Changes to the plumbing and building codes have made a major impact on commercial bathrooms.

While plumbing contractors are often familiar with changes to the plumbing code, many of the latest requirements are found in the building code. However, since they affect plumbing systems, the requirements become the responsibility of the plumbing contractor.

One change that has been greatly appreciated by the male population is the mounting height of urinals. When only one urinal is provided in a commercial toilet room, the urinal does not have to be mounted at the handicapped accessible height; the standard mounting height is permitted for the single urinal.

For many years, if only one urinal was installed, the mounting height was lower to provide accessibility. This mounting height has been difficult for taller men to use. (Sometimes you feel like you have to get on your knees to use the fixture.)

Speaking of urinals, with the publication of the 2009 editions of all of the plumbing codes, nonwater-supplied urinals are permitted by every model code. These fixtures are also referred to as “waterless” or “waterfree” urinals.

The IAPMO Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) requires a cold water supply to be roughed in behind the wall when nonwater-supplied urinals are installed. However, there is no specific requirement as to how close this roughed-in piping must be to the urinal. Hence, many toilet rooms already have a cold water supply in the proximity of the urinals. The other urinal requirements depend on what plumbing code is adopted in your jurisdiction.

The ICC International Plumbing Code (IPC) has requirements for partitions between urinals. These privacy partitions must begin 12 inches from the floor and extend to at least 60 inches above the floor. The partition must come out from the wall a minimum of 18 inches, but at least 6 inches past the front lip of the urinal.

While many urinals have had partitions between the fixtures, the partitions have not been full privacy partitions as required by the IPC. The other impact from these partitions is the spacing between urinals. There must be a minimum of 15 inches clearance from the center of a urinal to the side wall of the partition. This increases the normal rough-in spacing between urinals. Urinals can no longer be 30 inches center to center between the drains. They must be 30 inches plus the width of the partition.

The UPC does not have any partition requirements for urinals. Furthermore, the UPC allows urinals to be spaced closer together, with only 12 inches required between the center line of the urinal and any wall or partition. The UPC also allows the urinals to be spaced 24 inches on center.

Water Closet Compartments

Handicap accessible water closet compartments have an additional grab bar required. A side grab bar and rear grab bar are still required for accessible water closets. The new requirement is for a vertical grab bar that is mounted on the side wall in front of the water closet. The vertical grab bar must be a minimum of 18 inches in length. The location of the grab bar must be 39 to 41 inches from the rear wall and beginning 39 to 41 inches from the floor.

When six or more water closets are provided in a toilet room, an ambulatory water closet compartment is required in addition to a handicap accessible compartment. Ambulatory water closet compartments are slightly wider than standard compartments. Rather than 30 inches in width, they are 36 inches in width.

Both horizontal and vertical grab bars must be provided on both sides of the compartment. The extra width and grab bars assist individuals that are not confined to a wheelchair but do require assistance for lowering to and rising from a water closet.

You will also see more single-occupant toilet rooms popping up in mercantile buildings. These single-occupant toilet rooms, also called unisex toilet rooms, are required by the building code when more than six water closets are required for the building.

The single-occupant toilet rooms allow a family member (of the opposite sex) to enter the room and assist the individual in using the facilities. These rooms have been found to be very useful for individuals who are temporarily incapacitated. They also are good for the very young and the elderly.

Single-occupant toilet rooms are also used by families that are concerned about security for their smaller children. The rooms can be guarded when the child is using the facilities. This remedied the complaint by parents who send a small child of the opposite sex into a large toilet room.

Hot Or Lukewarm Water

The temperature of hot water to lavatories in public toilet rooms is now required to be regulated to prevent scalding. The plumbing codes all differ slightly on the temperature requirements; however, they all agree that a thermostatic mixing valve must be used.

Thermostatic mixing valves must conform to either ASSE 1070 or CSA B125.3. The use of a central thermostatic mixing valve is acceptable for controlling the temperature of the hot water.

The UPC requires the maximum water temperature to public lavatories to be 120 degrees F. The IPC requires the maximum water temperature to be 110 degrees F. Of course, temperatures set below 110 degree F meet both the IPC and UPC.

If you were wondering about a comfortable temperature for washing one’s hands, it is around 105 degrees F. Hence, both codes provide for a comfortable temperature range of hot water.

All the changes that I have identified have been integrated into the building and plumbing codes over the past three years. That means they are applicable to all new installations. If an inspector misses one of the requirements, that does not alleviate the contractor from complying with all of these provisions. If the newer requirements I have identified do not appear on the architectural or engineering plans, contact the architect or engineer.

Again, just because they missed it, doesn’t mean you bypass the requirements. Give the architect or engineer a call and get the plans modified to address all of these items.