With the New Building Code, It's All About Timing

Ever since signing a contract with a client last summer to construct a new final assembly plant, the design process has proceeded through a series of holds and restarts. The planning and documentation process that should have required four to six months is approaching its ninth month.

This is our third facility with this client since our initial contract almost 10 years ago, and the start/stop pattern is now a familiar one. Our fees are set to cover a protracted schedule, and our client well understands the costs of their own indecision. The client was somewhat surprised that I requested an urgent meeting just after the first of this year to address the design completion schedule.

“New building code in Pennsylvania”…..

…..”March 31, 2019”

My explanation for needing to increase the sense of urgency was due to the imminent enforcement of a new building code in Pennsylvania. When the project began, I cautioned the client that; if we were unable to complete and submit the permit application documents by March 31, 2019, we would be required to redesign the building to the new code. This would in turn increase the building cost due to two changes: 

  1. The increased costs of building systems

  2. The increase in our fees to incorporate the new code requirements.

This redesign would also further extend the project schedule. Responding to the client’s request for more background on these concerns, I offered the following:

For decades, the building code was updated every three years. Typically, these updates included greater safety measures, tougher energy conservation requirements, and defined allowable uses for new products and systems that were being widely adopted. Occasionally, the new code edition would roll back some building requirements to address unintended consequences. The results of these code updates ideally resulted in buildings that were safer, more sustainable, and easier to review for code compliance, but most certainly these buildings were more expensive to build.

For many states outside of Pennsylvania, the new 2018 building code was an update of the 2015 building code, and typically went into effect sometime in 2018. In the case of Maryland however, they hope to start considering the 2018 Edition in January 2019.

What’s different about Pennsylvania?

A consortium of legislators and lobbyists had successfully managed to keep Pennsylvania from updating its 2009 building code for nine years, and the approved update (except in Philadelphia) is only to the 2015 building code. Those involved with the building industry will now experience a building code-induced construction cost jump for the first time in almost a decade.


As with addressing many business issues, timing is critical to effectively manage this cost increase. For projects which the architect, engineer and/or contractor were under contract prior to October 1, 2018 (like the one we are currently designing for this client), the design can use either the 2009 or 2015 code as long as the permit application is submitted by March 31, 2019. All other permit applications on projects that were not under contract by October 1, and are submitted after October 1, 2018, must conform to the 2015 building code (2018 in Philadelphia). I explained to the client that the building code represents minimum requirements.


For some building owners, there is a social responsibility to construct buildings that are as safe and energy-efficient as economically feasible;  for those building owners, jumping to the new code as soon as possible may make good business sense. In some cases economic feasibility can be achieved with the 2009 code, but not with 2015 code, so the permit submission timing may affect a go/no go decision.

This timing issue should provide impetus to our fast-tracking permit drawings to assure submission prior to March 31. When my client remained skeptical that he could achieve internal approvals so quickly, I offered the tactic of submitting drawings by March 31 even though the design requirements have not yet been fully blessed, and then amend the permit drawings later while still using the 2009 code.

I await the response from our client’s management!

Questions about the new building code? Contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com.