Re-coding commercial construction in Philadelphia

By Katie Bartolotta

Posted March 14, 2018

As the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC) re-reviews the 2015 International Codes (Codes) for adoption throughout Pennsylvania this year, the Pennsylvania State Legislature has granted Philadelphia a one-time opportunity to jump ahead to 2018 Codes for commercial buildings for both new construction and major renovations.

The Value of Modern Building Codes

value of codes

Building codes codify minimum construction standard to protect the health, safety, and welfare of those constructing, occupying, and managing buildings. Building codes ensure that construction standards are rigorous, keep pace with emerging technologies and practices, and promote continuity across city and state lines.


Buildings account for nearly half of carbon emissions in the United States. That percentage is even greater in Philadelphia where buildings are responsible for over 60% of carbon emissions citywide. To address this concern, the City of Philadelphia has a commitment to reduce local carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, while improving equality and health for all Philadelphians.


In the life cycle of a building, the most cost-effective time to ensure efficient energy usage and avoid unnecessary cost is in the initial design and construction phase. More energy efficient buildings save consumers money on utility bills and reduce the environmental impact from energy use in the built environment. Per an analysis by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), adoption of modern building codes “provides the single most cost-effective and expeditious means of achieving reductions in energy-related GHG emissions in the building sector.”


For commercial buildings, the transition from Pennsylvania’s current code (2009 International Codes) to the code Pennsylvania is currently reviewing for adoption (2015 International Codes) yields an energy savings of over 25%, per U.S. Department of Energy reports[i]. With an adoption of the 2018 International Codes in Philadelphia, there’s potential for yet another 6.8% increase in energy savings from the previous edition.


While peer states including New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts are currently on 2015 Codes, each updates its codes every three years in alignment with the release of the latest International Codes edition. The jump to 2018 Commercial Codes, effective October 1, 2018, would position Philadelphia as a leader in modern code adoption on par with neighboring states.


The decision of whether to adopt the 2018 Codes for commercial buildings must be made on the same timeline as the RAC’s review and adoption of the 2015 Codes. In practice, if Philadelphia would like to take advantage of this opportunity, City Council must pass Bill 180176 authorizing the adoption before it recesses for the summer. This would allow the city to comply with the October 1, 2018 effective date as prescribed by Act 36 of 2017.

implementation timeline

If Philadelphia chooses not to take advantage of the jump-ahead opportunity to adopt 2018 Codes for commercial buildings this year, the city cannot remain on the 2009 Codes. At the minimum, Philadelphia must adopt the 2015 Codes in alignment with the rest of the commonwealth. Under this scenario, Philadelphia will not have the opportunity to adopt the 2018 Codes until the year 2022, as it would be subject to the RAC’s 4.5-year review and adoption process. It will also be difficult to make a future case to the state legislature that Philadelphia should be permitted to control its own code adoption process should it not accept this one-time exemption.



[i] The transition from Pennsylvania’s current code (2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) which references ASHRAE 90.1-2007) to the next triennial code (2012 IECC/ASHRAE 90.1-2010) yields an energy savings of 18.5% nationally.

ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2010 Final Determination Quantitative Analysis:

A jump ahead to the code Pennsylvania is currently reviewing for adoption (2015 IECC/ASHRAE 90.1-2013) yields yet another 7.6% increase nationally in whole building energy savings.

ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2013 Determination of Energy Savings: Quantitative Analysis:

Green Building United is working to ensure that Philadelphia opts in to this one-time opportunity to adopt the 2018 Codes for commercial buildings. 

To join our efforts, please contact Katie Bartolotta, Policy and Program Manager:

Green Building United Legacy Partners

Green Building United Platinum Partners

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