assisted living care housing.
The changes have forced builders to redesign their plans and invest “a lot of additional thought and compromise,” Longhi said.
For builders who are used to dealing with code requirements on the Lower Mainland, the new rules “require a complete rethought of design,” he said.
The doubling of setbacks was due to a provision in the new code that speaks to fire department response times.
“The formula they use is you have to be able to respond 95 per cent of the time within 10 minutes. That rarely occurs in rural areas like the Sunshine Coast Regional District,” Longhi said.
“Options are to put in more sprinklers or have greater setbacks. At one and a half metres in many cases, you can’t have any windows. Windows on the first or second floor typically wouldn’t be permitted unless you’re further set back.”
Builders are also facing new standards for energy-efficient windows, which have generated “pushback from the industry on using up existing inventories,” he said.
The downturn in activity was reflected in the drop in building permit revenues for October to $22,000, compared to $31,000 last year and $34,000 in 2011.
Although the total number of permits was up from the two previous years, the value was lower due to the scale of the projects, with the bulk of revenue coming from residential alterations and renovations in Area B (Halfmoon Bay) and Area A (Pender Harbour/Egmont).
In July, Longhi reported that June building permit revenues were the lowest in 10 years at just under $19,000, less than half the six-year average of $40,000.
Overall, building permit revenues for the first 10 months of the year fell to $381,000, down from $462,000 for the same period last year, $514,000 in 2011, $503,000 in 2010, $519,000 in 2009, $423,000 in 2008 and $493,000 in 2007.
“In getting feedback from builders in different electoral areas, the general consensus is that the large residential projects seem to be lacking, creating a very soft market for builders at this time,” Longhi said in his report to the committee.
“There are many high-end custom-building contractors who are busy now and for the foreseeable future; however, many of the regular construction trades are sitting idle at present.”
While market trends for the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast show a projected increase in construction activity for the next three years, “for now the market seems to be stalled,” Longhi’s report concluded. “This current situation is evident in Sechelt and Gibsons as well with reduced permit activity.”
Calling the escalating cost of construction due to the changes “a big concern,” committee chair Donna Shugar said she hoped the message was getting back to the province.