The National Building Code of Canada (NBC) requires that some buildings be of ‘noncombustible construction’ under its prescriptive requirements.

Noncombustible construction is, however, something of a misnomer, in that it does not exclude the use of ‘combustible’ materials but rather, it limits their use. Some combustible materials can be used since it is neither economical nor practical to construct a building entirely out of ‘noncombustible’ materials.

Wood is probably the most prevalent combustible material used in noncombustible buildings and has numerous applications in buildings classified as noncombustible construction under the NBC. This is due to the fact that building regulations do not rely solely on the use of noncombustible materials to achieve an acceptable degree of fire safety. Many combustible materials are allowed in concealed spaces and in areas where, in a fire, they are not likely to seriously affect other fire safety features of the building.

For example, there are permissions for use of heavy timber construction for roofs and roof structural supports. It may also be used in partition walls and as wall finishes, as well as furring strips, fascia and canopies, cant strips, roof curbs, fire blocking, roof sheathing and coverings, millwork, cabinets, counters, window sashes, doors, and flooring.

Its use in certain types of buildings such as tall buildings is slightly more limited in areas such as exits, corridors and lobbies, but even there, fire-retardant treatments can be used to meet NBC requirements. The NBC also allows the use of wood cladding for buildings designated to be of noncombustible construction.

In sprinklered noncombustible buildings not more than two-storeys in height, entire roof assemblies and the roof supports can be heavy timber construction. To be acceptable, the heavy timber components must comply with minimum dimension and installation requirements. Heavy timber construction is afforded this recognition because of its performance record under actual fire exposure and its acceptance as a fire-safe method of construction. Fire loss experience has shown, even in unsprinklered buildings, that heavy timber construction is superior to noncombustible roof assemblies not having any fire-resistance rating.

In other noncombustible buildings, heavy timber construction, including the floor assemblies, is permitted without the building being sprinklered.

In sprinklered buildings permitted to be of combustible construction, no fire-resistance rating is required for the roof assembly or its supports when constructed from heavy timber. In these cases, a heavy timber roof assembly and its supports would not have to conform to the minimum member dimensions stipulated in the NBC.


NBC definitions:

Combustible means that a material fails to meet the acceptance criteria of CAN/ULC-S114, “Test for Determination of Non-Combustibility in Building Materials.”

Combustible construction means that type of construction that does not meet the requirements for noncombustible construction.

Heavy timber construction means that type of combustible construction in which a degree of fire safety is attained by placing limitations on the sizes of wood structural members and on thickness and composition of wood floors and roofs and by the avoidance of concealed spaces under floors and roofs.

Noncombustible construction means that type of construction in which a degree of fire safety is attained by the use of noncombustible materials for structural members and other building assemblies.

Noncombustible means that a material meets the acceptance criteria of CAN/ULC-S114, “Test for Determination of Non-Combustibility in Building Materials.”


For further information, refer to the following resources:

Wood Design Manual, Canadian Wood Council

National Building Code of Canada

CAN/ULC-S114 Test for Determination of Non-Combustibility in Building Materials

Stairs and storage lockers in noncombustible buildings

Wood roofing materials in noncombustible buildings

Wood partitions in noncombustible buildings

Wood furring in noncombustible buildings

Wood flooring and stages in noncombustible buildings

Fire stops in noncombustible buildings

Interior wood finishes in noncombustible buildings

Wood cladding in noncombustible buildings

Millwork and window frames in noncombustible buildings