From lagging to leading: Adopting modern building codes

By Katie Bartolotta

Posted May 25, 2018

On May 24, Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously to approve the adoption of modern building codes in Philadelphia. The 2018 International Codes represent an increase in energy efficiency of over 30% as compared to current code.

In a matter of months, Philadelphia transformed from lagging nearly a decade behind its peers to becoming a leader nationwide in modern code adoption.    


So how did we get here?

In October, Act 36 of 2017 was signed into law in Pennsylvania. This bill amended the code adoption process in Pennsylvania, allowing the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC) to re-review the 2015 International Codes for adoption statewide. In addition, Philadelphia was granted a one-time exemption to adopt the 2018 International Codes for commercial and multifamily buildings. (Residential structures are still governed by the Uniform Construction Code, which adopted the 2015 Codes with just a few amendments.)

To take advantage of this exemption, Philadelphia was required to pass an ordinance on the same timeline as the RAC’s review of the 2015 International Codes. To ensure compliance, the bill was advanced quickly during the spring Philadelphia City Council session.


What does this mean for you?

All Philadelphians

In Philadelphia, buildings are responsible for over 60% of carbon emissions citywide. Modernizing building codes is a key strategy to ensure that the city reaches its goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050 to combat climate change. 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 [greenhouse gas] emissions in the building sector.” In addition to helping mitigate climate change, the latest building codes ensure that new construction is safer and more resilient to the effects of climate change by specifying climate-appropriate building materials and construction practices.


Residential Tenants

The additional energy savings between the 2015 and 2018 Codes translates to lower utility bills for new multifamily construction or major retrofits. The opportunity for additional utility cost savings is especially important in Philadelphia, where low-income households are among the most burdened by the amount of household income spent on energy in the United States. 


Affordable Housing Developers

Modernizing codes will have a negligible impact on upfront cost for construction in this sector. Current projects are already subject to a competitive bid process for funding and the most competitive projects are already proposing designs that exceed the minimum required code.


Market-rate Multifamily and Commercial Developers

The increased efficiency and improved safety of built projects will bring Philadelphia up to speed with neighboring states and will deliver utility costs savings benefits to end users all at a marginal cost difference from the previous code edition.   


Building Owners

The increased quality and energy efficiency of new construction and retrofit projects can be marketed to residential and commercial tenants as cheaper to operate and more comfortable than buildings built to our current base code.


Practitioners in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction

Modern code adoption across Pennsylvania will require that those that design and construct buildings to train to ensure compliance with the changing requirements. Fortunately, many practitioners work on projects in neighboring states which have already adopted modern codes, easing the transition ahead. 


What’s next?

As a leader in modern code adoption, Philadelphia will need resources to ensure smooth compliance and enforcement. Training for and communication between the architecture, engineering, and construction industry and the code enforcement community is essential for the full energy and energy cost savings to be realized. Green Building United and its partners will offer trainings and networking opportunities to support energy code changes. 

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