Now we must add IHSCC to this industry’s alphabet soup of organizations. It stands for Industry Health and Safety Codes Council, whose mission is “to research and promote codes and standards to protect the health and safety of the public.” Funding is targeted at $300,000 a year, to be raised primarily through cents-per-hour contributions from labor agreements. Founding members are NAPHCC, MCAA and the United Association (UA), the plumbers and pipefitters union. But contractor representatives are pretty much along for the ride. Anyone attending the July 8 IHSCC organizing meeting (“rally” would be a better term) could tell it is a UA project all the way. Here’s my take on what they’re up to.

At long last the confusing array of model plumbing codes is being winnowed down to two. Government and insurance pressures are at work to compress them down to one. So, are you ready to rumble?

In one corner, BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI, organizations composed of building officials and inspectors, have joined forces as the International Code Council (ICC), developer of what’s known as the International Plumbing Code (IPC). Their feisty opponent is IAPMO, promoter of the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC).

The UA supports IAPMO. In fact, many people more versed than I am in code affairs say that when the UA tells IAPMO to jump, IAPMO asks how high. Based on what I observed at July’s IHSCC conclave in Chicago, I see no reason to dispute that.

The IAPMO code is more restrictive than the IPC. Most controversially, the UPC habitually takes an obstructionist stance against various forms of plastic pipe.

The other side draws its share of criticism as well. One of the galling things about the ICC code body is that its decision-making authority rests solely in the hands of building bureaucrats. They relegate to the sidelines contractors, unions, manufacturers and any other parties they perceive as having a vested interest in code writing, despite their considerable technical expertise. IAPMO is more inclusive, although at the July meeting even IAPMO’s executive director Russ Chaney admitted they don’t meet all the criteria of a consensus code body.

Beneath The Surface: The IHSCC uses “health and safety” as its rallying cry. At a certain level I don’t question their sincerity. Say what you will about the UA, but I believe they really do care about protecting the public by upholding quality standards in plumbing. Of course, this works hand-in-hand with their not-so-hidden agenda of work preservation. Still, it’s good for the industry that someone is out there preaching the gospel of quality and craftsmanship while everyone else worships at the altar of cost cutting.

Yet “health and safety” also serves as an excellent propaganda slogan. People in America are not exactly keeling over in the streets from bad plumbing, and while shoddy construction does run rampant, it is more because of poor code enforcement than the codes themselves.

So why put so much effort and money into a code battle? I believe the UA sees it as a vehicle to bring the UA back into the picture with residential work.

The IHSCC mission statement promises to use “local cable TV, newspaper ads, community service clubs and any other effective ways of requesting consumers, contractors, inspectors and the general public to provide to IHSCC information on shoddy workmanship in construction and construction defects they have experienced.” One of their tools is a doorknob hanger advising home owners to contact IHSCC for help “to hold the developer legally liable for the repair of problems due to shoddy workmanship and construction defects.”

It is a tactic pipe trades unions have been using in California for several years with little impact on their negligible residential workload—unless you measure success in terms of making adversaries miserable. A year ago this space carried an article titled,

“An Open Letter to the United Association,” in which I wrote:

“Marketing is not about bludgeoning customers into submission ... It’s about making people want to do business with you.”

That advice still stands. Positive advertising sells much better than negative. The UA has a compelling story to tell of training, quality and craftsmanship along with, yes, genuine regard for public health and safety. That’s the message that can bring them back into the residential market, not Mickey Mouse lawsuits and scare tactics.