Wednesday, September 7, 2016

PA Environmental Council, Green Building Groups Concerned About Building Code Bill

The PA Environmental Council, Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance Tuesday sent a letter to all members of the House expressing their concern that House Bill 568 (Evankovich-R-Allegheny) does not do enough to ensure Pennsylvania has up-to-date state Uniform Construction Code, including the most recent provisions relating to energy efficiency.
Having an up-to-date state construction code could mean energy savings worth $7,623 to $19,191 over the life of their 30-year mortgage, more than paying back the initial investment.
The text of the letter follows—
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Delaware Valley Green Building Council, and Green Building Alliance, we are writing to share our concerns with House Bill 568 (P.N. 3705), which was passed by the Senate on July 11, 2016 and is awaiting a concurrence vote in the House.
Representative Evankovich graciously met with us in late August to discuss this legislation. While we agree there is a definite need to amend the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act, and are thankful for his leadership in bringing this issue towards a resolution, we remain concerned that House Bill 568, as currently written, does not best serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.
In particular, we have the following concerns:
-- Code Review and Adoption Timeline Issues-- While the bill institutes building code review every three years, the timeline for the review process ensures that Pennsylvania will always be at least one version behind the most recent International Construction Code (ICC), a document that is updated every three years.  
Because code official training, required annually, is only offered on the most recent ICC, Pennsylvania municipal code officials do not have access to training courses and materials on the building code they enforce. Code officials who are required to enforce accessibility and other recent code updates must be trained in multiple versions of the code, which is incredibly onerous.
The updates in House Bill 568, as currently written, will not address this issue. The legislation’s timeline specifies that code review will begin 21 months after the ICC is released, and that regulations adopted under the act shall take effect 33 months after the beginning of the review period.
This equates to 54 months between when the ICC is released and possible enactment in Pennsylvania, locking our state into a cycle of always being at least one version of the ICC behind.
Further, the legislation currently provides that the 2015 code will be reviewed on a separate schedule, and any regulations adopted as a result of that review shall be effective June 1, 2018. At that point, Pennsylvania will have operated under the 2009 code for nearly ten years.
-- Opposition to Updated Code Provisions-- Although the bill removes the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote for adoption of every provision in the ICC—a barrier to code updates presently—it continues to require a two-thirds majority vote for any provision that has been “opposed.”
Under House Bill 568, the way by which a provision of the ICC can be labeled “opposed” includes receipt of a comment from the public or selection by a member of the technical advisory committee, recommending the provision for individual review by the RAC. This system makes it very easy for a provision to be marked as “opposed” and therefore subjected to the same, ineffective adoption process that the bill purportedly seeks to address.
-- RAC Composition-- A final concern that bears mentioning is the make-up of the RAC and Technical Advisory Groups (TAG). While the composition of RAC members is very well defined in the legislation, it should be specified that members representing associations are “nominated by” said industry association, rather than simply being “from” the association, to ensure the RAC member is truly representing the interests of that association.
Furthermore, the legislation lacks any criteria for participation on a TAG, but rather leaves it to the discretion of the RAC chair.
While the RAC actually votes on code provisions, the TAG members have significant power because of their ability to oppose a provision, subjecting it to a much more difficult review and approval process.
Therefore, a recommended change is to include greater specificity of the membership composition of the TAGs.
Pennsylvania’s lack of updated codes hurts our citizens in several ways. For example, ISO, an organization that provides research and data to the insurance industry, grades municipalities on hazard prevention.
This directly affects insurance rates. Pennsylvania’s lack of up-to-date fire protection standards lowers this rating for all Pennsylvania communities, potentially leading to higher insurance rates.
In addition, energy efficiency standards are particularly important to low-income households, who spend more of their income on energy utilities than the average population.
In a recent ACEEE study, Pennsylvania was the only state with two cities—Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—in the top ten list of greatest energy burden on lower-income individuals.
While there is an additional cost to many energy efficiency improvements, a Pennsylvania-specific study by the Building Codes Assistance Project estimated this cost to be $1,403 to $3,375 per home for the energy provisions in the 2012 ICC, which will result in energy savings worth $7,623 to $19,191 over the life of their 30-year mortgage, more than paying back the initial investment.
While House Bill 568 is a step forward, it does not adequately address serious issues with Pennsylvania’s building code adoption process. We urge you to consider amendments to address the concerns outlined above, and would be pleased to help however we can.
Thank you for your consideration.
Davitt Woodwell Alex Dews Aurora Sharrard, PhD
President Executive Director Executive Director
PA Environmental Delaware Valley Green Green Building Alliance
Council Building Council
House Bill 568 was returned to the House for a concurrence vote after being amended by the Senate before the summer legislative break.  It is now in the House Rules Committee.
More Background
Last week the The PA Environmental Council published a primer on the state’s Uniform Construction Code and how important the state’s uniform building code in particular is to an effective strategy for saving energy.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.
Related Story:
PEC: How Important Are Building Codes To Saving Energy?  Very

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