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Editorial: New building codes will hamper economic rebound

Updating Pennsylvania’s building codes not only ensures new homeowners
live in the most safe, efficient and well-built homes, it helps keep
insurance claims and premiums in check.

Updating Pennsylvania’s building codes not only ensures new homeowners live in the most safe, efficient and well-built homes, it helps keep insurance claims and premiums in check.

But there’s a fine line between ensuring quality and adding prohibitive costs to construction projects. Therefore, adopting new uniform construction codes should be done with much deliberation.

The commonwealth’s Uniform Construction Code, enacted in 1999 to create minimum building standards statewide, is based on the International Code Council Inc.‘s recommendations. Each state chooses which codes it wants to adopt.

Before 2009, the commonwealth adopted all ICC codes. Last year, Pennsylvania’s UCC Review and Advisory Council was initiated to decide which codes should be adopted.

Unfortunately, the review board’s 19 members, which include builders, architects, engineers, building code officials and industry experts, rushed the process and ultimately accepted all the ICC recommendations.

Among the hundreds of changes, Pennsylvania homebuilders are stuck with measures such as adding structural bracing for high wind or seismic events, testing houses for air-movement energy loss and adding extra insulation around attic hatches.

While more might be better in some cases, the UCC should have taken into account the homebuilding and real estate industries are fighting to stay alive in this recession. The mandates will cost homebuyers an additional $15,000 to $30,000 for each new home, depending on its size.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association this month filed an injunction in Commonwealth Court to delay for three years the UCC changes until the public — including the homebuilders association — can comment. No public comment was received during the UCC meetings.

Safety should not be compromised in a time of recession, and in the end, the UCC erred on the side of caution. Finally adopting a controversial uniform sprinkler mandate was among those decisions.

The Commonwealth Court should delay the UCC mandates. If home sales are a precursor to a strengthening economy, then we must do more to see the industry — or that rebound — isn’t hamstrung.

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