A few days after finishing the job, I received a telephone call. There was a pleasant female voice on the other end. The woman said she was given my name as someone who might be able to help her with a plumbing code proposal. She wanted the code to require every bathtub having a slip joint connection to have an access panel for repairing leaks. I responded with the usual answer: “My firm provides that type of service.” Then she asked, “Being in the plumbing business, aren’t you tired of leaking tub overflows?” How ironic, considering what I had done to my house.
I explained to her that the International Plumbing Code (and just about every other plumbing code in the country) currently requires tubs to have an access panel when there is a slip joint connection. She was perplexed. “If this is required, why are they never installed in new construction. Doesn’t every bathtub have a slip joint connection?” she asked.
Although not every tub drain has a slip joint connection, the large majority do. I had to explain that this is perhaps the most unenforced section of the code. Most plumbing inspectors do not require the contractors to install the access panel, even though it is required by the plumbing code.
I have tried on numerous occasions to have the access panel requirement removed from the plumbing code. Not because it is not a good idea, but because it is never enforced. I hate having a code requirement if it is going to be ignored.
Every time I presented arguments for removing this section from the code, I was shot down. There was no support for removing the requirement for access panels. The inspectors voting on the code change said they all enforce this requirement. I find it hard to believe, since I haven’t seen a tub access panel in residential construction for years. I have, however, found many access panels installed in new hotels and motels.
A Substitute: Getting back to this woman’s interest, I knew she had to be more than just casually curious about access panels. She happened to work for a new company that just developed a tub overflow, called the “Spillway.” Although I have seen many inventions for the plumbing industry, this device is rather unique. It glues to the base of the bathtub, covering both the overflow and the tub drain. It creates a channel for draining, similar to a lavatory overflow. There is a single 1-1/2 inch connection for the drain.
The first thing I thought about was, “How good is the glue?” She said the unit was tested at U.L.’s Plumbing Test Laboratory. It passed with flying colors. Once attached, the Spillway stays there permanently. There is no worry about leaks or pull-aparts.
The device has some neat features. There is no concern for leaks at either the overflow or the drain. Both areas open into the Spillway channel. Hence, if they do leak, it wouldn’t matter. There are no slip joint connections. The drain pipe can be solvent cemented to the Spillway. Finally, it installs very quickly.
When considering any new plumbing product, I also look for the downside. The Spillway is made of ABS. You can only solvent cement ABS pipe to the device, not PVC. You would need an ABS to PVC adapter if the drain is piped in PVC. To connect to cast iron or copper would be very difficult.
You couldn’t have a trip lever stopper installed very easily. The stopper would have to be a push or twist type stopper. But not everyone likes that type of stopper. You would also need a cover plate for the overflow. The cover plate does not attach to the Spillway like a typical overflow assembly.
The price of the Spillway is about three times the price of a standard tub overflow assembly. The company is selling the convenience, speed of installation and elimination of the access panel. If an access panel can be eliminated, the increased cost surely is worth it. However, how many of you are being required to install an access panel?