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People of Industry - Adaire Chown

November 2, 2015

by Bernie Desjardins

Adaire Chown is well respected for her many years of experience in the codes and standards domain—experience that has gained her an impressive breadth of knowledge and insight. She has long been a familiar face to participants in the building industry at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels. Over the years, Adaire has been formally recognized for her work on several occasions, including the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s William M. McCance Award, presented for her outstanding contribution to the housing industry in the technical area.

In Canada, the provinces and territories base their building regulations in large part on the four national model construction codes for fire safety, plumbing,energy efficiency and building construction. Developed by industry, consumer and government volunteers, the national codes are maintained by the National Research Council’s Canadian Codes Centre (CCC). Adaire Chown has been immersed in these efforts for many years.

Having earned a degree in Architecture from Carleton University, Adaire began her career in building envelope design, construction and performance assessment for what was then the federal Department of Public Works. She moved to the National Research Council (NRC), where she worked in technology transfer at the Institute for Research in Construction and later transferred to code development, maintenance and administration at the CCC.

Although Adaire’s area of greatest expertise is the building envelope, she has also been instrumental in addressing such matters as structural requirements, fire protection, ventilation and energy use in the ongoing evolution of the National Building Code (NBC) and National Energy Code for Buildings.

There is no doubt that to some people, poring over the wording and assessing the ramifications of thousands of technical provisions would be exceedingly tedious, uninteresting and overcomplicated. But although she admits that the work can be as exacting as it is endless, Adaire says she does not find such work to be boring at all—in fact, she is enthusiastic about being involved in the development of codes and standards.

“The work is very challenging and incredibly interesting,” she says. “Every request for a change to update, delete or add a requirement brings with it questions about the need for a change, whether the suggestion is the appropriate solution technically, and what the implications are in terms of cost-benefit and enforcement. Sometimes, the answers are quite straightforward; sometimes they require a lot of research, including laboratory testing or computer modelling.”

Codes and standards are continually updated because new materials, technology and methodology are constantly being introduced, along with new building performance information—all of which can necessitate code changes. Besides watching for problems, Adaire assesses new materials for how they can improve buildings. “For low-rise, sandwich panels definitely have potential for greater application. There are other new materials that are promising but very expensive. One example is the use of vacuum-insulated panels--these could be good in manufactured housing because of the dimensional requirements related to transport.”

Currently Senior Director, Technical Affairs for the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute (CMHI), Adaire says “it’s a privilege working with CMHI—staff and members are great to work with.” She says that since the production of buildings by CMHI members in factories differs in many ways from onsite construction, she had to get “up to speed” on factory-based building when she was hired by the Institute. “I visited factories in the west and the east. They are all different but similar…organized, lean-construction-based, safer than site built, and generally more automated.” In her bid to gain a thorough understanding of current practices, she also discussed prefabrication with a great number of industry leaders and workers. When comparing site-built products to those produced in a factory—and she has an intimate familiarity with both—Adaire maintains that prefabricated buildings are typically “higher in quality, delivered on time, and on budget.”

Years of experience handling codes and standards issues have equipped Adaire with the expertise necessary to keep CMHI members on top of regulatory changes that might affect their businesses. One of her most important contributions is to analyze the implications of proposed changes. When new energy efficiency requirements were being drafted for inclusion in Part 9 (Housing and Small Buildings) of the NBC, for example, Adaire participated in the many meetings held to discuss the details. By raising specific issues and preparing relevant technical information to support positions taken, she successfully influenced the outcome of the initiative on behalf of the entire prefabricated building sector. Notably, Adaire recognized that proposed increases to floor and attic insulation would result in a taller building that could not easily be transported under such obstacles as bridges en route to the permanent location. She therefore advocated for a compromise, resulting in energy-use “trade-offs” that permitted manufacturers to avoid significant difficulties transporting product while maintaining overall energy efficiency. “I didn’t do this all on my own,” Adaire says, “I had amazing support from CMHI’s Technical Working Group (TWG).” The group consists of six experienced technical people from factories across the country. “Every manufacturer builds a bit differently. The TWG is invaluable in terms of clarifying where a proposed requirement might or might not be problematic and what alternative approaches might work,” she explains.

Adaire is currently tackling the need to develop requirements in the CSA Z240.10.1 site preparation, foundation and installation standard to address earthquake loads. “First we need to determine what level of performance the existing requirements in the standard provide. If that level isn’t consistent with the new provisions in the National Building Code, changes will need to be made to ensure the standard continues to be referenced in the Code.” Adaire is also currently working with the Province of Manitoba as they update provincial code requirements and how the CSA A277 and Z240 MH standards for manufactured building are referenced in Manitoba legislation and regulation.

Canada’s new homes are among the best in the world, and that doesn’t happen by accident. The safety, comfort, durability and environmental sustainability of our homes results from rigorous and continuous attention to detail—not only during the construction process, but long before construction even begins. And it results in no small part from the determined efforts of dedicated people—people like Adaire Chown.