When last winter’s ice storm walloped Toronto days before Christmas and knocked out power in parts of the city for upwards of a week, it sent property managers scrambling for fuel to top up the emergency generators in their buildings. Some property managers were unable to get fuel from their suppliers.
“The companies that would normally supply fuel to emergency generators were coming in and red-tagging the equipment, saying, ‘It doesn’t comply, and because it doesn’t comply, you can’t get any more fuel,’” recalls Allan Rosenberg, vice president of Del Property Management. “So that’s a wonderful thing to do in the midst of an ice storm; you need fuel and there’s no power in the building.”
What the affected property managers would learn was that their buildings’ emergency generators didn’t comply with the Ontario Installation Code for Oil Burning Equipment (CSA B139 ON 06). The event would not only serve to expose a gap in awareness of the code, but also the magnitude of code non-compliance in condominiums.
“The general consensus at the time,” says Rosenberg, “was that the TSSA is using the fuel companies as their police dogs to enforce something that, they claim, has been on the books for some time, but unbeknownst to management companies, to engineers, to lawyers.”
The code, in its earlier editions, has been in place since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2001, when the Technical Standards & Safety Act was introduced, that fuel suppliers were mandated to inspect diesel fuel installations. The Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA), the non-profit organization responsible for administering and enforcing technical standards, gave fuel suppliers until 2004 to complete a basic inspection and until 2007 to complete a comprehensive inspection. The system is self-regulatory, meaning the TSSA doesn’t track compliance directly, but rather indirectly, by auditing contractors and suppliers.
Some professionals who are familiar with the code suspect that the TSSA has only recently begun to crack down on non-compliance. The TSSA says that is not the case, but adds that fuel suppliers have greater awareness of their obligation to inspect installations before providing fuel.
The TSSA audits every contractor in Ontario an average of once every three years. Factors such as a consumer complaint, the findings of a previous audit and safety-related matters may trigger or influence that frequency of audit.
CSA B139 essentially sets out requirements for generator installations. In particular, sections 22 to 26 of Ontario Regulation 213/01 mandates contractors, certificate holders and fuel distributors to identify code non-compliance in writing; specify a timeframe for correction; notify the user, operator and distributor; and stop fuel supply if non-compliance is not corrected within the prescribed timeframe. Properties with immediate hazards are red-tagged on the spot.
Raphael Sumabat, engineer specialist, Fuels Safety Program, TSSA, says anything that creates a life-threatening situation would qualify as an immediate hazard. One example would be the potential for a fire to break out at any time.
“If this place calls again for fuel, if they haven’t corrected that unacceptable condition, then the fuel won’t be delivered to them,” says Sumabat.
The risk is not theoretical. In a winter 2012 TSSA newsletter, Sumabat cites a blaze at a Toronto area hospital in which more than 40 firefighters were called to extinguish the flames caused when a generator exhaust ignited nearby combustible materials. Other immediate hazards are tanks at risk of leaking, which could result in a diesel spill, and improperly connected vents or exhausts, which could result in indoor carbon monoxide emissions.
Rosenberg says he understands that the TSSA may have been responding to real accidents, but he takes issue with what he describes as a “draconian” approach to enforcement. Many affected buildings, he says, had been operating without incident for 25 years.
“They’re [TSSA] saying there are safety issues here,” he says, “but what are the safety issues if you don’t get fuel for a building that requires power?”
During the ice storm, some buildings couldn’t get fuel until they brought their installations up to code and so remained without power for the length of the outage.
Greg Ellis, fuel services manager, Total Power, says that, in 2006, the TSSA issued a letter stating that fuel suppliers were not to make deliveries to buildings without an approved compliance report. A compliance report must be conducted by a certified contractor, specifically an Oil Burner Technician 1 (OBT 1). Some fuel suppliers do them in-house; others give their clients referrals.
“We do a lot of generator service work, so we sent out a lot of letters saying, ‘Your generator fuel system might not be up to code, and if you do not have an approved report, your site should be inspected for compliance,’” Ellis says. “It’s been a huge education process.”
An approved compliance report runs two pages. One page covers the fuel system, including tanks, piping and vents. The other page covers the appliance — in this case, the generator. If the technician identifies deficiencies, he outlines them in a third “red-tag” page.
In Ellis’ experience, the vast majority of buildings have non-compliant installations, which he attributes to the generators’ fuel systems being improperly installed.
In a spring 2012 newsletter, the TSSA identified unapproved components, combustion air dampers not interlocked with the generator and unapproved generator exhaust systems as being three common non-compliance issues.
In cases of non-immediate hazards, such as an old tank that requires replacement, a technician may grant a property a one-time fill-up during a window of up to 90 days while the property’s owner or manager works to bring its equipment into compliance.
“One of the biggest issues we had during the storm was people were allowed their one fill and then didn’t do anything, and they came back to us and said, ‘Look, we need more fuel,’” says Ellis.
Before fuel delivery can resume, a building must obtain a new report to confirm it has addressed non-compliance issues.
Correcting non-compliance issues doesn’t come cheap. Costs, Rosenberg says, ranged from around $40,000 to $100,000, depending on the scope of work required. Condominium corporations hadn’t anticipated these costs, he adds, so it wasn’t budgeted for in their reserve funds. In consultation with their auditors, these corporations were permitted to access their reserve funds to pay for needed retrofits.
Halsall Associates, a major engineering firm serving the condominium industry, is now asking corporations whether they’ve had a compliance report completed when it conducts performance audits. The move comes after Halsall received a “flurry” of calls about non-compliant installations approximately a year and a half ago, says Gerard Gransaull, business unit manager.
“We’re only peripherally involved,” he explains. “We write reserve fund studies for condos, we manage repairs to their buildings, so we develop a client and we become an advisor, and so when stuff happens where they need clarification or have questions, they feel free to call us.”
CSA B139 was last updated in 2006, with changes coming into effect in 2007, but generator installations both old and new have been found to have compliance issues, Gransaull says. In one case, a two-year-old building was found to be in non-compliance, and so Halsall was able to bring the matter back to the builder. He doesn’t yet know whether the condominium corporation will recover its costs, but at the least, when corporations identify these types of issues, they can budget for the work required to bring their installations up to code in their reserve fund.
Diesel fuel installations are designed by mechanical engineers and then builders rely on mechanical contractors to install them according to specification. Building inspectors don’t inspect everything, says Gransaull, so the fuel supplier may indeed be the first person to identify a compliance issue.
“You can’t drive a truck up to a building and hook up a hose without going inside and making sure that the pipe is actually connected to something; otherwise you’re filling up a basement with oil,” he says.
But, Gransaull adds: “If you ask somebody whose condo just had to pay $100,000 to fix the system that’s been in place for five years whether or not there’s a loophole, I think you know what they’re going to say. It doesn’t seem fair to the owners of the building that this is like that.”
Recovering from the storm
Rosenberg says the stoppage of fuel delivery while condominium corporations bring (or brought) their generators up to code has led to confusion, misunderstanding and frustration between the corporations and the TSSA. He would have preferred to see the authority send out a notice to property management companies and condominium corporations — and the experts they rely on to advise them on these types of technical matters — alerting them to the requirement and giving them a specified period of time to comply.
For its part, the TSSA is “surprised” that it is still observing certain levels of non-compliance, Sumabat says.
“We all have responsibilities to be aware of the legislation that we have to comply with,” he says. “We do try to send notices out to fuel suppliers and contractors, and our website is available for anyone to sign up to get the latest notices and bulletins from us.”
The TSSA recently replaced its newsletter with a blog called The Exchange. Condominium boards, managers and the industry at large will want to stay abreast of this issue, as the TSSA is preparing to update CSA B139 in 2015 to better align it with the 2010 National Fire Code.
Meantime, with winter looming, Del will be asking its property managers for a status update at its next monthly meeting, says Rosenberg.
“We’re going to get a response from our managers to get a handle on who has — and who hasn’t, if any — now gained compliance with the regulation so we’ll know that before winter sets in.”