York, Pa. — As I was reading the back page, a number of thoughts jumped through my head, not the least of which was thinking you may need body armor after builders see your column! Bear in mind, I was still just a few paragraphs into the column. I was not the least bit surprised to see the front-of-the-magazine story regarding sprinklers getting squashed by lobbyists. Follow the money trail — everything's for sale these days and the lousy economy only adds more misery. Those who have the gold write, or in this case rewrite, the rules — the so-called Golden Rule and this one has nothing to do with how you treat others.
Mark Eatherton and I submitted a change to the national plumbing codes — a change that would have done what the original intent of the codes was way back when folks were dying off by the thousands from water-borne diseases each year in the U.S.A. — Protect the Health of the Nation. If our submittal had been accepted, open direct cross-connected potable/hydronic systems that compromise potable water sanitation would have been modified to prevent bacterial contamination from entering the potable side from the hydronic side.
One question jumped off the form and, although this may not be exact wording, it went something like this: “Will your proposed change increase or decrease construction cost?” I knew, at that moment, that we were dead in the water.
Lobbyists have long held our nation's plumbing code hostage. One need only look at scalding issues and conditions favoring bacterial amplification within our potable water systems, and how little has been done code-wise to protect consumers to realize how far off-track we've gone. Sprinklers will, in many cases, suffer the same fate while those in power sell out to the highest bidder. So, even when our code bodies enact protections, the code can be swept away by a politician.
I was asked about the pending sprinkler regs by a past president of the Pennsylvania Builders Association who was stunned to find we're ready to rock-n-roll right now because two of our PEX manufacturers — Uponor and Viega — have pre-approved sprinkler systems with inventory on hand to accommodate our needs. He also suggested the sprinkler code will most likely be DOA.
Getting back to the story, I was surprised by your recall of the earlier column I'd written about lemmings! I might just want to don a flak jacket too!
We're riding out this all-too-long recession — the fifth one I've been through. I went off on my own on Sept. 1, 1979, in the middle of a recession. Call it a trial by fire, but back then we saw recessions every three to five years. Then they went away and stayed away for decades. But the same thing is happening now that happened then — mechanical contractors desperate for work are buying jobs just to keep their employees busy. PHVAC new-home contractors are stumbling blindly through the service/repair/renovation side where overhead is wildly different and they think they're turning a profit while leaving a fat chunk of change behind on every job. And, oddly enough, I had a builder just like the builders I described in my earlier column ask me for pricing a month ago; just for the heck of it I played along. Things have not improved for the mechanical contractors who get sucked into that business-death-by-a-thousand-cuts.
Gutsy column on your part and well said.