Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon June 16, 2014

In Harrisburg, The Debate Over Construction Codes Persists

A debate is raging over ways to update the various codes that govern construction in Pennsylvania.

A new code requiring sprinklers in a building — is it a life saver or a costly mandate? The answer to that question depends on whether you make your living building homes or selling sprinklers.

Every three years, a state review panel is faced with hundreds of new model codes to adopt or reject. The state Senate has passed a proposal to give the panel more time (two years instead of one) to consider each code.

"Increasing the amount of time available to analyze the ICC's recommendations will lead to a better and more thorough review process," said Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), who sponsored the bill.

But opponents say the burden for updating each code is still too high.

"The way that codes are now adopted in Pennsylvania requires a supermajority of the council that reviews the codes, and it also requires each and every code to be adopted individually," said Shari Shapiro, a lawyer with the firm Cozen O'Connor. "There were something like 900 in the 2012 code cycle."

Shapiro represents groups that want to see regular updates of building codes — not just for safety, but for cost-savings, as well.

"The 2012 codes were 15 percent more energy efficient than the 2009 codes," Shapiro said.

The 2012 batch of model codes were all rejected by Pennsylvania's review panel.

Shapiro said her clients, which include manufacturers and code organizations, will lobby House lawmakers to lower the burden for approving codes while increasing scrutiny on the most controversial updates. She said it would represent a compromise with homebuilders, who have argued that code updates are costly.