2001 - A Code Odyssey
The plumbing code situation in this country was supposed to get better in the new millennium. The question many of you have been asking me is, "What happened?"
In response, all I can say is that last year must have been an election year. Politics seems to have taken over when technical knowledge should have. Everyone in the code business has learned how to spin his story. I have never seen so much rhetoric and trash written by self-proclaimed experts.
What is driving this code odyssey is money and egos.
Plumbing contractors have, by and large, taken a hands-off approach to plumbing codes. The codes are there, they are a nuisance, but just tell me what is required and we can live with it. Quite often, the only time the code book is opened is when an inspector identifies a code violation.
The winds of change in the plumbing code arena are being forced by the reduction in the number of model plumbing codes available. There are basically two model plumbing codes left: the International Plumbing Code (IPC) and the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC).
Plumbers in New Jersey and Maryland may disagree with that statement since they use another plumbing code, the National Standard Plumbing Code. When compared to the other two codes, it is not much of a code. The vote of only five people can decide what is in the National Standard Plumbing Code, and it is out of touch by not being in a common code format. Nobody is rushing out to adopt the National Standard Plumbing Code. You get the idea.
The problem with the two remaining codes is the groups that sponsor the codes don't like each other too much. It's like watching the Democrats and Republicans argue. The difference is that when the Democrats and Republicans fight, their end result is one set of laws. With the two code groups, it is two competing codes.
Not There YetMy goal is to see the two remaining plumbing codes become one. There is absolutely no reason why we need two plumbing codes in this country. It is time to set aside egos and have a single national plumbing code that is open, fair, and not restrictive in design.
What many of you have, or are experiencing, is a fight going on in your state or local community regarding the adoption of a new plumbing code. The fight most likely involves the IPC and the UPC. What many of you are doing is ignoring the battle, finding it easier to stand on the sidelines and let the others battle it out. Again, just tell me what I have to do and I will do it.
I would strongly encourage you to not stand by and watch what happens. You need to take an active role and let your thoughts be known. Otherwise, you will be dictated by those who want to arbitrarily restrict what you do. You, the contractor, must inform the politicians and spin doctors that the purpose of a plumbing code is to protect public health, not line someone's pockets with arbitrary requirements.
Unfortunately, there are groups out there using the mantra that a given plumbing code is dangerous because it is not restrictive enough. My question is, "What does that mean?"
Of course, if you compare the IPC and UPC, you will find that the UPC is more restrictive than the IPC. It is also more restrictive than the old BOCA National Plumbing Code and the SBCCI Standard Plumbing Code. It is even more restrictive than the National Standard Plumbing Code.
If you currently use the UPC, and like the restrictive requirements, fine. However, if you currently use one of the other codes, you will likely go ballistic if they adopt the UPC in your area. Hence, you better be there asking a lot of questions. Let me give you some examples:
Why is horizontal wet venting not allowed in the code? When is the last time somebody got sick or there was a health problem from a properly installed horizontal wet vent system?
Why do I have to increase the size of my drain for a kitchen sink to 2 inches? When did 1- 1/2-inch drains on kitchen sinks stop working? What is wrong with the millions of homes installed with 1- 1/2-inch drains on kitchen sinks?
These types of individual, topical questions need to be raised in the plumbing code adoption proceedings. General statements such as, "This code is dangerous," have no place in code discussions. I like to respond with, "How is it dangerous? The code is used in many other states, are people getting sick? Is there a health problem? Have you attempted to submit changes to correct the deficiencies?"
The bottom line is that not one plumbing code in this country is set up to be a dangerous document. Furthermore, I have not seen one model plumbing code that has caused sickness or disease.
What I have seen is a lot of arbitrary restrictions placed in plumbing codes to promote one's agenda. Some view a plumbing code as a "make work" document. God help us if that is what we have come to in this country.
You must stand up as a contractor and demand that a plumbing code maintain your freedom in this country. A new adoption of a plumbing code cannot arbitrarily restrict an installation design that was good yesterday, but not good in the new code.
Plumbing codes were developed in this country based on engineering principles. We cannot throw out or distort those principles when considering a new code. And we must challenge the ridiculous statements that are made by the self-proclaimed experts.
Reviewing some of the comments made at the recent code hearings in California made me sick. This is a perfect example where buying a politician counts more than the technical engineering merits of a code. What the state did regarding the adoption of a new building and plumbing code is dead wrong. In my opinion, don't ever look to California as being a leader in the construction codes.
The California travesty should be a wake-up call to pay closer attention to what is happening with the adoption of your local plumbing code. Get involved and make sure the same thing doesn't happen to you.