The Pipe Joint Conundrum
You have read about many of these new joining methods in PM. Many of you have become quick converts. Sometimes, you have waited for others to be the initial guinea pigs.
One of the biggest concerns voiced has been, “Does the code allow these new joining methods?”
Code approval has become a problem area. But you cannot always blame the code-writing organizations. Many times, it is the standard writing organizations that have been delaying the acceptance of new joining methods. They are the groups that need a kick in the butt.
The Code Acceptance ProcessFrom the time a change is proposed to a plumbing code, it could take three years until you see it in print. That is just the way the timing works. A code change is submitted, it is published in a review book, there is a hearing, the results of the hearing are published, comments are submitted on the results, a second hearing reviews the code change again, and finally, if it is approved, it is printed in the next edition of the code.
However, you must realize that the plumbing code needs a standard to reference if a new joining method is going to be added to the code. That means you first must start with a standards organization. Some standards groups are good at getting out standards on new technology; others are miserable.
The purpose of the standard is to provide consensus requirements to regulate the joining method. The requirements must be nonproprietary, with enough strength to prevent inferior products from entering the market. The last thing you need is an inferior fitting that will fail in a short period of time.
For years the plumbing industry has relied on the standards to assure a high quality for its products. There are standards for solvent cementing, threading, no-hub couplings, etc.
The plastic industry has been very good about getting out standards to regulate new joining methods. For example, there is a standard for one-step solvent cement for CPVC. All of the model plumbing codes now recognize one-step solvent cement.
For PEX fittings, ASTM F877 is a generic standard that allows manufacturers to develop any new joining method for PEX tubing. The newer push-fit fittings for PEX can be evaluated to ASTM F877. You can be assured a quality fitting if the fittings meet this standard. This is something that you should be checking before using newer fittings.
One of the disaster areas for developing new fitting and joining standards has been ASME. Plumbing is just not high on the list of importance to mechanical engineers. Hence, the standards on plumbing pipe fittings and joints are treated like a bastard stepchild.
In 1999, the copper press fitting manufacturers approached ASME about developing a consensus standard for the fittings. Included with the request was a draft of the standard.
Here it is 2006, and ASME still has not completed the standard. Not only that, the main committee overseeing development just rejected the proposed standard. After six years of work, they just don't like the standard. The problem is that it is not a high-tech-type standard for nuclear power plants; it's only plumbing.
The copper push-fit fitting standard is being developed by the same ASME committee. It cannot be considered until the press-connect fitting standard is completed.
ASME needs to correct its ways. The treatment of these two standards has been despicable. This has caused some jurisdictions to restrict the acceptance of press-connection or push-fit fittings. If you have encountered this, it is because of ASME, not the manufacturers.
However, realize that the press-connect and push-fit fitting manufacturers have addressed the code acceptance of the fittings correctly. All of the plumbing codes permit copper tubing to be joined by mechanical fittings. We use mechanical fittings all the time; for example, under the sink on the connection to the angle stop.
To regulate the fittings, they developed a PS standard at IAPMO. The difference between PS standards and ASTM or ASME standards is that PS standards are not national consensus standards. They are developed through a slightly different process. That is why the manufacturers continue to pursue the standards at ASME.
What To Look ForAs a plumbing contractor, you probably ask, “What should I look for in any new joining system?” I would recommend that you always insist on a third-party listing of any new joining method. The third-party listing guarantees that you have a quality joining system. This is the mechanism that the plumbing industry has set up to provide a level of assurance.
If you are wondering, before the first press-connect fitting was sold in the United States, they were listed by two listing agencies. The same is true for the copper push-fit fittings.
As for plastic pipe and fittings, they have been the most vigilant about having listings. All plastic pipe and fittings go through a third-party listing before being introduced to the market. If they don't have such a listing, it is probably a fly-by-night operation. Stay clear of unlisted joining methods.
So the next time someone comes into your office promoting the newest and greatest joining method, just ask one simple question: Is the joining method listed? And if it is, have them give you a copy of that listing. That is for your protection.
Of course, if the joining method is so great, I am sure the manufacturer will provide you with a great warranty. That is also something to keep in your files. Funny thing is, the plumbing code could care less about a warranty. Maybe they should start to pay attention. After all, we don't get a warranty from the plumbing code.