Pennsylvania Code Adoption Process

Every three years in the United States, the International Code Council (ICC) develops, approves and publishes a series of model building codes. It is up to the states to make these codes law.


In Pennsylvania, the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC) is in charge of reviewing the latest ICC codes and recommending to the governor, the legislature, and the Department of Labor and Industry whether any of the codes should be adopted in Pennsylvania.


The RAC is made up of 19 members, appointed by the Governor, from various construction industry trades and professions as well as local government, contractors, engineers, architects, building inspectors, code, and other local officials.


Previously, new codes were automatically adopted and it was up to the RAC to recommend what should be excluded. Unfortunately, House Bill 377 was passed in 2011 requiring a two-thirds “super majority” vote from the RAC in order to update our statewide building code, including energy codes.


This law places veto power in the hands of homebuilders and their allies, who make up one-third of the RAC and hold firmly to the belief that new codes are too costly and burdensome and should not be adopted.


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Rejection Of The 2012 Codes
In January 2012, the RAC voted not to update the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) to the new 2012 IECC. The new super majority voting requirements made it impossible for the RAC to reach a two-thirds vote on any motion that called for full or partial adoption of the 2012 international building codes, many of which pertain to non-energy building improvements such as mechanical, fuel, fire and plumbing measures.


The RAC also failed to follow code evaluation procedures. The RAC is required by law to evaluate code changes on three criteria: health and safety, financial cost and technical feasibility. The RAC did not evaluate the codes with these criteria in mind. Instead, the RAC based its decision on its perceived problems with a three-year code adoption cycle, and the feared financial burden of code changes to residential homebuilders. In other words, the homebuilders decided their profits were more important than your access to the latest, safest, most energy efficient building codes.


The RAC also did not give public notice that it would vote to adopt or reject the 2012 codes at the January 2012 meeting. The meeting agenda stated that the RAC would only vote on “noncontroversial” code changes, with additional hearings to be held in the spring of 2012 on “controversial” code changes.


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Concern For The Future
The two-thirds vote requirement made it impossible for the RAC to adopt the updated 2012 building codes. There is great concern that building codes in Pennsylvania will never be updated again since it will always be easier for the RAC to take no action than to reach a two-thirds consensus.


Unless there is a legislative fix to reverse the RAC voting process, Pennsylvania will be doomed to the building code dark ages for years to come, cheating homeowners, companies, and other property owners out of valuable energy savings and causing harm to their safety and comfort.


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Returning To Automatic Adoption Is The Answer
Pennsylvania needs a predictable, transparent, uniform process to guarantee that all of our structures are built in accordance with the newest and best building codes. Pennsylvania should return to a process in which modern codes are adopted automatically while allowing the RAC authority to exclude any provision of the new edition of model codes by a simple majority vote.