Building code revision may ease confusion

July 22, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Municipal officials suggest property owners call them before replacing shingles or doors after Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code law was amended last week to relax some restrictions on home improvements and repairs.

"The relaxation of the internal changes in people's houses removes a lot of confusion for the public and us," Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher said.

Most of the municipalities in Franklin County have contracted with Commonwealth Code Inspection Services of Manheim, Pa., to issue construction permits and perform inspections, Christopher said.


"We've asked them to prepare a sheet with all the exceptions on it so we're all talking from the same page," he said.

The most prominent change in the bill that Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law Thursday was the exclusion of "alterations to residential buildings which do not make structural changes or changes to means of egress," according to the act.

"You don't need a permit anymore to put in a new air conditioner, furnace or water heater," said Andy Nelson, the vice president of Commonwealth Code Inspection Services. "This amendment was pretty much to remove the inspections requirement for mechanical work in the home."

Nelson said he was concerned that that includes the installation of potentially dangerous devices such as gas fireplaces, which are considered "non-structural."

The bill states that "a minor framing change needed to replace existing windows or doors" is not considered structural. Nelson, however, said changing the type of door is "changing a means of egress."

Replacement windows do not require a permit, unless a wall has to be cut for a larger, or different shaped window, according to Nelson.

Under the law before it was amended, replacing the shingles on more than 25 percent of a roof required a construction permit.

"Under the new one, I think you can replace the whole roof" without a permit, Nelson said.

However, the law allows municipalities to adopt more stringent ordinances than required by the state.

"I don't know if this is going to affect us at all," Chambersburg Assistant Borough Manager David Finch said. "Our approach is we adopted the Uniform Construction Code as it existed" prior to being amended, he said.

"Prior to the new law taking effect, every municipality issued building permits based on their ordinances," Antrim Township Administrator Benjamin Thomas Jr. said. Property owners can get a land-use permit from a municipality, but must apply for a construction permit from the agency that does the inspections for the municipality, Thomas said.

What does or does not require a construction permit or inspection is a question best left to experts, according to municipal officials.

"We refer all those questions to Commonwealth Code. They are the ones that determine the exemptions," Greene Township Supervisor Rob Kauffman said.

In June, there was a rush by developers and property owners to get building permits before the code went into effect. According to Franklin County's Tax Assessment Office, 1,053 permits were issued, compared with 294 in June 2003.

Antrim Township Zoning Officer Angela Garland said applicants have 18 months to get the work completed or the projects will fall under the new inspection regimen. The inspections on a new home run approximately $360, she said.

"We are no longer allowed to extend those," she said of permits issued before July 1. If the project is not done by the time a permit expires, work that is not up to code may have to be redone, she said.

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