Julius Ballanco, PE
There is a new round of plumbing code politics that has permeated the plumbing industry. As with any political arena, there are a lot of half-truths and innuendo being passed around. Furthermore, all sides are to blame.
Since I am involved with all of the plumbing codes and have the fun (and I mean fun) of attending the hearings, let me try to set the record straight. There are two major model plumbing codes in the United States and one minor code.
First, the minor code. That is the National Standard Plumbing Code promulgated by PHCC - National Association. The only state that adopts the National Standard Plumbing Code on a statewide basis is New Jersey.
The two major model plumbing codes are the International Plumbing Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code. The International Plumbing Code is promulgated by the International Codes Council (ICC). The ICC is the new organization formed when BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI merged into a single model code organization.
The Uniform Plumbing Code is promulgated by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). This organization is dominant in the western half of the United States.
The ICC and IAPMO snipe at one another and are always looking for your support. Rather than comparing plumbing code content, they normally begin by saying how great their process is, and how lousy the other guy's process is.
IAPMO accuses ICC of having a plumbing code developed by building inspectors. ICC accuses IAPMO of being controlled by the union (UA).
IAPMO states that anyone can vote at their hearings. ICC states that anyone can participate at their hearings. Both claim to have a fair process. Both are full of crap.
OK, let me state it more politely. Both IAPMO and ICC are slanting their story and don't like to tell the whole truth.
So, I will.
Nothing But The TruthFirst, the ICC and the International Plumbing Code (IPC). The IPC is not controlled by a bunch of building inspectors. As a matter of fact, I have only seen a handful of building inspectors in the IPC code hearings. Most of the time, they don't vote on the changes.
The key to the ICC is the Plumbing Code Change Committee. This committee is composed of some of the top plumbing professionals in the country. Occasionally, a flunky gets appointed to the committee, but that person doesn't last too long.
Anyone can submit a change to the code. Every code change is reviewed by the committee and voted on. The committee recommends to accept, reject or modify a change. These results are published in a bound book and online.
Anyone can submit a comment saying they disagree with the committee. The comments are reviewed at the next hearing. At that hearing, the voting membership of the ICC decides the final outcome. The voting membership is the inspectors.
The rules state that only those individuals qualified in the area of discussion should vote. Technically, any building inspector can vote. As a matter of fact, a number of building inspectors come from the plumbing trade. I would hope that those individuals vote. By the same token, a plumbing inspector can vote on a building or fire code change. I would hope that they don't vote on those subjects outside their area of expertise.
Again, I don't see plumbing inspectors rushing to building code hearings. When you look at the final results, better than 95 percent of the code changes are decided by the Plumbing Code Committee. Hence, the voting membership decides on less than 5 percent of the code changes.
So, contrary to what IAPMO states, the International Plumbing Code is not developed by building inspectors, it is developed by plumbing professionals.
Contrary to what ICC states, the inspectors don't really decide all of the content, it is the committee. The members just consent to the committee's actions.
IAPMO recently switched to an ANSI process. This process means that the plumbing code is developed by a consensus committee. The committee is composed of plumbing professionals representing all areas of the industry. For example, I am a voting member representing ASPE.
This committee is accused of being controlled by the union. I will admit that more than half of the members have affiliations with the union. However, the union has only one vote. An example of the union affiliation is the representative of the copper industry (CDA).
For example: “Jim” works for CDA, and he does a good job representing CDA's interest. It just so happens that Jim was a union plumber. But, Jim doesn't vote based on what the union wants, Jim votes based on what the copper industry wants.
Again, anyone can submit a code change. Every code change is reviewed by the committee. The committee recommends whether to accept or reject a code change. The recommendations are published in a bound book and online. Anyone can comment on the committee recommendations. The committee votes on whether to accept the comments.
The next hearing is before the IAPMO membership. Any member is allowed to vote; however, the vote is nonbinding. They are merely recommending to the committee to change a decision. The committee still has the final say.
So, when IAPMO says that anyone can vote on its code, that is correct. However, the vote does not decide on the code content. It merely recommends to the committee whether they agree with the committee's decision.
At this meeting, ICC claims that it is dominated by the union. That is true, the UA has a strong contingency at the IAPMO meetings. However, that union-dominated vote is a recommendation, not a final vote.
The ANSI process requires decisions to be made based on technical merit. However, politics still rears its ugly head, and often a political decision is convoluted into technical merit.
Check The Code, Not The ProcessWhat it comes down to is that there is a different method used to promulgate each of the three model plumbing codes. When reviewing a code, this should not be a major deciding point.
What is more important is the content of the code. If the model plumbing codes were truly technical documents - rather than the political documents they are - they would all be the same.
Quite frankly, there is no valid reason why the codes aren't all the same. For that matter, there only needs to be one plumbing code for the country.
If you enter the political debate regarding the plumbing codes, try to remember that they are technical documents. If something works, it should be permitted by code.