The Pennsylvania Senate Labor and Industry Committee took no action on Senate Bill 1023 last week but agreed that changes are needed to address the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code adoption process as proposed in the bill.
The bill, at its core, is looking to reverse Act 1 of 2011, which changed the old way that building codes are adopted every three years, The change was from an automatic code-adoption process with unwanted changes needing to be called out and voted on, to a system where any addition or change to the code needs to be adopted individually.
That change led to no new codes being adopted in 2012, a move the Review and Advisory Committee called a “policy statement.”
The 2011 change came about largely as a result of dissatisfaction with the way a mandate that required builders to install automatic sprinkler systems in newly constructed houses was adopted.
Builders called the requirement cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary.
Because of the outcry, Act 1 repealed that sprinkler requirement as it amended the way codes were adopted.
But the new process creates even more problems, said Andrew Sharp of the advocacy group, PennFuture.
“It’s preposterous,” said Sharp, adding that taking no action on improvements to the state’s building codes for a full three years may leave gaps in best safety practices and fails to address changes that will make for more environmentally sound and energy-efficient buildings that can be created with new technology.
Chuck Hamilton, executive officer of the Lehigh Valley Builders Association, disagreed. He said that staying with the exclusion process, members of the review committee must justify why the code should be adopted and gain a two-thirds majority vote to include it in the recommendations.
Hamilton said too many code changes can be frustrating to homebuilders.
But Sharp said there were environmentally sound changes in the code that were not adopted because of the process change.
For example, he said, the 2012 code would have required more insulation, a tighter total building enclosure, tighter ducts, better windows and more efficient lighting than the 2009 code. Because of Act 1, none of the 2012 code changes were adopted.
Sharp said the 2012 code would have saved 15 percent more energy annually than the 2009 code.
While it might not seem like much, he said it adds up.
“A Pennsylvanian buying a new single-family home that meets the 2012 code would realize between $7,623 and $19,191 in net energy savings over the life of their 30-year mortgage,” according to an analysis by the Building Codes Assistance Project and ICF International.
But there is another way to look at it, Hamilton said.
“Increased code changes come with a dollar figure — and that has to be weighed with the consumer in mind,” he said. “Our goal as an association is affordable housing, and a move such as what is proposed could exclude some families from the housing market.”
While no action was taken, several suggestions were made to rectify the system.
The review committee had suggested extending the code adoption process to once every six years.
Senate Bill 1023 suggests going back to the old system, but giving the Review and Advisory Committee more dedicated staff to help it sort through changes during the code review process, the option PennFuture supports, according to Sharp.
Hamilton said he expects the bill will undergo several amendments before it moves out of committee. He said he hopes a compromise can be found that won’t overburden builders with too many code changes.