Excavation work in Philadelphia is about to get a lot more difficult. Of course the days are long gone when you could just stick a shovel in the ground and start building a house: the City requires plans, approval from the Water and Streets Departments, and a wheelbarrow of paperwork before it will permit new construction. But a whole other wheelbarrow will be required come January 1st, 2023, when Licenses and Inspections institutes the Philadelphia excavation license (and related excavation permit).
This means that – prepare yourself emotionally, contractors – every GC in Philadelphia needs to get a new Philadelphia excavation contractor license before they’re allowed to dig out any foundation anywhere in town, starting 2023.
You have questions. We have answers!
Why? What’s happening? Why??
The new excavation contractor license began life in the office of Council Member Bobby Henon, before he retired to pursue his passion for delayed sentencing. It was wrapped into a later bill creating the “pre-construction survey” by Council Members Domb and Squilla.
These laws were created, to put it bluntly, because contractors keep accidentally destroying homes in Philadelphia – at least when older, unmaintained homes weren’t collapsing on their own. We’re not telling you whether these laws will work, we’re just explaining the (good!) intent behind them. They will create…
- The Philadelphia excavation contractor license (a mandatory license for contractors who want to dig in Philly)
- The Philadelphia excavation permit (a permit allowing digs)
- The pre-construction survey process (through which homeowners are to be notified of changes to any shared walls of their rowhomes, or to nearby digging)
Both bills – from Henon and DombSquilla – take effect on January 1st ’23, and L&I finalized its application procedures for the new permit and license in November ‘22. So: here we are! Less than thirty days from the time of this writing to get a Philadelphia excavation contractor license.
Who needs this excavation license?
Everyone who wants to dig any deeper than five feet in Philadelphia. Specifically, any contractor who wants to dig that deep unless they are…
- digging utility trenches
- sampling for a soil report (or “geotechnical survey” if you’re nasty)
- demolishing a structure
The Philly excavation license will authorize contractors to perform construction excavations in the same way the Philly general contractor license allows them to do most any other work on a property. Without it, a contractor cannot dig five feet or deeper in Philadelphia for any reason except those listed above: utility trenching, soil samples, and complete demolition.
What paperwork do I need to get the new excavation license?
The new license is very similar to the existing GC license, with two very important extra requirements:
- Extra requirement 1: An OSHA 3015 training card in addition to an OSHA 30 training card (the 30 is already required for the GC license)
- An individual contractor or any employee of a construction company can serve as Site Safety Manager and hold the OSHA 30 and 3015 cards
- The OSHA 3015 is a safety course about excavations specifically. It exists to focus “on the operations and safety aspects of excavation and trenching.”
- Extra requirement 2: A license bond of $100,000
All the other requirements for a GC license in Philly – the insurance, business license, and Philly tax ID – are the same for this new excavator license.
What’s this about a license bond?
Look, I know not everyone asked that question, but for those who did:
A license bond is similar to an insurance product, and is also known as a permit bond or surety bond. Where insurance products offer some money to you if something goes wrong, license bonds offer money to someone else if you rip off that someone else – whether you rip them off by, like, theft; or by doing a job without following the laws for that job.
Here’s an example: if a business does something dangerous — like demolition — that business can go to a bank or surety company and get a license bond. When proof of the bond is provided to the local government, the government knows that if the demolition goes terribly and the business disappears, the bank will pay for the mistakes of the business. (Here’s some more info, if you’re curious.)
License bonds are often required for dangerous construction work. Enough buildings have fallen that Philadelphia has decided excavations generally and excavations for foundations specifically should count as dangerous, specialized work.
How long will it take to get the excavation contractor license?
There are two processes to add up:
- how long it takes each contractor to get all their documentation together, and
- how long it takes for Licenses and Inspections to process the application.
L&I will process applications in about a week; same as for the existing GC license (though if some documentation isn’t correct, then you’ll wait another week, and so on until the documents are in order).
The real time-eater is the OSHA 3015 training, if a contractor – or a company employee – doesn’t already have that training card in hand. This training is administered in person, and the sessions offered each month may not be nearby.
Wait, what? If I want the excavation license, I need to travel to an OSHA 3015 training?
Well, you don’t necessarily have to – but someone does: an employee of any construction company that wants to dig in Philly will need to serve as official Site Safety Manager and get an OSHA 3015 card. And yes: all OSHA 3015 trainings are in person.
In our area, training is handled by the Mid-Atlantic OSHA Training Institute, which offers a 3015 trainings in Westminster, MD before January 1st, 2023 but no other 3015 trainings until January 2023. So if you’re a contractor looking to get yourself or an employee trained up for a Philly excavation license, plan ahead now!
Does my plumber or electrician or HVAC person need this?
Nope! This is just for digging more than five feet deep to create or adjust foundations or other building features. As we covered, utility trenches have been spared.
What about the building permit I just applied for? Do the contractors all need this license?
That permit is safe! Your contractors will not be required to hold a Philadelphia excavation license for any permits in review before December 29th (though be very careful about cutting that close in case of problems with your application – L&I counts submission and review as different phases of the application process). Any Philly-licensed GC can dig or underpin as before under permits submitted for application before the 29th.
Okay, I have exhaled into a paper bag. I can do this. That’s all I need, right?
Look, I’m so sorry, but that is not all you need: after the new year, any newly-licensed excavation contractor also needs an excavation permit to dig. Two different things: Philadelphia excavation license for the contractors who do the work, and a Philadelphia excavation permit to authorize the work itself.
There are also new regulations out governing construction near another building, or construction that involves shared walls, balconies, or chimneys.
Can you explain that too? Can you help?
We’ll cover the excavation permit and the new rules about protecting existing properties in this blog.
In the meantime, we can obtain your excavation contractor license now if you don’t want to attempt it yourself! It’s just another one of the many licenses and development permits we’re happy to acquire for builders, architects, or homeowners. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (267)744-4200. We’d love to hear from you!
… unless you just want to sob into the phone about all the new rules. In that case, we can still help you get the excavation license, but we will be appropriately sympathetic to your pain.