On October 1st, 2018, the city of Philadelphia will adopt the latest version of the International Building Code. The new requirements outlined in the IBC will change a few key components of both residential and commercial construction. Although it’s probably best to make all new designs compliant, no drawing sets will be required to adhere to the updated IBC until March 29th, 2019. This gives current new construction projects a small window in which they can be submitted before they are required to be redrawn with the increased requirements.

The most significant change in the building code affects the R-value of roofs and walls.

An R-value measures the level of insulation in a given piece of a structure. The higher the R-value, the more energy efficient a building will be. 

Residential and commercial: 

Roofs of both residential and commercial constructions are now required to have an R-value of R-49. This is an increase in insulation over the previously accepted standard of R-38 roofs.

With the new standard, roof cavities must contain spray foam insulation or be built with deeper joists so that they can accommodate 15” of batt insulation. The additional insulation in roofs will help homes and commercial property be more energy efficient, reducing heating and cooling costs.

The R-values of walls in commercial and residential properties are changing as well, raising from R-13 to either R-20 or R-13+5. This, again, will ensure more energy-efficient heating and cooling for new properties. Walls will need to be spray foamed or have R-13 batts in the cavity and R-5 continuous rigid insulation. 


In addition to the R-values of the roofs and walls of commercial properties changing in new constructions, there are two other major updates.

In multi-family buildings with only one exit, exit paths within units are changing from 50 feet at second and third stories to 125 feet, provided that there is a rescue opening and an automatic sprinkler.

For buildings that are changing use, if the work area is 50% or more of the total building area, the design must comply with Type B requirements for accessible units.

Key Takeaways:

The increase in R-values of walls and roofs will affect the cost of construction, making new projects slightly more expensive. In all likelihood, due to the increased volume of the roof joists, this will make buildings built in Philadelphia a few inches taller or increase the adoption of spray foam insulation.

The greater insulation, although adding costs, does have a net benefit of reducing energy costs for all new constructions. New property owners will be happy to enjoy more easily heated environments in the winter and more easily cooled environments in the summer, the reduced utility costs will also be a nice benefit.

The change in exit paths for multi-family buildings is a big headline for architects in Philadelphia. Allowing for greater spaces with more nuance and more freedom in design, our designers are excited to begin crafting spaces that integrate more open space and more utility, regardless of their proximity to an exit.

 To learn more about how these changes can affect new construction projects, contact our team!.


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