State Lawmakers Mull Changes to How Building Code Panel Operates

Aug 7, 2013

The state commission tasked with reviewing updates to Pennsylvania’s building codes may be in for a few tweaks in its operating procedure.

A 2011 law shifted the process for the panel to make it easier to reject than accept code updates, like energy efficiency and safety requirements.

Subsequently, the panel rejected all the most recent round of code updates, citing an inability to find consensus on some and an accumulation of too many costly updates over time.

Democratic state Representative Bill Keller of Philadelphia said he wants to fix what looks like a broken commission.

"You just can’t just say we’re never going to adopt the new codes," he said. "And that’s the way it looks like it’s going."

Frank Thompson, chairman of the Review and Advisory Commission that considers updating building codes in Pennsylvania, said he’s served on the panel when it has adopted all codes and adopted none, which happened most recently.

"I think we’ve seen the pendulum swing to both extremes, and what I’d like to see in 2015 is probably not adopt everything and probably adopt a lot of things," he said.

Thompson said one way to allow more of a balance is to give the panel twice as much time to consider code updates and make code updates less frequently. Code experts say this won’t do, because technology is advancing too quickly. Manufacturers are also against the proposal, saying there should at least be dialogue on code updates every three years, as is the case now.

Home builders fought the state’s 2009 building code updates, saying they would tack on $15,000 to the cost of each house. Thompson said that figure has grown based on proposed code updates for 2015.

"We know what the proposals are," he said. "So if every one though is adopted, it would be about $42,000 per house, in increased cost."