The Uniform Solar Energy Code has a new name — the 2015 Uniform Solar Energy and Hydronics Code. It is a model code developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials to govern the installation and inspection of solar, hydronic and geothermal energy systems as a means of promoting the public’s health, safety and welfare. The 2015 edition adds significant provisions concerning hydronic and geothermal systems.

“This comprehensive, consensus IAPMO/ANSI model code provides a single-source reference for the installation, use and maintenance of radiant, hydronic, geothermal and solar systems,” says Les Nelson, vice president of IAPMO’s Advanced Energy Programs. “It can have a significant positive impact by leading to the increased utilization of these high-efficiency and renewable energy technologies. It also raises the bar for several industries which have been largely unregulated for many years. Uniformity of system design and installation will be a significant benefit, leading to fewer call-backs on problem installations and more satisfied consumers.”

The USEHC was first developed and published by IAPMO in 1976 because of increased interest in residential and commercial solar energy systems. “Just like the 2009 and 2012 editions of this code, the 2015 USEHC was developed using IAPMO’s American National Standards Institute-accredited open consensus process, and is unique in that it is both a code and an American National Standard,” Nelson explains.

Key provisions of the 2015 USEHC include:

  • New hydronics chapter which provides information on radiant heating and cooling, snow-melt systems, minimum requirements for the capacity of heat sources, heating appliances and equipment, piping and connections, system controls and steam systems, as well as installation, testing and inspection of hydronic systems.
  • New condensate waste and control provisions for condensate-producing equipment and appliances.
  • New alternative engineering design provisions.
  • New provisions for accessibility, attic and underfloor installation, as well as roof installation of appliances and equipment used in solar energy, hydronic and geothermal energy systems.
  • New solar thermal provisions, such as materials, solar collectors, freeze and overheat protection, drainback and thermosiphon systems, and pressure testing.
  • New geothermal energy systems chapter provides minimum requirements for groundwater systems, ground-heat exchanger design, heat exchangers, heat pumps, distribution design and the installation of geothermal energy systems.
  • New electrical provisions for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems based on NFPA 70-2014.

Each stakeholder group can benefit from widespread acceptance and adoption of the USEHC.

“Contractors, manufacturers, engineers and architects benefit from having pertinent design and installation topics, previously addressed in multiple codes or regulations, now available in a single ANSI consensus standard,” Nelson says. “While some aspects of system installations may also need to comply with mechanical or other codes applicable in local jurisdictions, homeowners and building owners benefit from the knowledge that the USEHC has been developed by subject matter experts in accordance with vetted system design criteria and accepted construction techniques.”


Industry impact

No other model code is published today which specifically addresses the design and installation of solar, geothermal, and hydronic/radiant heating and cooling systems. The provisions of the USEHC establishes consensus guidelines for the application of radiant and hydronic technologies in the built environment. The availability of this code means that in jurisdictions where it is adopted, a single source for many provisions affecting the installation of these systems will be available to contractors and Authorities Having Jurisdiction.

“It will provide residential and commercial consumers the assurances and protections of a viable, quality installation in an understandable format,” says Mark Eatherton, executive director of the Radiant Professionals Alliance, an industry trade association comprised of stakeholders from the hydronics and radiant heating/cooling industries. “Inspectors and AHJs receive the guidance and protections of a model code developed in a consensus process.”

Designers and contractors should know that subject matter experts specializing in each of the technologies addressed in the USEHC invested significant personal time in the development of the code in an effort to include accurate and complete provisions. The new code will provide experienced installation contractors with verification that what was taught to them by competent manufacturers and the RPA are good recommendations to follow, and that their work will exceed the code’s minimum requirements.

“Although the RPA did offer voluntary guidelines in the past, there was very little information available to the industry or the consumer in a meaningful, useable format regarding design criteria and best practices,” Eatherton notes. “Much of the content of the RPA guidelines was in more of a ‘should’ configuration, as opposed to mandatory code required language, using words like ‘shall.’ The RPA is committed to contributing professionalism to the entire hydronics/radiant industry and promoting such systems as the most viable path to energy savings and comfort for the end user.”

Many provisions of the 2015 USEHC concerning radiant heating and cooling applications have not appeared in model codes before; the RPA’s involvement in the development of relevant language ensures that state-of-the-art design and construction principles are considered.

“The development of the new hydronics part of the code has taken years of diligent effort by the RPA and the collective best minds in the industry,” Eatherton explains. “When the decision was made to create a hydronics code, the RPA was successful in assembling a code committee representing all facets of the industry: manufacturers, suppliers/distributors, contractors, installers and government officials/inspectors. The RPA Code Committee spent more than a year compiling relevant information, even from foreign countries, and molding it into a working document.”

 And designation as an American National Standard brings the ultimate credibility to the USEHC.


Getting the word out

The RPA has formulated a marketing plan focused on the following key stakeholder groups which stand to benefit from the implementation and use of the code: homeowners/building owners, contractors, manufacturers, engineers and architects.

Eatherton notes that each stakeholder group will be addressed through outreach via print media, social media, membership publications and email. RPA manufacturer members will publicize the USEHC to their customers and other corporate contacts. Education curricula will be developed to ensure understanding of code provisions.

A code is only as good as the enforcement in the field. The RPA has begun teaching and working with the code enforcement officials in efforts to bring their knowledge base of these wonderful mechanical marvels up to speed so they are much more comfortable performing their job in the field.

“Some people believe that the code will dictate exactly how they must install their system. This is not correct,” Eatherton explains. “The code establishes a minimum standard and, in most cases where the contractors have been receiving training, guidance and direction from competent manufacturers, they are already installing systems that exceed the minimum standards. It is unqualified, untrained personnel working on such projects who will be required to change their ways.

“Our goal is to increase the consumers’ confidence about the safety, reliability, efficiency and comforts associated with the proper design and installation of these wonderful systems, as well as make the installing contractor’s job of meeting the AHJ’s requirements quicker, smoother and easier.”

Marianne Waickman, operations manager at ASSE International, notes: “To increase customer awareness and confidence in hydronics, ASSE International has developed hydronic heating and cooling system installer and designer personnel qualification standards, which were recently designated as American National Standards. The development of certifications to these standards is now nearing completion and they will be released in 2016. It is our intent that AHJs will recognize these certifications and require them as minimum criteria for contractors and designers performing related work in their jurisdiction.”

Lastly, IAPMO is developing an instructive training manual and a best-practices manual to provide contractors and designers with the tools necessary to ensure proper and appropriate applications of these mechanical systems. It will take designers and installers through the steps necessary to confirm the delivery method correlates with the energy source.

“Using staple-up tubing with a ground-source heat pump has its limitations, and we must make certain that everyone with skin in the game understands the limitations and appropriate application of these and all hydronic heating and cooling systems,” Eatherton notes.

For more, read the 2015 USEHC.