You can learn something new by studying history.

This year Ballanco Plumbing and Heating Inc. celebrates its 50th anniversary. To my brother, Jeffrey, and my mother, a hearty Congratulations and Happy Anniversary! To all of the companies celebrating a special anniversary this year, congratulations to you as well.

It was 50 years ago that my father took the big plunge to start his own plumbing and heating company. At the time, he was working for his brother-in-law, John Pratt. My father's goal was to provide the finest plumbing in the world. Pride of workmanship was his forte. After 50 years, that is what my brother continues with today.

The plumbing business was very good to my father, as it still is to my mother and brother. My father raised 10 kids on the plumbing business. All his sons, at one point in time, worked in the plumbing business. Six of us went the route of a college degree.

My brother put five of his children through college, thanks to the plumbing business. However, none have decided to continue on in plumbing. One is in construction with a major homebuilder, but not plumbing.

Of my father's 26 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren (so far), none have decided to follow him into the plumbing business. My brother appears to be the last family member of Ballanco Plumbing and Heating.

I still have a number of cousins in the profession. My uncle's business Pratt Plumbing and Heating Inc. was owned by my cousin's husband, Leigh Hopper, after my uncle's death. His two sons, Steve and Bruce, now are involved in the ownership of the company, as well. That extends the family to first cousins once removed.

It was always interesting having your uncle and cousins as a competitor in the same town. However, with the different names, most of the customers never knew there was a relation.

On my mother's side, my cousin, Joe Donnelly, also has his own plumbing company. The plumbing roots on that side of the family can be traced back to the late 1800s in Patterson, N.J.

What this leads to is that the plumbing business is still very much a family-oriented business. I don't know if that is good or bad, just an interesting fact of our profession.

The More They Stay The Same

My cousins Ree and Leigh Hopper are big history buffs. Ree is currently the town historian, while Leigh has a number of classic cars.

In their search for historical documents, Leigh came across a couple of old plumbing codes. The oldest document was the plumbing code from the Borough of Westwood, N.J., dated 1928. While I have older plumbing codes in my office, this was fascinating because it comes from the area of northern New Jersey where I grew up.

What immediately struck me with the plumbing code was the size of the book. It measures just under 4 inches by 6 inches and is 37 pages in length. It was designed to fit in your back pocket. Little bit different than the size of today's plumbing codes.

On the cover is a statement that reads, “Ignorance of any law is no excuse for violation.” That sounds so familiar. I have heard plumbing inspectors make similar proclamations, such as, “Ignorance of the code requirements is no excuse.” So continuing education regarding plumbing codes has been a constant in our industry. Even the dead guys understood the need to stay current.

I always love reading the drainage and venting requirements in the older codes. Some of the sections read word for word with the current model plumbing codes.

In this 1928 plumbing code, section 13 under fixture requirements reads, “Traps Protected, Vents. Every fixture trap shall be protected against siphonage and backpressure, and air circulation assured by means of a soil or waste stack vent, a continuous waste or soil vent, or a loop or circuit vent. No crown vent shall be installed.”

By this time, the concept of venting was well understood. Text similar to this appears in the 2003 edition of the Uniform Plumbing Code.

Section 901.0 of the Uniform Plumbing Code reads, “Vents Required. Each plumbing fixture trap, except as otherwise provided in this code, shall be protected against siphonage and back pressure, and air circulation shall be ensured throughout all parts of the drainage system by means of vent pipes installed in accordance with the requirements of this chapter and as otherwise required by this code.”

The requirements in the International Plumbing Code and National Standard Plumbing Code read slightly different. Both of these codes acknowledge that constant air circulation is not a must for proper venting. Quite often, there is no movement of air in a drainage system yet the trap seal is still protected.

The language in the International Plumbing Code reads, “901.2 Trap seal protection. The plumbing system shall be provided with a system of vent piping that will permit the admission or emission of air so that the seal of any fixture trap shall not be subjected to a pneumatic pressure differential of more than 1 inch of water column (249 Pa).”

I like this modern language better, only because it more clearly identifies what the vent system is doing to protect the trap seal. Yeah, it is a minor point, but by having such wording we avoid problems with the misunderstanding of a system.

As I thought about it, I wondered if the increase in the size of the code was so that we can better understand the requirements. Perhaps, but it hasn't necessarily worked. In 1928, they knew the importance of venting a drainage system. We still know about this today.

Some things never change.

If you ever come across an old plumbing code, pick it up and read it. You may be surprised by the requirements that are still the same. As my history teacher always preached, “You can learn something by studying history.”

I know I do.