New code adopted for Pa. buildings

The average person may not be able to spot the difference, but new homes and offices in Pennsylvania will have thicker walls, better insulation and smaller HVAC systems.

The changes are the result of revisions to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code, which took effect Oct. 1.

There are thousands of changes, according to officials in the building and construction industry. But most affect areas like insulation and energy efficiency that are not immediately visible.

“Honestly, the lay person will not be able to look at a building and see these changes,” said Harry Weaver, operations manager for code services at Barry Isett & Associates in Upper Macungie Township. The firm handles code enforcement for municipalities throughout the Lehigh Valley, Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Commercial buildings will be designed to withstand greater wind speeds, and new homes will have to be more air efficient. For example, windows and doors will have to be sealed properly.

 

FOCUS ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Weaver said that one provision requires new homes to pass what he refers to as the “blower door test,” which is designed to find leaks. Builders also must put in the appropriate siding, drywall and insulation to support air and energy efficiency requirements.

“Builders will have the hardest change on new homes and anywhere air leakage” is found, Weaver said.

The costs of construction may rise slightly to accommodate the changes, industry observers said. But operating costs may fall.

“Builders and owners will spend more on construction, but some things will balance out,” said Russel Pacala, a principal at Spillman Farmer Architects Inc. in Bethlehem.

 

AN INTERNATIONAL BASIS

The newly adopted code in Pennsylvania is based on another code, the International Residential Code, which is updated every three years. Pennsylvania chooses what to adopt or reject from the international code, said Chuck Hamilton, executive officer at the Lehigh Valley Builders Association in Allentown.

“The majority of changes have no real impact on construction cost,” Hamilton said. “As it goes with all updates there are cost increases but for now, the costs of building materials are a much greater issue that directly impact building costs.”

The cost of construction materials rose 7.4 percent between September 2017 and September 2018, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of data from the U.S. Labor Department.

Hamilton said his team met with the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center and found 22 significant construction changes due to the new code. The changes range from structural and insulation requirements to electrical and duct changes.

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