A flurry of red-tagged emergency generators
By Michelle Ervin
02 December 2014
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”