The current edition of the National Building Code of Canada (NBC) is published in an objective-based format intended to allow more flexibility when evaluating non-traditional or alternative solutions. The objective-based format currently in use provides additional information that helps proponents and regulators determine what minimum performance level must be achieved to facilitate evaluation of new alternatives. Although the NBC helps users understand the intent of the requirements, it is understood that proponents and regulators will still have a challenge in terms of demonstrating compliance. In any case, objective-based codes are expected to foster a spirit of innovation and create new opportunities for Canadian manufacturers.

Requirements related to the specification of structural wood products and wood building systems that relates to health, safety, accessibility and the protection of buildings from fire or structural damage is set forth in the NBC. The NBC applies mainly to new construction, but also aspects of demolition, relocation, renovation and change of building use. The current NBC was published in 2015, and is usually updated on a five-year cycle. The next update is expected in 2020.

In terms of structural design, the NBC specifies loads, while material resistance is referenced through the use of material standards. In the case of engineering design in wood, CSA O86 provides the designer with the means of calculating the resistance values of structural wood products to resist gravity and lateral loads. Additional design information is found in the companion documents to the NBC; Structural Commentaries (User’s Guide – NBC 2015: Part 4 of Division B) and the Illustrated User’s Guide – NBC 2015: Part 9 of Division B, Housing and Small Buildings.

In Canada, structural wood products are specified prescriptively or through engineered design, depending on the application and occupancy. Design professionals, such as architects and engineers, are generally required for structures that exceed three-storeys in height or are greater than 600 m2 or if occupancies are not covered by Part 9 ‘Housing and Small Buildings’ of the NBC.

Housing and small buildings can be built without a full structural design using prescriptive requirements found in Part 9 of the Code. Some Part 9 requirements are based on calculations, others are based on construction practices that have a proven performance history. Generally prescriptive use is allowed if the following conditions are met:

  • three-stories or less
  • 600m2 or less
  • uses repetitive wood members spaced within 600 mm
  • spans are less than 12.2 meters
  • floor live loads do not exceed 2.4 kPa
  • residential, office, mercantile or medium-to low-hazard industrial occupancy

The rationale for not basing all Part 9 requirements on calculations comes from the fact that there has been historical performance and experience with small wood-frame buildings in Canada, in addition to the notion that many of the non-structural elements actually contribute to the structural performance of a wood-frame system. Quantifying the ‘system’ effects on overall behaviour of a wood-frame building cannot be done adequately using typical design assumptions, such as two-dimensional load paths and single member engineering mechanics. In these instances, the requirements for houses and small buildings is based on alternative criteria of a prescriptive nature. These prescriptive criteria are based on an extensive performance history of wood-frame housing and small buildings that meet current day code objectives and requirements.

Buildings that fall outside of prescriptive boundaries or are intended for major occupancy or post disaster situations must be designed by design professionals in accordance with Part 4 of the NBC. Structural resistance of wood products and building systems are engineered according to the requirements of CSA O86 in order to resist the loadings described in Part 4 of the NBC.


The following CWC publications are reference in the NBC:

Moisture and Wood-Frame Buildings

Introduction to Wood Building Technology

Wood Reference Handbook

The Span Book

Engineering Guide for Wood Frame Construction


For further information, refer to the following resources:

Fire Safety Design in Buildings (Canadian Wood Council)

Codes Canada – National Research Council of Canada

National Building Code of Canada

CSA O86 Engineering design in wood