Code Representation: It's the Contractor's Responsibility to Get Involved

If theres one thing p-h-c contractors can get passionate about, its the codes they must comply with every day in their businesses. Whether its the plumbing code, the building code, the mechanical code or the fire code, they can all lead to some fiery discussions. Since early on in the history of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC), code development has been a hot topic.

If there’s one thing p-h-c contractors can get passionate about, it’s the codes they must comply with every day in their businesses. Whether it’s the plumbing code, the building code, the mechanical code or the fire code, they can all lead to some fiery discussions.

Since early on in the history of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC), code development has been a hot topic. There have been hundreds of code meetings within the walls of the PHCC headquarters building and elsewhere. And, the code topic comes up in nearly every PHCC meeting, conference call or casual conversation.

Given this extreme interest, PHCC recently talked with several PHCC members to get a pulse on what they believe are the key elements to a good code, and how contractors can best get involved in the code-making process.

Maryland contractor Ron Stiegler, Phoenix Plumbers, Eldersburg, Md., believes that it is the contractor’s responsibility to understand the code in his or her area before beginning work on a project. Maryland has adopted the National Standard Plumbing Code, which is available through PHCC.

“Knowing and understanding the code you are working with will always save you time and money,” Stiegler said. “Too often contractors will not fully understand the code, and that can get you in trouble real fast.

“When we work in areas that enforce other codes, such as the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, we generally meet with the code official before beginning our work, and clarify any areas of their code that may be enforced differently than the National Standard Plumbing Code.”

What does a contractor need most out of a plumbing code? Clarity was mentioned the most frequently by those interviewed.

Dick Wagner, Environmental Engineering, Halethorpe, Md., who is the chairman of the National Standard Plumbing Code and also works with the International Plumbing Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code, said: “An ambiguous code could cost a contractor or engineer money if it gives the inspector unilateral authority, such as ‘unless otherwise required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.’”

“In today’s world, the contractor needs a plumbing code that is clearly written and easy to understand,” Stiegler said. “There are too many other distractions in contracting to spend time trying to figure out what an inspector may feel is not installed, according to his or her interpretation of the code.”

Sometimes things get even more complicated when more than one code is involved.

“Confusion, misunderstandings and unnecessarily high costs are the result of a plumbing code that makes reference to or requires compliance with other building codes, which may or may not have an impact on the plumbing installation, “ said Bob Kordulak of the Arkord Co., Belmar, N.J., who represents PHCC with the Uniform Plumbing Code Council and is Secretariat of the National Standard Plumbing Code Committee. “Code enforcement is a serious problem when compliance with two or more codes is required. Not only does it delay job progress but can also result in cash flow problems.”

Dick White, Repairs, inc., operates out of Indiana, where a hybrid combination of the Uniform Plumbing Code and the International Plumbing Code has been adopted. White believes a good code should have these characteristics: “Codes exist first to protect the public, and second, to give a ‘level playing field’ for all contractors. Otherwise, shysters always win.”

Those interviewed also agreed that it is important that contractors’ input be considered in all stages of code development.

“Engineers and building officials believe a subjective approach to plumbing design is best, adding an element of creativity,” Stiegler said. “This can cause many problems in field applications and field interpretations. This approach leads to misunderstandings, poor plumbing systems and higher costs. In the end, the consumer suffers.”

Kordulak provided some reminders about the role a code plays in protecting public health and safety.

“Plumbing is installed in a building for convenience, comfort, and for sanitation and health. Plumbing is now, has always been and should always remain a health issue,” he said. “That is why it is so important that p-h-c contractors remain involved in code development. They are the ones who install and maintain the plumbing systems that protect the public’s health and safety.”