Licensed plumbers in New York always know the jobs they legally have to perform, but many owners needing plumbing work accomplished don't. To cut down the confusion and make life easier for all parties at hand, the New York State PHCC, New York city's Plumbing Foundation and city legislators worked together to establish some changes and clarifications in the plumbing code that went into effect in late August.

The Omnibus Plumbing Bill, or Local Law 51/2001, clears the table of confusion by defining plumbing work, eliminating unnecessary inspections, increasing the Alteration Repair Application (ARA) limit, extending licenses and forcing plumbers to update their education regularly. So what exactly are these changes and what do they mean?

Defining Plumbing Work: According to the Plumbing Foundation City of New York Inc., the new law defines work requiring a licensed plumber as "all work on water distribution, sprinkler, drainage and standpipe systems." The law makes it clear that the rule's only exception is "the repair or replacement of fixtures and piping from an exposed stop valve to the inlet side of the strap" -- nonlicensed plumbers can attend to those problems.

Stewart O'Brien, executive director of the Plumbing Foundation City of New York, said this was probably the most important change in the law. "People were very concerned because of the lack of definition of plumbing work," O'Brien said. "This stops the confusion."

Eliminating Unnecessary Inspections: Under New York's old law, plumbing contractors are required to have roughing work inspected by city officials. The city officials required at least 48 hours advance notice upon completion of a job to inspect it. In other words, after a contractor completed his work obligations, he would have to return two days later to the Department of Buildings (DOB) for the inspection process. The time and cost sometimes outweighed the benefits of the work. But that is not the case anymore.

Under the new law, the Commissioner of Buildings develops a "code list," which can and has to be certified by the licensed plumber. At no risk to public health or safety, this new law saves owners and contractors money and helps plumbers finish the entire job in a more timely fashion. The DOB reserves the right to inspect any job but will do so after certification, saving contractors time from coming back out to the jobsite. According to O'Brien, this is extremely beneficial to smaller contractors.

Increasing The ARA Limit: For smaller plumbing jobs, ARA limits stand in the way of getting jobs done quickly and cost-friendly. The law stated that any job equaling or exceeding the ARA limit, which was previously $14,000, needed an engineer to draw and submit plans to the DOB for approval. This tedious process involving reviews, paperwork and examination was neither timely nor cost-efficient for a small contractor. The new law solves the problem.

The real problem with the ARA limit was that it sat too low, so under the new law the limit raises to $18,000. This new threshold gives smaller contractors more room to start jobs without waiting for the DOB's approval.

Extending License Periods: Another problem facing plumbers was their license renewal process. While retaining a license from the DOB is extremely important, renewing it each and every year cost plumbers at least a day of work per year, sometimes more. The license period was changed from one year to two years under the Plumbing Bill, thereby decreasing the cost -- and lost work -- to plumbers.

"This makes a plumber's daily life a little easier," O'Brien said. "It was ridiculous to have them renew their licenses every year. Now they won't lose as much work-time."

Requiring Continued Education Courses: Yearly changes to the plumbing code are inevitable, and sometimes it's hard for plumbers to keep current. While the license period was extended to two years under the new law, the education requirements were raised. Beginning Aug. 2, 2002, plumbers must complete a seven-hour "continuing education program" once every two years in order to get a license renewal. The course content, which will be delivered by the private sector, must be approved by the DOB and is aimed at maintaining professional standards in the plumbing world.

"Requiring further education helps professionalize the industry," O'Brien said. "It'll force everyone to listen to what's new."

Undoubtedly, this new legislation is intended to make life easier on the New York plumbing industry and might affect the national industry as a whole. According to O'Brien, the National PHCC is very interested in the changes and is pleased with them. The Omnibus Plumbing Bill has the potential to be used as a model for other cities.

"We needed to do this," O'Brien said. "I hope it works out well. We'll just wait and see what happens."