The building code in Pennsylvania is known as the Uniform Construction Code (UCC). Enforcement of this code is handled either locally (by municipalities, townships, or contracted third-party reviewers) or by the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. Prior to 2018, the Pennsylvania UCC referenced the 2009 International Codes (I-Codes). In 2018, the UCC was updated to reference the 2015 codes with the intention of repeating that update cycle every 3 years. Given the challenges of the pandemic, the goal to update the UCC again in 2021 was not realized and was pushed to early 2022.
The transition of the UCC references from the 2015 I-Codes to the 2018 version not only impacts the International Codes themselves, but also all codes and standards that are adopted by reference. Some of the more notable code updates, as applied to electrical design and construction, are listed below. Note that almost all NFPA standard references have been updated to the most recent edition as of 2018, including NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, NFPA 99 Healthcare Facilities Code, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, and NFPA 110 Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems.
2017 NFPA 70 (National Electrical Code) – The state electrical code will be moving from the 2014 NEC to the 2017 NEC. Emphasis on the revisions for this iteration was placed on system and user safety, including:
- Expanded ground fault and arc fault protection requirements
- Expanded requirements for tamper resistant devices
- Additional arc energy reduction requirements
- Additional fault current calculation, documentation, and equipment SCCR requirements
- Catching up with changing technologies in on-site energy production and electronic control systems
2016 NFPA 72 (National Fire Alarm and Wiring Code) – Pennsylvania’s state fire alarm code will transition from the 2013 to the 2016 version. Notable updates that this will bring are:
- Substantially expanded system, testing, and maintenance documentation requirements
- Updated allowable circuit and monitoring protocols to keep up with advancing communications technologies
- Updated installation, inspection, and testing requirements for Emergency Radio Communications Enhancement Systems (ERCES) for first responder radio systems
2018 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) – The enforced energy code in Pennsylvania will be moving from the 2015 IECC to the 2018 IECC. Designers and end users will see:
- Further reductions of allowable lighting power densities
- Significant increases in complexities of required interior and exterior lighting controls
- Expanded requirements for lighting controls system documentation, commissioning, and inspections
This code transition in Pennsylvania will become effective February 14, 2022. There is a six-month grace period where projects can be submitted to be reviewed under the current UCC codes. This grace period applies to projects that are under contract prior to the February date and are submitted for permit within six months (August) of the new UCC adoption date. Any projects which come under contract after February 14th or are submitted for permit after the expiration of that six-month grace period will be reviewed under the revised UCC, including the 2018 codes and all updated references.
Some changes, not just from an electrical standpoint but also from a general building code standpoint, could have significant cost or timeline implications on upcoming building construction projects. If you have a project currently in design with a potential permit date extending beyond next summer or are considering a project that may not be under contract prior to February, the implications of these changes need to be considered and discussed.