Play by the rules. Be sure the foreign-manufactured plumbing products you install are properly listed.

The summer vacation season is upon us. I was wondering how many of you are planning a trip to China to see where some of the latest plumbing products are manufactured. That is not to pick on China.

China, like other industrialized nations, is becoming an economic powerhouse. As such, they manufacture plumbing products.

Some contractors swear by the products that are manufactured in China. They claim that the quality control is excellent and the price is highly competitive.

Other contractors have suffered severe consequences when they installed products from China. By the time the plumbing inspector is done, sometimes all of the piping is removed and replaced.

So what is going on? How do you know what you can install and what you can't?

There is no denying that we have become complacent with the purchase of plumbing pipe, fittings and fixtures. You naturally assume that if the product is sold in the supply house, it must be acceptable.

Realize that some of the trade associations for American manufacturers are educating the plumbing inspectors as to what to look for in foreign products. I can assure you they don't want them to approve the foreign products; they are hoping that the inspectors find a reason to not approve the products. If they are not approved, the alternative would be to install domestically manufactured material.

Some in the industry have accused these trade associations of being anti-globalization. That isn't true.

Playing By The Rules

First, let me go on record as being one of the proudest Americans in the world. However, I realize that we live in a global economic world. Products are made all over the world, not just in China. I am banging away on a computer that was made in China.

It is simply that, if foreign manufacturers want to sell their products in the United States, they have to play by the rules. Those rules are the plumbing codes and standards adopted in this country.

The mistake too many plumbing contractors make is assuming that the foreign manufacturers have met the plumbing codes and standards because they are selling products at the local plumbing supply house. That is not always true.

Keep in mind that the United States is a wonderful country with a free market system. Basically, when it comes to plumbing products, you can sell anything. What you cannot do is install anything. In order to install a plumbing product, it must meet the plumbing code. Inside each plumbing code are hundreds of referenced standards.

It is difficult for you to understand or even comprehend all of the requirements in the standards. Most of you don't own, or have never even seen, a plumbing product standard. But, a good inspector knows all about the plumbing standards. They are required to enforce the code, and to do so correctly, they must enforce the requirements in the standards.

Many of you have come to rely on certification agencies to list a plumbing product as complying with the code. This is actually a good approach to take. The certifying agency tests the plumbing product to determine if it complies with the standard. Then they periodically visit the manufacturing facility to determine that the product continues to be manufactured in accordance with the standard.

Unfortunately, in one recent case, a plumbing contractor had to pay out over $100,000 to remove piping that he thought met the code and the standard. He even checked to see that the product had the mark of a listing agency.

This particular pipe happened to come from China. When the Chinese manufacturer produced the pipe, they simply copied the same product produced by a U.S. manufacturer. On the U.S. manufactured product, there was a marking of the certification agency. So, they simply copied that certification mark. Unfortunately for the contractor, the manufacturer had not bothered to pay for the listing, have the pipe tested, or maintain continuous in-plant inspections.

The inspector had been tipped off. He simply checked the Web site of the certification agency and found that the pipe was not listed by the agency. After it was installed, he had the contractor remove it and replace it with a properly listed pipe.

For this particular occurrence, the contractor probably would have been better off asking the plumbing inspector before he ever installed the pipe. Most inspectors are upfront about telling you which product or pipe is approved and which is not. If they don't know, they will give you guidance in finding out how to determine if the product meets the code.

Enforcing Requirements

China is getting much better about enforcing the copyright requirements of certification agency marks. But like any country, there are always some who try to cheat. Trust me, that happens right here in the good ole United States.

To give you an example of how good China is getting, I had a recent dealing with a manufacturer who wants to produce some of its product in China. The product happened to have a UL listing. However, for the UL listing, they only had the U.S. manufacturing facility identified in the listing. To add the plant in China, UL needed to examine a sample from the plant. That included having the UL mark on the sample to make sure it was properly identified.

The plant refused to produce the product with the UL mark because their plant was not listed as a manufacturing facility in the listing directory. Did you ever hear of “Catch 22?”

Well, after discussing the matter with a UL inspector in China, the plant produced a sample to be submitted to UL for listing purposes. My only comment was that I was happy to see that the Chinese manufacturer clearly understood and respected the mark of a listing agency.

If there is a question regarding the acceptability of a foreign-manufactured product, ask the supply house or the sales representative to provide you with proof that the product meets the plumbing code. Don't always trust the listing mark. When in doubt, check the Web site of the listing agency and make sure the product meets the required standard.

See Julius at this year's ISH North America trade show in Chicago, Sept. 28-30. He'll discuss “New Handicapped Plumbing Requirements” in his program.