When looking to purchase a property with a second unit, or if looking to add a legal basement apartment, it’s important to consider if the unit in question meets fire code standards. This can be done by way of a Fire Retrofit Certificate. Understanding Fire Retrofit in Ontario is paramount to success in this regard.
In This Post
What is a Fire Retrofit?
In Ontario, fire retrofit refers to a dwelling’s ability to conform with local fire codes. The fire department can inspect an existing dwelling and recommend modifications necessary to have the unit comply with the Fire Code.
As the name implies, fire retrofit certificates are issued for existing units. New built units (typically structures less than 5 years old) are inspected and approved via the town’s building department. Compliance with the Fire Code may vary between new and old units, as retrofit requirements are often considered the “bare minimum” standards. Newer buildings will usually be required to follow more stringent standards.
Ontario Fire Code: Retrofit Requirements
The Ontario Fire Code, Division B, Part 9 dictates retrofit requirements. These requirements change often and reference to the Fire Code should be made at the time of construction or modification.
Retrofit requirements differ for each type of building. However, as a Real Estate Brokerage, this post will focus on retrofit requirements for secondary dwelling units.
This information is provided without representation or warranty and to ensure retrofit requirements, it is recommended to apply for a retrofit certificate.
Fire Separation Between Dwelling Units
To comply with Fire Retrofit requirements, units must have fire separation with a fire resistance rating of not less than 30 minutes. If the dwelling unit is separated from a different occupancy type (for example, a main floor retail area), the fire separation rating must be a minimum of 1 hour. (Exceptions apply if the areas are sprinkler equipped or if the building has interconnected smoke alarms).
Means of Egress
In this context, “Egress” refers to escape or exit. The Fire Code dictates how many ways to exit a unit in the event of fire is required.
If the property is properly protected with the 30 minute fire separation, and the flame spread rating is under 150, then one “means of egress” is deemed to be acceptable IF the exit leads directly to outside at ground level.
Flame Spread rating refers to both how fast and how far a flame spreads over a certain material. For more information on Flame Spread Rating, check out this excellent post by TimberTech.
If the exit for the secondary unit is via another unit then, a second way to escape will likely be required.
As above, exceptions may be made if the building is equipped with sprinklers.
In a basement, the second means of egress may be made via a window.
Fire Alarm and Detection
Interconnected smoke alarms might be required in certain situations, like when a unit exits through another unit, or a shorter duration fire separation is used.
Regardless, smoke alarms must be present outside of each bedroom, as well as in certain areas where mandated by the fire code.
Surprisingly, Carbon Monoxide alarms are not regulated by the fire code, though they are often required through municipal by-laws.
Sprinkler systems are not required in most residential units, though they may allow owners to use less protective means of fire resistance in other areas of the code.
ALL dwelling units must be certified by an ESA-licensed contractor. This certification must be made available to the chief fire inspector upon request. Apart from this, there are no specific requirements as it pertains to fire safety for second units.
Fire Retrofit Certificate
A Fire Retrofit Certificate is an approval granted by the local fire department for a dwelling unit. This certificate authenticates that the unit passes the Fire Retrofit and by-law standards for the area.
You should NEVER live in a unit that doesn’t have a retrofit certificate, unless the unit has fire approvals under new building guidelines as previously mentioned.
Just because a unit has a retrofit certificate does not mean it is approved to live in. Residents still must comply with local zoning by-laws and requirements for second units in the local municipality. This goes as far as compliance with the type of stay in the unit, such as a short-term rental.
In addition to retrofit, there are other forms of fire compliance to be aware of. For example, any wood burning fireplaces or stoves should have been inspected by a WETT-certified inspector.
Fire Retrofit is a complex and diverse topic. Expert advice from the municipality or approved advisors is highly recommended. If you have questions about fire retrofit or compliance of second units in general, contact Catalyst for a free consultation. Our expert agents and lawyers can provide you with recommendations prior to buying or selling your property.