When do I need (or not need) a building permit?

A building permit is required in so many situations that it may be easier to list those situations when a building permit is NOT required.

The list below applies to residential building permits. Commercial construction generally requires building permits for any alteration or addition to an existing structure or new construction, with certain exceptions. (Please note that other permit application reviews may also apply. See the next page for examples. Contact South Whitehall Township if you have questions.)

  • A building permit is not required for alterations when the fair market value, including labor and materials, is less than five hundred dollars ($500.00).
  • Construction of retaining walls not more than four (4) feet high, unless the retaining wall supports a surcharge.
  • Construction of fences not more than six (6) feet high, unless the fence is a required barrier for a pool. If the fence is the required barrier to a swimming pool it is considered a building permit and must comply with Appendix G of the IRC 2009.
  • Concrete patios.
  • Decks 30″ or less above grade (measured to any point 36″ horizontally from the edge of the deck).
  • Residential detached accessory buildings (greenhouses, sheds, carports, detached garages) having less than five hundred (500) square feet based upon outside dimensions, that are accessory to residential dwellings.
  • Installation or replacement of a window, storm window, door, garage door or storm door in the same clear-width opening if the original dimensions or framing is not altered
  • Replacement of existing roof material without structure changes to the roof framing.
  • Replacement of glass in any window or door.
  • Painting, wallpapering, tiling, carpeting, cabinet or counter top installation, or similar residential finishing work (Electrical, plumbing or other permits may apply).
  • Prefabricated swimming pools capable of holding not more than twenty-four (24) inches of water.
  • Swings or other play equipment customary to single-family dwellings or twins.
  • Replacement of exterior rain gutters or leaders.
  • Water tanks supported directly on grade with a capacity of less than 5,000 gallons and a ratio of height to diameter that is no greater than 2:1.
  • Replacement of exterior siding.

The following items may or may not require a building permit (please see above), but DO require a ZONING permit. (Please note that other permit application reviews may also apply.)

  • Fences not more than six (6) feet high.
  • Concrete patios
  • All decks.
  • All sheds.
  • Sidewalks and driveways.
  • Window awnings that are supported solely by an exterior wall and which does not project more than fifty-four (54) inches from that wall.
  • Change of use.

How do I apply for a building permit?

South Whitehall Township utilizes a combination Building/Zoning Permit application that can be downloaded from this web site. Complete the form and submit it with all plans and relevant information to our Permits Clerk at the Township Municipal Building. Generally, all commercial plans must bear the seal of a Pennsylvania design professional. It is the applicant’s responsibility to submit all relevant information. We have experienced a continual problem with inadequate submissions. Please be as exhaustive as you can with the information you provide. It will expedite your review and prevent confusion, cost overages and delays during construction.

Submit the required number of plan copies as detailed below:

Residential Building – 2
Residential Electrical – 2
Residential HVAC – 2 copy of the equipment specifications.
Residential Plumbing – 2
Commercial Building (Includes Accessibility, HVAC, Energy, and Building) – 2
Commercial Electric – 2
Commercial Plumbing – 2
Commercial Fire Alarm/Sprinkler – 2

How long does it take to have my plans reviewed and a building permit issued?

That depends on several things:

  1. The scope of your job
  2. The thoroughness and timeliness of your plans and relevant information
  3. The volume of work from other building projects.

Commercial building plans must be reviewed within 30 business days after the permit application is filed. All residential plans must be reviewed within fifteen (15) business days after the permit application is filed. This does include a zoning review.

What is the Building Code used by the Township, and how can I read it?

Currently, South Whitehall Township uses the International Code Council’s 2009 International Construction Codes as adopted by the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code Act 45. Be advised that the Township adopts these model codes. You can see a copy of these codes at the Township Permits Office, the Parkland Library or buy copies at www.iccsafe.org. Most architects have them too. Please understand that the Building Codes make reference to a lot of other code books. Understanding all of these codes is not a job for a novice.

The UCC Administration and Enforcement regulation has adopted the following codes for use throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, effective 12/31/2009. Only the appendices specified after each code name have been adopted (in addition to the code itself).

International Building Code 2009 (base code for all buildings and structures not regulated by the International Residential Code):

Chapter 1 is not adopted (most of its requirements are incorporated in Chapter 403 of the UCC regulation).

Chapter 27 (Electrical) requires that all electrical components, equipment and systems in buildings and structures covered by the IBC comply with the requirements of NFPA 70-2008, National Electric Code.

Chapter 30 (Elevators) is not adopted. Elevator requirements are found in Chapter 405 of the UCC regulation.

Only Appendices E (Supplementary Accessibility Requirements) and H (Signs) are adopted.

Chapter 11 requires that buildings and facilities also comply with the accessibility requirements found in the ICC/ANSI A117.1-2003 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities standard.

International Energy Conservation Code 2009.

International Existing Building Code 2009. Work on existing, non-residential buildings can comply with these code requirements or Chapter 34 of the International Building Code 2009. All appendices and resource information are adopted.

International Fire Code 2009. Adopted only to the extent referenced in the International Building Code 2009.

International Fuel Gas Code 2009. Any LPG requirements are superseded by the requirements of Pennsylvania’s Propane and Liquefied Petroleum Gas Act (and regulations). No Appendices are adopted.

International Mechanical Code 2009. No Appendices are adopted.

International Performance Code for Buildings and Facilities 2009 (provides alternative compliance approach)

International Plumbing Code 2009. No Appendices are adopted.

International Residential Code 2009 (code for one- and two-family dwellings no more than 3 stories in height). Only Appendix G (Swimming Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs) is adopted.

International Wildland-Urban Interface Code 2009 (supplementary requirements that may be used to mitigate fire- and life-safety hazards in unique wildland areas).

Status of 2012 I-Codes Adoption: The UCC Review and Advisory Council (RAC) is charged with the review of new and amended provisions contained in triennial revisions of the ICC codes, except for the accessibility provisions, and must inform the Department of any code provisions that should be excluded from the UCC. On April, 19, 2012, the UCC RAC informed the Department that no ICC 2012 triennial code revisions shall be adopted. Therefore, the 2009 edition of the ICC codes will remain in effect.

Effective December 31, 2012, Chapter 11 and Appendix E of the 2012 International Building Code is adopted as required by Act 1 of 2011.

Accessing the International Codes

The codes as published by the International Code Council are copyrighted and can be purchased from the Council, either online at www.iccsafe.org, or by calling the ICC publication office at 1-800-786-4452. The ICC also made copies of its codes accessible online, at no charge. Please note that this free service is very limited in terms of access (i.e., you will only be able to view one code section/subsection at a time, not whole pages), search and print capabilities. If you want full access and features, you will either need to pay for full electronic access or purchase the desired code book(s).

Note carefully the following remarks regarding these codes.

The International Private Sewage Disposal Code 2009, the International Property Maintenance Code 2009 and the International Zoning Code 2009 are not adopted. However, in addition to the codes listed above, municipalities that elect to enforce the UCC may also adopt and enforce the International Property Maintenance Code (or any other property maintenance requirements). Enforcement of these requirements falls outside the scope of the UCC.

Note: Effective March 12, 2015 South Whitehall Township has adopted and elected to enforce the International Property Maintenance Code 2009 Edition.

The Department has made several changes to the codes listed above. These relate to fire safety requirements in child day care facilities and the technical standards that apply to elevators and other lifting devices. See Section 403.23 and Chapter 405 of the UCC regulation for further details on these changes.

Act 13 of 2004 stipulates that the following stairway tread and riser requirements will apply in all buildings that fall within the scope of the International Residential Code, in all occupancies in Use Group R-3 and within dwelling units in occupancies in Use Group R-2: The maximum stairway riser height shall be 8 1/4 inches (210 mm), the minimum tread depth shall be 9 inches (229 mm), and, a 1-inch (25 mm) nosing must be provided on stairways with solid risers.

The UCC regulations provide for the use of an alternative to Chapter 11 of the International Residential Code (or Chapter 4 of the International Energy Conservation Code), to demonstrate compliance with the energy conservation requirements of the UCC. This alternative compliance pathways developed by the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center at Penn State University and is entitled “Pennsylvania’s Alternative Residential Energy Provisions” (to date, released in three versions: 2003, 2006 and 2009).

Pennsylvania Alternative 2009 (if complying with the 2009 International Codes)

Pennsylvania Alternative 2006 (if complying with the 2006 International Codes)

What inspections must my project undergo and how do I arrange for them?

For building projects, the inspections normally include inspections of footers, foundations, rough framing, insulation, wallboard, rough ceiling (commercial only), and final. Be advised you will have to also call for any electrical, plumbing, HVAC system inspections too. In general, if work involving a trade is to be covered, an inspection will be required. Call for inspections only if the work is complete and there are no known code deficiencies. Inspection requests require a minimum of at least 24 hours notice. Also, be aware that calls for inspections that are premature waste everyone’s time. When it becomes a problem, we may charge for inspections beyond the number allowed by the permit.

What can I do to make my project go as smoothly as possible?

There is no substitute for a contractor and owner who both commit to knowing exactly what they want to do, in detail, and taking on the responsibility to fully live up to the requirements of the code. Too often we find projects managed by people who want to wholly rely upon our Inspectors to tell them what is not right. Often they believe that if the Inspector misses a deficiency they no longer have an obligation to address it. This is false. Builders will always be required to address deficiencies whether we catch it the first time or not. Attempts to cut corners always result in wasted time and expense. Also, be realistic about your completion dates. We frequently find that building owners are overly optimistic and plan mortgage closings, office moves, or grand openings too soon. This creates great stress on all concerned. Get a job supervisor who is “on the ball.” Ideally, there should be one competent person to take note of code deficiencies found, disseminate that information to all of the right people, and follow up.

What are the most common problems that builders, owners, and design professionals have had when building in this Township?

In commercial building projects most problems have recurred in the following areas:

  • Failure to properly categorize hazardous materials – especially in large retail centers
  • Failure to properly seal all penetrations and joints in rated walls and floor assemblies. (We recommend you retain a vendor of fire stopping products who will help you with this.)
  • Failure to take old construction into account when building additions or doing remodeling
  • Failure to provide sufficient emergency lighting in commercial building projects
  • Stair construction
  • Failure to repair or correct obvious code violations when uncovered
  • Address the handicapped provisions of the code including the 20% upgrade requirements for alterations and 100% requirement for new or change of occupancies
  • Masonry reinforcement
  • Cold weather concrete and masonry installations
  • Seismic installations
  • Installation of EFIS systems

In electrical and plumbing work:

  • Failure to provide plans or meet with the inspector
  • Failure to have only properly listed and labeled machinery installed

What does it mean to have machinery or equipment “properly listed and labeled?”

Basically anything that is energized by electricity or mechanical must be “listed and labeled” by an independent Testing laboratory. There are about ten of these laboratories in the United States. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is probably the best known. These agencies develop standards of performance for broad categories of equipment that help assure their safe employment. Shocking hazards and fire hazards, etc., which might otherwise have been created by the equipments’ improper use, are thereby avoided. Thus, the equipment is properly matched to the job it is supposed to do. We require all energized equipment, including signs, cabinet lighting, mechanical equipment, machinery, and motors to be listed and labeled. Ask our Electrical Inspector any questions you may have before you order or install equipment.

Can I appeal decisions of the Building, Plumbing and Electrical Inspectors? 

Yes, we have a Building Code Appeals Board that will hear appeals related to the Construction Codes.

Does the Township have specific instructions available for different types of jobs?

Yes, the following instruction sheets are available for download on our Forms Section:

  • 2009 IRC Changes
  • Basement Remodel/Renovation
  • Call for Non-Residential Inspections
  • Call for Residential Inspections
  • Clear Sight Triangles
  • Commercial Accessibility Plan Review
  • Commercial Building Plan Review
  • Commercial Electrical Plan Review
  • Commercial Fire Main Plan Review Requirements
  • Commercial Mechanical Plan Review
  • Commercial Plumbing Review Requirements
  • Commercial Sprinkler Plan Review Requirements
  • Decks and Sheds
  • Fences
  • Plot Plan and Plot Plan Example
  • Residential Construction Guide
  • Residential Electrical Permit Application Guide
  • Residential Swimming Pool Requirements
  • Shade Tree Guide
  • Preferred and Prohibited Shade Tree Species

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