The State Legislature passed the building code law in 1999 to ensure against unsafe building practices. It sets uniform guidelines for all residential and commercial construction, including renovations and additions.
Maryland and West Virginia have state building codes. Pennsylvania is the 45th state to adopt one.
The new law gives townships two options. Both choices carry responsibilities and some consequences, said Mitch Hoffman, a local government policy specialist for the Governor's Center for Local Government Services in Harrisburg, Pa.
Residents and businesses have to comply with the state law no matter which choice their local government makes, he said.
There are 2,567 townships, boroughs and cities in Pennsylvania, Hoffman said.
Those municipalities that chose to "opt in," as the bureaucrats call it, must pass a local building code ordinance that can be tougher, but no less restrictive than the state code, and hire certified building inspectors to administer and enforce it.
Residents in municipalities that "opt out" still have to abide by the new code, even if it means hunting around for a certified building inspector. In some cases that may be an agency approved by the state.
Inspectors will be certified in 18 areas, including plumbing, electrical and heating, foundation and framing. A single inspector can be certified in all 18 categories.
Hoffman said initially there may be a shortage of inspectors until enough become certified.
He said he expects smaller communities to regionalize their building inspection and code enforcement duties because they don't have enough construction to create full-time positions.
Some county commissions may assume the responsibility or share it with neighboring counties, Hoffman said. Franklin County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said Tuesday that the commissioners are starting to discuss the issue.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry inspectors will enforce the code for commercial construction.
The department also will maintain a list of certified inspectors that will be available to the municipalities and the public.
Penalties for code violations can net fines of up to $1,000 a day.
Gene Silver, executive director of the Franklin County Builders Association, said the association supports a statewide code. The Pennsylvania Builders Association lobbied for one, Silver said.
"The code will level the playing field," he said. It will bring non-professional builders into line through the permitting and inspection system," he said. "Pennsylvania will have to build to a standard code."
Silver said he expects construction prices will go up as a result of the new standards. "The code is a done deal. The important thing now is for the building industry and the municipalities to work together," he said.