New Building Code Will Boost Barn Construction Costs – for Sep. 9, 2010

The cost of building a barn in Manitoba will go up this year because of new provincial safety standards for agricultural buildings.

Construction costs for farm buildings will rise between one and three per cent for farm buildings now included under the new Farm Building Code, the province estimates.

But others warn the increase could be much higher.

Mike Teillet, Manitoba Pork Council’s sustainable development manager, said some agricultural engineers suggest the new standards could boost construction costs by as much as 10 per cent, depending on the requirements and materials used.

Right now, the new regulation is too vague to know exactly what the higher costs will be, said Teillet.

“The devil is in the details,” he said.

The Manitoba government late last month announced that farm buildings will be subject to new fire and safety standards under the the province’s Buildings and Mobile Homes Act, effective Nov. 1. Previously, agricultural buildings were exempt from building code provisions.

Manitoba now joins British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Yukon in having some form of farm building construction code.

The changes stem from recommendations to the provincial building standards board by a committee which consulted with farmers and the industry for over six months.

Rapidly escalating losses from farm building fires in recent years make the changes necessary, the province said in its Aug. 27 announcement.

Financial losses between 1998 and 2007 from fires involving farm buildings was $98.9 million, according to the provincial fire commissioner.

Between 2007 and 2008, the estimated losses from farm facility fires more than tripled to $32.7 million.

Even more horrific is the toll in farm animals. In 2007, 3,843 head of livestock died in barn fires. That figure increased nearly tenfold to over 31,000 in both 2008 and 2009.

During the first six months of 2010, hog barn fires alone destroyed five facilities, caused over $9 million worth of damage and killed 6,662 pigs.

LARGER LOSSES

Insurance companies experienced some “horrendous losses” during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Manitoba hog industry expanded rapidly and ever-larger hog barns went up throughout the province, said Alvin Ginter, vice-president of underwriting for Red River Mutual in Altona.

The insurance industry, which for years lobbied the province to bring farm buildings under the building code, is pleased with the results, said Ginter.

“It may not reduce the frequency of losses but it will reduce the severity.”

Some insurance companies already require new barns to follow the building code, even though it is not yet legally required.

The new code applies to all new and extensively renovated farm buildings larger than 600 square metres built after Nov. 1. Existing buildings are exempt from the code, which includes the following requirements:

Attic spaces must have fire stops every 300 square metres.

All farm buildings covered by the code must have fire alarm systems.

The travel distance to an exit must be less than 30 metres.

New and renovated buildings must be certified by a structural engineer.

Ginter said the fire stop requirement is critical because most attics in hog barns are like “one open horizontal chimney,” allowing fires to sweep through them. Fire stops will slow down the spread of the fire, giving firefighters more time to respond to a blaze and control it, he said.

Teillet said the Manitoba Pork Council considers the measures reasonable. But he worried the added cost to farmers could be greater than what the province estimates, depending on how requirements are applied.

For example, placing fire stops in attics could require installing additional supports to sustain the increased weight, he said.

The pork council will seek more information in the months ahead, said Teillet.

Provincial fire commissioner Chris Jones said his office will administer the code. A committee chaired by Jones will ensure building permits are applied consistently. Farm groups had earlier asked the province to administer the code instead of letting municipalities do so.

Jones said he is satisfied the increased cost to farmers will be minimal.

“I think what we’ve done is practical and affordable.”

Glen Blahey, the new agricultural safety and health specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, said requiring fire alarms and quick exits bode well for the safety of people trapped in barns when fires break out.

LOOKING AHEAD

The new requirements may be somewhat moot right now because few livestock barns are being built and existing ones are exempt.

But Blahey said they will become standard over time.

He noted that farm tractors sold in Manitoba after 1990 must be equipped with rollover bars. As a result, a sizable number of tractors now carry the safety feature.

Bill McDonald, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO, called the fire alarm requirement an important step because it will alert owners to the presence of a fire and may give them some time to remove animals from the premises.

Even though existing buildings are exempted, barns that do burn will have to be rebuilt under the new code, McDonald said.

“Looking to the future, we’re hopeful that there will be less animals killed in these tragic fires.” [email protected]

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“It may not reduce the frequency of losses but it will reduce the severity.”

– ALVIN GINTER, RED RIVER MUTUAL

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