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PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Post-Philly collapse, Harrisburg needs to do its job on building codes

In the wake of the tragic building collapse in Philadelphia, building codes are in the news. This summer, Philadelphia City Council and state legislators are holding hearings to look into the collapse and recommend policy changes in the hopes of preventing more tragedies like the one at 22nd and Market. Most of the discussion thus far has centered around demolition practices and regulation.  

But this is not just a demolition issue, nor is it only a Philly issue. We need to have a broader discussion in Harrisburg about modernizing Pennsylvania’s out-of-date building codes – and the dangerous and dysfunctional way we go about updating them. 

One of the best guarantees we have toward safe and energy-efficient buildings is updated state building codes. Unfortunately, changes to the building code update process, made by the state legislature and Gov. Corbett in 2011 -- at the behest of the home building industry -- are preventing updates to building codes. This means that cost-effective industry best practices are being rejected at the expense of health, safety and energy efficiency. 

Emergency personnel respond to a building collapse in downtown Philadelphia, June 5, 2013. (Dino Hazell/AP Photo)

Pennsylvania previously automatically adopted nearly all changes to its state-wide building code every three years as recommended by the International Code Council (ICC). The model codes adopted by the ICC promote safe, sustainable, and resilient structures across most of the U.S. 

But Act 1 of 2011 changed all that. The new law eliminated automatic updating of the codes and required a two-thirds "super majority" vote of the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC). Gov. Corbett hand-picked industry members to serve on the RAC, many of whom hold firm to the belief that new codes are too costly and burdensome and should not be adopted. 

The RAC has now become a wreck as the hundreds of changes to the building codes recommended by the 2012 ICC were all rejected. These rejected changes include safety improvements in addition to updated energy codes. Pennsylvania is now building to the 2009, not the 2012, codes. If this process doesn't change, it is unlikely any new code will be adopted in the future.

Even worse, the industry-dominated RAC is now recommending further changes that would make it even harder to update building codes and could even result in rolling back previous code adoption decisions, enabling codes to revert to much older standards -- anchoring our codes in the past in order to protect industry profits into the future. 

Not adopting revised codes every three years puts Pennsylvanians at risk. Code changes respond to advancements in building products, science, and construction and demolition practices that save energy and improve safety. Codes are also updated to respond to specific disasters such as hurricanes and building collapses that help improve structural requirements going forward. 

We will continue to have accidents and preventable disasters until we have a comprehensive, modern building code that reflects the most up-to-date technology and industry best practices – and that discussion starts in Harrisburg.


  1. This needs to be remembered and brought up next year in the governor's race if One-Term-Tom runs again. Act 1 of 2011 needs to be repealed.

  2. Your plan for building industry -- are preventing updates to building codes should be taken in each and every industry to construct a good building.Thanks for sharing this post...

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