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Upgrading and Refurbishing Existing Buildings: The role in affordability

Presentation Synopsis:

The refurbishment of existing buildings represents around 50% of the volume of construction activity in Canada. After a significant re-engineering of buildings codes into objectives and functional statements the NBCC has still to include a process for existing buildings.

In practice you have a choice of developing what can be numerous Alternative Solutions to align the project with the Acceptable Solutions in the building code or use agreements as a basis for establishing the scope of work: a holistic approach that is fundamentally more creative and cost effective.

As agreements are now covered in the EGBC Guidelines for Fire Protection Engineering Services on Construction Projects, John Ivison will outline this approach and provide some illustrations of recent projects as well as looking at cost factors/cost estimates of renovations.

Speaker Bio:

John T Ivison BSc (Hons) P Eng (ret). CP MIFireE FSFPE


BSc (Hons) in Chemical Engineering, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom


Professional Designations

Professional Engineer (retired) in the Province of British Columbia

Former Professional Engineer in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario

Certified Professional in the Province of BC

Fellow Society of Fire Protection Engineers

Former Member of Institution of Fire Engineers (UK)



Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, (1995 – 2000), Masters Programme in Fire Protection Engineering
APEGBC Coordinator for Certified Professional Programme, University of British Columbia
Former Spokesperson on Fire for APEGBC (now EGBC)
Twice President: BC Chapter of Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Former Commissioner: Vancouver Heritage Commission
EGBC Task Group Chair for various BC and national code changes.
Former member of standing committee on fire protection: National Fire Code.
Chair EGBC revised guidance on Fire Protection Engineering Services for Building projects.

Career Positions:


Fire protection consultant: Celerity engineering Ltd: Jan 2023 to present.

Acting as project lead on a number of large- scale renovation/historic projects in consultation with other Celerity engineers. Navi shrimp farm on Vancouver Island, 245 East Hastings Street and 121 Menzies Street in James Bay Victoria.


Offers a unique service for historic properties based on agreements with the City of Vancouver. This enables a bespoke approach to be used for design purposes making such projects more affordable.


Principal:  John Ivison and Associates Ltd- 2012-2022

Consulting fire protection and building code consultant with over 30 years’ experience in fire hazard analysis, fire protection design, building code concepts and development, emergency planning product development and fire litigation. Leading consultant for historic building projects for the Province of BC. Other services include fire performance evaluation, negotiations with City and other authorities, Alternative Solutions and other consulting activities for developers, architects, building owners and managers in both heritage and existing buildings.


Wood Enterprise Coalition- 2011-2012


Senior Technical Advisor to the Wood Enterprise Coalition: a triumvirate designed to support the Wood First initiative to increase the use of wood in BC government and provincially- funded projects. Responsible for setting out the strategic plan for fire performance of wood building systems (one year contract)


International Fire Consultants: 2006-2011

Associate Director of International Fire Consultants Ltd (IFC) in the London office of IFC Group (Princes Risborough). Joined IFC in 2006 as Associate Director responsible for Fire Risk Assessment across broad portfolio of projects.  This included technical responsibility for the Brussels and Middle East offices of IFC (2006-2011). Significant projects included Weetabix UK, Southend on Sea Historic Pier, Bramshill Manor (national police college in UK), Bibury Court, Blackdown House, Marina 101 and Tiara Towers as well as Barclay’s capital in Dubai. Assisted with setting out the building regulations for Cyprus and Civil Defence procedures in the Sultanate of Oman.


Buro Happold Engineers 2006

Worked on a wide range of projects as a private consultant out of Buro Happold’s Leeds and London offices.  While there, contributed to early work on the London Olympic- Stratford- site; reviewed and audited the Fire Emergency Plan for the opening of Royal Ascot by Her Majesty the Queen. Carried out extensive work on the Transportation and Communications Facilities Guide to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.


Also led a team developing the fire protection concepts and design for a modularised building system manufactured and imported from China: Verbus. Worked closely with the inventors to develop the concepts for fire and life safety, carried out fire testing and other requirements including strategy for regulatory compliance.


Protection Engineering Inc: 1982-2001


Established and grew a high -profile fire protection and building code consultancy practice in Vancouver.  Led a multi-disciplinary team that provided design and project management of commercial, industrial and institutional projects including approximately 20 general hospitals. Major clients included the Bentall Group, Grosvenor Developments, BC Coastguard, and many more: in total over 2000 clients were served by a staff of 20 Professional Engineers, code consultants and technologists as well as support staff. The company was a market leader in innovation including the development of fire models and significant technological innovations such as the push-pull venting system used in high buildings on the Concord Pacific site in Vancouver, Fyre-Sleeve Industries fire stopping system, and the first intrinsically safe garbage compaction system.

First consultant in the Port of Vancouver to develop uniform building permit review processes for a wide variety of projects in the Port ranging from ship-loaders to hydrogen processing facilities.


BC Forest Products: 1979-82


Fire Protection Manager of BC Forest Products from 1979-82


Responsible for fire safety across the group including fire safe design of new sawmills and pulp mills. Oversaw and coordinated fire safety in new facilities. Developed major designs for Grand Cache sawmill, Crofton Pulp and Paper: number 3 paper machine.


Insurers Advisory Organisation (1975-79)


Loss prevention (special risks) engineer for Insurers’ Advisory Organisation and eventually instructor and then Director of the School of Loss Control Technology in Ontario. Designed and delivered 42 courses annually in fire safety and building security to loss control engineers, insurance underwriters and industry.

Developed unique package of loss prevention training manuals still used today.


Recent Project Experience


Two storey vertical addition to 90 Alexander Street and existing 4 storey SRO for Living Balance. Developed a new concept for the vertical addition and managed to keep the existing SRO building occupied over a period of construction: 5 years.
1 West Hastings: reached an agreement with city of Vancouver on upgrading the original Mercantile Bank. Managed to add two internal storeys without triggering a major upgrade.
Champion Foods Edmonton Alberta. Major design and coordination of fire and building code requirements for this multi-facetted petfood factory-with Celerity. Worked with Williams Engineering to design the water supplies and fire and life safety systems.
Concept development and design for fire protection and life safety improvements: Hat Creek Historic Ranch: Province of BC Heritage Branch.
Concept development and design for Kilby Museum- Agassi, B.C.
Mainstreet Equity Corporation; prime consultant for the design and coordination of upgrading of 1210 and 1211 Cameron Street, New Westminster, B.C.
Peer review of research reports for code change proposals to the BC Building Code and scoping the long- term research necessary to remove barriers to wood.
Assessment of EDF Energy Transformer facilities feeding the Channel Tunnel
Fire protection programme for upgrading of Southend Pier, Essex, UK               (£2.5 million)
Assessment of Nationwide banking processing and related facilities (UK)
Course of construction assessment of Barclays Dubai Data/office centre
Concept Fire Strategy for the refurbishment of historic Bibury Court Hotel (1644)
Peer review of fire protection concepts Burj Al Baher, Libya
Aylesbury Town Centre redevelopment, UK.
Fire Strategies for Tiara Towers, Marina 101 and other complexes in Dubai
Fire Risk Assessment for Selex (military guidance systems), Luton
Advice to the Technical Chamber Cyprus on the Cypriot Building Code
Assessment of compartment integrity Burj Dubai- world’s highest building in 2011.

Educational Links


Annual lecture University of York:  Fire Protection of Historic Interiors ( approx. 2002-2011)

Design and delivery of three international symposia in conjunction with the University of British Columbia:
-   Fire Risk Assessment (NRC)

-   Design Calculations for Fire Resistance

-   Performance – Based Design for Fire Safety

-   Fire Science and Fire Investigation with the University of Edinburgh

Community- based studies with UBC Masters level students for:
-   Department of Permits and Licenses Vancouver

-   Vancouver Fire and Rescue

·       Ongoing design development of masters programmes in UK, Oman and elsewhere


Product Development


Designed and obtained a US patent for a novel smoke venting system for high-rise buildings (first push-pull system)- used for the Concord Pacific site in Vancouver, BC. Worked closely with the City of Vancouver and Government of Canada (NRC) who funded active fire testing of real buildings to prove the system performance.
Verbus Modular Building System- this is a pre-fitted modular building system manufactured in China and used to construct hotels, apartments and offices.

Forensic Analysis

Led a forensic support team that undertook analysis of fires for two of the UK’s largest fires: Monkhill Confectionary (Cadburys) and Magna Park. Both were total losses in the $200 million dollar range. Both involved sophisticated re-construction of the fire scenarios using Computational Fluid Dynamics.


Papers, Articles and Interviews

Municipal Fire Protection Strategies – Symposium on Performance – Based Design.
Fire Protection of Historic Piers (published in Fire Protection Engineering in Feb 2013)
Historic Revivals- economic refurbishment of Vintage Buildings (2012)
50 articles on various subjects in magazines in the UK, North America and the Middle East.
Interview on CBC’s morning show- fire risk in high buildings.

Specialist Areas

Broad understanding of building construction, fire resistance, fire performance of materials, fire suppression systems etc.
Ability to analyse complex industrial processes for fire and explosion hazards
Business continuity and recover risks over and above conventional Fire Risk Assessment
Legislative models for building regulations
Assessment of municipal fire practices
30 years’ experience in assessing fire risk in existing buildings
Coordination of large multi-disciplinary design projects
Product performance and development of new fire technologies
Expert witness in several significant legal cases
Research and development including fire models for a number of fire safety applications (radiation in courtyards, conduction through assemblies, smoke modelling in atria)



·       Former full Member, Institution of Fire Engineers

·       Fellow Society of Fire Protection Engineers and former member of SFPE board.

·       Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia

·       Former president, BC Chapter of Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

·       Past Chairman, Certified Professional Committee, City of Vancouver, British Columbia.

·       Past Chair, Continuing Education Committee Association of Prof Eng. of BC

·       Former Commissioner, Vancouver Heritage Commission.

·       Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia (1995 to 2000)

·       Former member, Committee on Hazardous Materials and Activities, National Fire Code of Canada.




Award of Merit for Advocacy: Vancouver Heritage Commission- February 2000


Start date: 
Tuesday, November 21, 2023 - 12:00

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