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  • Writer's pictureTerrell Wong

Straw Bale Permit Pending!

After almost six months of phone calls to Councillors, Chief Building Officials and anyone who would listen, we are within days of getting a permit to use straw bale as the insulation and reinforcing for stucco for a two storey rear addition that is .6m away from the property line. After four weeks with emails back and forth, stating that my alternative solution documents were with the "best team" and that they would get back to me "shortly," I demanded an answer. The answer I got was that the permit was denied. I asked to get that in writing with an explanation of where we had fallen short in proving that straw bale did not meet the requirements of code. This was denied as well. I was offered a meeting with 2 examiners and an administrator to discuss the issues. I gathered an excellent team of volunteers and supporters who helped me prepare for the meeting. My engineer Tim Krahn, my contractor Glen Byrom of the Fourth Pig Workers Coop and Kris Dick an engineer and University professor came with me to talk to the City. Thanks also to Chris Magwood, and Derek Satnik for their behind the scenes support. What started out a bit negative was turned around by the end of our hour long meeting. The main thrusts of the City’s issues were with the proximity of the building to the property line and the City’s perceived liability for accepting Alternative Solutions. The City maintained that the straw bale building it owns is in a park and is not close to other structures. Also that the building built by the Fourth Pig in North York was 1.2m away from the property and does not have to have a fire resistant rating. Therefore the only issue on the table is related to fire resistance requirements for buildings .6m from property lines. By the way the only requirement is that it must be fire rated for 45min from the interior. Straw bale walls being symmetrical in construction therefore can use the American tests which are done from the exterior and prove that straw bale has a min 1hr FRR. By half way through the meeting it was discovered that no one at the meeting had read the alternative solution submission or knew about it. A quick apology was provided by the administration. Wish I had known all this 4 weeks prior. One of the examiners was so embarrassed that he said he would take the lead on the application and would take it in unofficially until such time as it was either accepted or denied. If it is accepted, then I was to retroactively pay the $2000.00 fee and fill out an official Alternative Solution application. I agreed but thought due to all the costly unnecessary delays, I should have got a free. I kept that thought to myself. I will state here for the record that it is almost impossible for any person to fully know the building code. The many changes in the past few years are difficult to keep up with. I appreciate the work that the City does in enforcing the code. But do yourself a favour and if you don’t get the same answers as the examiners: do some research, call the Ministry and keep asking questions. Enclosed for those with anal retentive tendencies are the minutes to the meeting and an addendum that quashes all of their objections. Last but not least…. The examiner was so impressed with our presentation of the facts we were asked to present an hour long talk about natural building and the Alternative Solutions policy at next years conference for Ontario Building Examiners. All and all I think this is a WIN for everyone. Now just to get them to sign off on the damn thing already - I have a straw delivery next week!!!!


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