County Enacts Plumbing Retrofit Law

Dekalb County, Ga. — Plumbing industry experts are cautiously optimistic about a new ordinance here that calls for any home built prior to 1993 to have low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures installed before a homeowner can obtain water from the county. The ordinance, which becomes effective June 1, 2008, requires sellers to disclose the Inefficient Plumbing Fixtures Replacement ordinance when selling a home.

Dekalb County, Ga. — Plumbing industry experts are cautiously optimistic about a new ordinance here that calls for any home built prior to 1993 to have low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures installed before a homeowner can obtain water from the county. The ordinance, which becomes effective June 1, 2008, requires sellers to disclose the Inefficient Plumbing Fixtures Replacement ordinance when selling a home.

Additionally, new homeowners must provide written proof of compliance from a home inspector, licensed plumber or a DeKalb County Department of Watershed inspector before they can obtain water service.

According to the ordinance, single-family homes and condos must have toilets with a maximum 1.6 gal. per flush, shower heads with a maximum flow rate of 2.5 GPM, lavatory faucets with a maximum flow rate of 2 GPM and kitchen faucets that feature a maximum flow rate of 2.2 GPM. Shawn Martin, technical director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, said the county's ordinance can be an effective way to swap older plumbing fixtures that are using excess amounts of water for more efficient products.

“A lot of water-wasting fixtures are still in homes,” Martin said. “One of the good things about plumbing fixtures is that they last a long time. However, when it comes to water efficiency, that's turning out to be something of a negative.

“So what you actually have are fixtures, such as toilets, that use up to 3½ gallons of water each flush. When you contrast that with the very latest toilets that are out there on the market that are using 1.28-gal. per flush, that is a substantial difference.”

Martin said PMI would like to see more jurisdictions require the installation of high-efficiency 1.28-gal. per flush toilets.

“As an organization, we feel that what's been done in DeKalb County is a good step, and I think there's also room for improvement as it relates to new fixtures being installed,” he said.

Martin said it will take time for DeKalb County to realize benefits from the ordinance, adding that the measure gives the county a mechanism to implement newer technologies in the future.

“With the real estate market being down, obviously the effect will be predicated on the rate of turnover of homes,” Martin said. “It's not going to be terribly high at first, but the beauty of this approach is that it builds over time. It's sort of like compound interest. It slowly builds upon itself.”

DeKalb County also is offering a $100 rebate on each replaced water efficient toilet up to a maximum of three toilets per household.

“The Georgia Association of Realtors rightly pointed out that the cost aspect could be difficult for some people to swallow, so I applaud the fact that the county implemented a rebate program that offsets the cost,” Martin said.

The ordinance will not affect: foreclosure sales; family sales from spouse to spouse or from parents to their children; homes slated for demolition after a sale; and circumstances where the cost of the toilet will be more than $1,000 per toilet to change out. Those who violate the ordinance will be subject to a warning for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second violation within 12 months of the first and a $500 fine for a third violation, also within 12 months of the first. Bill Erickson, chairman of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee, welcomed DeKalb County's decision to adopt the ordinance.

“My opinion is the more, the better,” he said. “The more restrictions that can be put on the use of water, the better it is.

“If the jurisdictions that have authority can get these water conservation measures through, God bless them. I just hope that they're done with the understanding that their main job is to continuously protect the public health and safety.”

Erickson cautioned that the process for developing water efficiency and other sustainable standards must be gradual.

“I don't think it's fair just to gang up on the consuming public,” he said.

The Green Technical Committee, he said, is attempting to develop a comprehensive document regarding recommendations related to environmental sustainability that is easily adaptable to change as time passes and technology improves.

“This has to be managed properly, and that's what we're trying to do with the technical committee,” Erickson said. “What's good in DeKalb County might not be good in Seattle, Wash.”