Bottom line is, if you wish to replace your bathroom faucet, you need a permit
and have the finished job inspected! Give me a break!!!!
State's new construction code criticized
By Craig Smith
Monday, April 26, 2004
Homeowners who have been putting off replacing that water heater might want to
get it done soon.
The state's new comprehensive building code puts even relatively minor projects
like installing a new bathtub or building certain backyard sheds and decks
under the scrutiny of building inspectors and code enforcement officers.
Opponents say the Uniform Construction Code, or UCC, will only increase costs
and could stifle development. Proponents argue the code will protect consumers
from unethical builders and set a statewide standard for construction.
Most lawmakers, builders and local municipal officials agree that a statewide
building code is a good idea, but they say the one that took effect April 8 in
Pennsylvania goes over the top. Communities have until July 8 to decide how to
enforce the code.
The UCC sets uniform standards for construction of new residential and
commercial structures and renovations to existing buildings. Until this month,
Pennsylvania was one of only three states that had no such standardized
Municipalities that "opt in" can choose to control enforcement and the series
of inspections mandated under the new regulations themselves, or they can join
with other municipalities through a council of government or similar group.
Those that "opt out" will rely on third-party inspectors or the state
Department of Labor and Industry to make inspections and enforce the code.
"People are not going to take kindly to this," state Rep. Joe Petrarca said.
Petrarca, a Democrat from Vandergrift, said a building code makes sense, but
this one is "government going too far."
"Most of my colleagues think we have a major problem on our hands," he said.
South Greensburg zoning officer Paul Fennell agrees that the new rules are
"Some things they want inspected are totally ridiculous. If you replace a
bathtub in your home, you have to have it inspected," he said. A deck more than
3 feet high also will have to be inspected.
"There's just too much government intervention anymore. It's scary," Fennell
An individual, firm or corporation convicted of code violations could face
fines of as much as $1,000 per day, plus court costs, for each violation.
Communities are coming to terms with the code in various ways. South Greensburg
Council adopted it last month but ruled that contractors must hire their own
Youngwood Council is holding a public forum at 7 p.m. today to explain the new
Youngwood borough Secretary Diane Hague, a member of the board of directors of
the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, said the water heater provision
of the code is one of its most controversial. The basic home repair now comes
under the auspices of inspectors who would check gas, water and electrical
Some furnace repairs that might be considered routine maintenance also would
need to be inspected.
The cost of inspections remains a point of contention. The Pennsylvania
Builders Association says that based on rates in other states, each individual
inspection will cost between $50 and $100. Under the code, some projects would
require a minimum of five inspections.
State Rep. Dan. A. Surra, a Democrat from Fox Township, Clearfield County, has
sponsored a bill to repeal the new code. This "mother of all mandates" will put
some small contractors out of business, he said.
"What we should have done is license contractors," Surra said. "When this
starts to kick in, there's going to be some unhappy campers."
Some lawmakers are suggesting the new code will have to undergo a major
revision, at least.
South Huntingdon Township was hoping to use its own inspectors for the program,
but it got few takers.
"We advertised about two years ago for someone to take the test. A couple of
people went; most dropped out," supervisor Melvin Cornell said.
The new requirements will put a strain on the township, Cornell said.
Communities that "opt in" must establish an appeals board to handle objections
to an inspector's decision, and members may be hard to find in some locales.
Finding "qualified individuals" to serve on an appeals board may be especially
difficult for smaller communities.
Irwin borough manager Mary Benko said it's difficult, at best, to fill
vacancies on some boards and commissions. Finding an electrician, a plumber and
a contractor to serve on a code appeals board likely will prove equally tough.
"They say you can use other municipalities' (boards) because the code is the
same, but that won't happen," she said.
The Department of Labor and Industry. which has overall oversight for the code,
estimates it will need 6,000 inspectors to cover the state, Surra said.
James E. Zimmerman Sr., of Ligonier Borough, is an electrical inspector for
Accredited Services, based in Philadelphia. He's been conducting electrical
inspections for 33 years.
Zimmerman, 74, said he's concerned that municipalities will join together and
handle inspection services through a council of governments or some other
alignment, putting him out of business.
"It's really been a pressure on me," he said.
Ligonier Township, for instance, has agreed to share a building inspector
through the Indiana-Westmoreland Council of Governments. Zimmerman's hometown
likely will join with Ligonier Township and other municipalities to get the
best rates on inspections, Ligonier borough Secretary Jack Berger said.
In July, Hempfield Township supervisors expect to "opt in," township manager
Rob Ritson said.
Part of Hempfield's largest commercial development could fall under the new
code. The restaurants and hotel planned for the former Greengate Mall site
being developed by THF Realty could come under the new regulations, he said.
Hempfield also has a number of subdivisions "in the hopper right now" that
could fall under the new code, he said.
Builders say the Uniform Construction Code and its series of required
inspections could add as much as $5,000 to the cost of each new home. Each
structure must undergo a minimum of five preliminary inspections -- foundation,
often preceded by a footer inspection; plumbing; mechanical and electrical;
frame and masonry; and wallboard -- as well as a final inspection.
In municipalities where residential housing growth is helping to fill tax
coffers, officials fear the new code will put the brakes on development.
"It will be culture shock for a lot people," Ritson said.
Under the new code the cost of building permits in Hempfield will go up, but
the township will see less revenue, he explained. Most of the money will go not
to the township, but to third-party inspectors instead.
Lawmakers generally agree that the uniform construction code is a good idea,
but some say it got swallowed up in Pennsylvania politics. The bill authorizing
the code passed in 1999 and was signed by then-Gov. Tom Ridge -- but it took
four years to write the regulations.
North Huntingdon Township's planning director, Allen Cohen, said the township
will "opt in," probably in May. Zoning officers Keith Evers and David Stitt
will be performing inspections for the township.
North Huntingdon is trying to arrange conformity with neighboring
municipalities so that building permits and other documents look the same, he
Cohen said the new code probably won't slow development in North Huntingdon,
but might in smaller communities that don't have such a formal building
"We really have no other recourse in our developing community but to opt in. We
don't want to defer to third-party (inspections)," he said. "It's going to be a
learning curve for a lot of us."
Craig Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (724) 850-1217.
Pennsylvania's new Uniform Construction Code adopts these codes for use
throughout the commonwealth:
* International Building Code 2003
ICC Electrical Code 2003
* International Energy Conservation Code 2003
International Existing Building Code 2003
* International Fire Code 2003
International Fuel Gas Code 2003
* International Mechanical Code 2003
International Performance Code for Buildings and Facilities 2003
* International Plumbing Code 2003
International Residential Code 2003
* International Urban-Wildland Interface Code 2003
Source:Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry