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State senator urges Pennsylvania to revamp building code review process

Our nation’s model building codes are updated on a three-year cycle, which allows for continuous review and improvement of the state codes for construction of residential and commercial buildings. These codes leverage the latest innovations in building safety, building energy performance, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, and other important building performance attributes.

Energy bills are the second-largest monthly expense for homeowners, after mortgage payments. Study after study has shown that energy-efficient construction decreases the total cost of homeownership. And the small added cost of energy-efficient new construction more than pays for itself in monthly energy savings that benefit homeowners for years to come. Despite this, Pennsylvania is still operating under 2009 standards after having rejected all of the 2012 code recommendations.

Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks) introduced a bill to the Pennsylvania General Assembly earlier this year that would revamp the state’s building code adoption process, allowing the Review and Advisory Committee (RAC) to the Department of Labor and Industry, which reviews and updates building codes in the state, to return to an automatic code adoption process.

In a memorandum about the proposed changes, McIlhinney criticized the current RAC process:

When the RAC met last year to consider the ICC’s 2012 code changes, they voted to reject all of the hundreds of construction code change provisions, without debate on the merits of each of them as required under the Act. As a result, Pennsylvania’s builders are still building to the 2009 standards, and unless the code adoption process is fixed, code experts in our state believe that the RAC will reject all of the 2015 ICC code changes when they are proposed.

At a Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Senate Labor and Industry Committee hearing about McIlhinney’s bill, the RAC chairman, homebuilder Frank Thompson, claimed that one of the reasons they rejected the nearly 1,000 updates was that they did not have enough time for review. He said they needed more than one year.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are now considering extending the code review process to two years, adding staff to the RAC, and making it easier to adopt codes.

What happens next is yet to be determined, but for now one thing is certain: Pennsylvanians in homes built to outdated standards are paying higher energy bills.

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