Unless you've lived under a rock for the past few years, you've heard about (and probably seen) one or all of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. One of the subtexts of the films is the pirates' “code” that governs their actions in given situations. The phrase “keep to the code” is used several times and there is a humorous byplay between characters as to whether the code is an absolute or “more of just a guideline really.”
Today, codes have become so ubiquitous and varied, and their applications so convoluted, that “keeping to the code” is a task worthy of King Solomon. We are working with the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC), National Plumbing Code (NPC), International Plumbing Code (IPC) and State Plumbing Code (SPC) on a national and international level. This does not include at least 40 individual state plumbing codes and the myriad amendments by municipalities.
Additionally, the codes being used today range from the 1994 UPC to the 2006 IPC and every year (and code type) in between. Then there are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), American Waterworks Association (AWWA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), to name but a few of the peripheral codes and standards with which plumbing and mechanical contractors need to be familiar.
But wait, there's more! Some municipalities don't even use one code consistently. In one small Arizona city, the following codes are in use: 2006 UBC for building, 2006 IMC for mechanical, 1994 UPC for plumbing, 2005 NEC for electrical, 2006 IRC for residential construction and 2006 IPC for fire protection! Is it any wonder that trying to train apprentices and journeymen to “keep to the code” is an almost impossible task? The city in question is only one of 27 separate municipalities in Maricopa County. Of the 27, there are seven separate codes in use and 60% of those codes have been amended locally.
So what's the big deal? Try this: Mesa, Ariz., and Phoenix both adopted the 2006 IPC. On the subject of roof drain and leader sizing, Phoenix has amended the code to use the older, UPC rainfall chart (D2) and Mesa hasn't. For years, almost all municipalities in the geographic area have used the UPC “D2” chart and 6-in. per hour as the maximum rainfall amount to size roof drain systems. The IPC charts use 3-in. per hour as the rainfall basis. Sizing a roof drainage system in Mesa using the un-amended IPC will yield a severely undersized system than in Phoenix using the “amended” IPC. Which is more accurate? That's only one scenario, but it is indicative of the problems inherent in the present scattergun approach to codes.
Time is money
This absurd situation would be funny if you didn't have to try to run a business in this climate. Red tags cost time, and time is money. Installing work according to code only to have an inspector turn it down — not because it was improperly or poorly done but because it didn't meet some obscure or convoluted new interpretation of the local code — is not only frustrating, it is costly.
All of these different codes have one thing in common. They are meant to provide a minimum standard for material, design, installation and maintenance of plumbing systems. Why are there so many codes all doing the same thing? Where did it all go wrong?
None of what we do as plumbing and mechanical contractors is rocket science. With the exception of new materials and systems, everything we work with is a known quantity and has been for many years. Things like hydraulics, fixture units, PSI and pitch (slope) all are known quantities. The engineering has been done on this stuff for decades. Where is the mystery here?
A proud history
From the adoption of the English Plumbing Health Code of 1848 to the Metropolitan Health Law of New York City in 1870 (which superseded and far advanced the English code), and on to National Association of Master Plumbers (today the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors - National Association) committee meeting of 1883, our trade has accomplished to codify the invention, installation and maintenance of sanitary plumbing systems. The American Standard Co. slogan, “The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation” is as true today as when it was first coined.
One need only look back a mere 30 years to the outbreaks of Legionnaires Disease in 1977 to understand how important our industry is to protecting the health of our fellow citizens. So it begs the question, where did we go wrong? Why is it necessary for us to have so many different codes, all regulating the same thing?
Instead of promulgating new codes and picayune amendments, our national, state and local governments need to be looking into reducing the overlapping codes and streamlining them into one comprehensive code that can be applied universally or at least on a state basis. The advantage of a single code that allows for local climatic and building conditions is obvious. Of course, that would prevent all the local politicians and special interests from tweaking it, but would that be such a bad thing?
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].