engineering permits residential design

There’s something wrong at the Barrie Building Department

Try to get details stamped by an Engineer in Barrie Ontario– If you call 15 and you might be lucky to actually speak to one. The only way to make a project happen is to find an Engineer in the outskirts that has not been subjected the local building department.

Rail details for building department

We’ve been working with the Barrie Building Department for decades and there are some great people there that are truly a pleasure to work with. The inspectors are a breath of fresh air– exchanging information with us freely. 

This isn’t meant to be axe grinding, it is our way of bringing attention to the issue. We witnessed this first hand, and, in our humble opinion, this needs to be fixed. 

I have spoken to a couple of building inspectors and off the record they confirmed that there are major issues, but they wouldn’t elaborate further and would not name names. 

It is likely that Barrie has a hard time keeping staff due to this issue. 

Permit/ Planning in Ontario / BCIN Rules

Here’s how it works.

BCIN (Building Code Identification Number), was instituted for a couple of reasons. Building departments were being sued for accepting/approving details that later were found to cause injuries and failures. It was also taking too long to determine whether the details were inferior or not. 

They came up with a scheme to standardize construction details, (that we find lacking), to expedite the approval process. The legislation also sets out time constraints for approvals if you abide by the process. They have since come up with ways to delay that process and rather than a week or so, we see delays of up to a year in some areas. 

They also wanted to offset liability upon the designer– so, they came up with a training program to teach these dumbed-down details and allow these designers to purchase their liability insurance. It’s a Win / Win system for the building departments. They avoid liability and make their job easier. 

To understand the issue between the Barrie Building Department and local Engineers you need to understand how the system works. The final section will explain the issue, so read on. 

BCIN Basics …

Here in Canada, the system is based upon “English” law. One of the oldest precepts is that “your home is your castle–and you have the right to do what you will to your castle”. This is the cornerstone of our legal system. 

Engineers also quickly howled that their rights and responsibilities were being trampled upon, and, they had errors and omissions and liability insurance already. Being seen as the experts in the field, they had every right to specify and invent suitable details for any project. 

They quickly developed 2 exclusions to the system. 

  1.  Homeowners would be permitted to accept responsibility for their projects without BCIN Certification. 
  2.  Engineers were exempt from requiring BCIN Certification. As long as they stamp it– That would suffice. 

BCIN designer form

3 Options to Apply for a Building Permit in Ontario

  1. You may apply for a permit accepting responsibility for the design as as the homeowner. If you are doing it yourself and you are confident in your abilities this is fine. Typically, you are doing basic things like replacing windows, moving a non-loadbearing wall, or building a simple deck. You accept responsibility for your plans so that they can’t be sued for use of the details. 

    If you contract a private designer, it needs to be somebody you have confidence in. Keep in mind, when you do it this way the building department will critique what you apply and steer you towards the standardized details. This is why they typically publish the details on a website for you to work from. 

    They see sketched details on paper through slick plans like we produce. You still need to provide all the details they expect. Elevations, site plan, details, etc. If you are doing something different or they question how you are doing it they will ask for an engineered stamped drawing… this is where it can get expensive. Many of our clients hit this wall, and that’s often when they come to us. 

2.   Contract a BCIN Certified Designer– They know the rules and many simple jobs like renovations will help you plan the project. That doesn’t mean you won’t need to contract an Engineer… it all depends on the project. 

3.   Contract an Engineer to help you plan the project. For residential work, a good majority will steer clear. The number of lawsuits they open themselves up to would make your head spin. When you mention the project is in Barrie– that’s another reason they may decline the project. 

The Crux of the Barrie Building Department Issue

The Barrie Building department has created a number of its own rules, which, on its own is not a bad thing. They are working towards solving problems they see commonly, and, they are avoiding lawsuits.  

This isn’t so much of an issue, so long as they are willing to mark these on each plan as they are applied for. As the designers absorb the nuances of their local building department, they will include these details automatically. 

The issue is with Engineers and how they deal with them. 

Engineers are Professionals. They have earned this due respect through years of schooling, hard work, and attention to detail. 

When Plans Examiners without an Engineering Degree are questioning their judgement the Engineers get their backs up. I think that this reaction is entirely justified. 

There isn’t enough time in life to deal with ridiculous, insulting, and disrespectful conduct by a building department. 

We applied for a deck permit last year– it took 9 months. They bounced things back and forth with the engineer squabbling about details for months. At the end of it, the Engineer asked us not to call him if the project is in Barrie. 

Engineers are deferred to due to their expertise. When they are disrespected– they avoid getting into that situation. 

Finally, I understood why I couldn’t get a call returned by any Engineers in Barrie. 

This is also why we have to let people know if your project is anything but standard detailing in Barrie– there is a 2-10k premium on the project. We will not know how much until the Engineer involved does his final billing.