Days after questions were raised about certain damages to homes in Barrie‘s south end caused by an EF-2 tornado, officials insist all of the homes went through a rigorous inspection process and that the twister’s power was too powerful.
The comments come after researchers from the Northern Tornadoes Project, a partnership between Western University and ImpactWX, came to Barrie to gather data and inspect properties after Thursday’s tornado travelled with estimated speeds of up to 210 km/h through several streets near Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East.
Barrie tornado: Engineering professor calls for building code changes, review of damaged homes
Global News observed a wide range of damage where houses with missing roofs and blown-out walls and windows were mixed with more minor damage, such as ripped-off shingles and soffits with intense damage indiscriminately isolated to pockets.
Gregory Kopp, a professor in civil and environmental engineering at Western University, posted his initial findings on Twitter. One of the posts appeared to show an intact roof that shifted several degrees.
“Significant damage in #barrietornado, but some of it was preventable. Missing roof-to-wall connections (nails) allowed a roof to slide off the walls of this house. This is an issue of construction quality and does not meet the building code,” he tweeted.
Kopp showed another property with a blown-out wall but the roof was still intact, suggesting the materials weren’t fastened properly. A third home showed a garage sidewall blown outwards, noting it appeared to be properly anchored into the wall but “improperly” placed in the foundation.
In an interview with Global News Radio 640 Toronto on Friday, Kopp said he saw lots of damage indicative of a typical tornado but there were select instances that raised questions.
“Several of the houses we could see — there’s one in particular that I put on my Twitter — where the roof just slid off,” he explained.
“You could just look up and see there were no nails in any of the trusses or one, and that’s just not adequate in a tornado. People might say, ‘Well, it’s a strong tornado, what can we do about it?’ But it would have reduced a lot of the damage we believe.”
When reflecting on his and other research, Kopp said based on tornado damage in other parts of Ontario and Canada they have regularly seen not enough nails securing roofs into trusses — something that contravenes building codes where three heavy-duty nails are called for.
A recommendation he raised was calling for the Ontario government to improve the province’s building code, which he generally described as being good. He said by using hurricane strapping, the devices would help to keep roofs on homes during similar types of tornados.
“We wouldn’t be talking then because all the roofs would still be on,” Kopp said, noting the strapping would cost around a few hundred dollars.
“I think it’s really doable to do that. Housing is expensive and we want to keep it as cost-effective as possible, and so our research indicates it’s not that expensive.”
Noting building inspectors have plenty to check for already, he also called for a renewed focus on checking to ensure the proper amount of nails are used to secure the roof to the truss in an effort to minimize some damage should there be another tornado.
However, the observations shared by Kopp drew some criticism for the City of Barrie. Officials noted they were appreciative of the work being done by representatives with the Northern Tornadoes Project, but said they are concerned there might be an inference by some that the building code wasn’t followed.
“That doesn’t sit well with us because we take the safety of our residents seriously and we have a lot of regard for the building code,” Andrea Miller, the general manager of infrastructure and growth management for the City of Barrie, told Global News Monday afternoon.
“The comment that it wasn’t to code I don’t agree with. The construction was to code but the code does not require tornado resistance.”
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Miller said there are approximately 20 building checks done by regulated inspectors all throughout the process such as when the footings are put into place, when the first storey is framed, when roof trusses go in, during interior construction and a final occupancy inspection — and, she added, that all follows a review of the design and engineering that is submitted as part of an application for each new home.
“We are confident the buildings in the city of Barrie were built to code and inspected reflecting that code,” Miller said.
Global News asked Miller about an instance where it was reported that no nails could be seen.
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“We’re shocked by the comment there were no nails. We can’t believe that there were no nails. But certainly I guess that’s possible, but certainly that’s not reflective when we do our inspections and our inspections are multiple, and our inspections are diligent, and our inspections are done by registered professionals in this industry,” she said.
“I’m shocked these people are saying there were no nails because we would have inspected to make sure it was built according to the plans.
“There’s no way anybody can inspect to make sure every single nail is in place. I mean it’s just not reasonable.”
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As of Monday, Miller said unsafe orders were issued to 75 houses, meaning an engineer’s assessment would be required to determine the structural integrity of the building. She noted City staff reviewed a number reports and noted for a portion, repairs are underway or have already been completed.
With Barrie expected to see approximately 100,000 more people over the next 20 years, Miller said she and her staff are looking to take a broader look at what happened in the southern end of Barrie to see if improvements can be made elsewhere.
“There [are] always lessons that can be learned,” she said.
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“Given that we’ve seen some clear evidence that tornadoes seem to like Barrie, maybe we need to talk to the province about adjusting that load for Barrie to reflect the reality of climate change and severe storms. That is a reasonable thing that we should be pursuing and we will.”
When asked about mandating hurricane strapping, she said that should be part of the conversation. Miller also suggested that potentially changes specific to Barrie could be made within the Ontario Building Code, but said even with changes there will always be some damage associated with such weather events in the future.
“We have to be recognizing we can build buildings but it still may not be enough to deal with some tornado-force wind. It’s a lot of load, we’ve got to recognize that,” she said.
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With respect to the issue, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman told Global News more work is needed to get answers on what happened at certain properties where questions were raised on social media before conclusions are drawn.
“I really appreciate the work that the Northern Tornadoes Project actually is doing. I mean they are just trying to make homes and buildings safer so while I feel this might have been a very quick conclusion, I think the point of what they’re doing is very valuable,” he said.
However, he said he backed the call to amend the Ontario Building Code to include hurricane straps or other devices that would help strengthen a home, especially in areas prone to active weather.
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