IAPMO GTC debates supplement

Sept. 1, 2009
The IAPMO GTC is developing a Green Plumbing and Mechanical Supplement as an adjunct to IAPMO's Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code.

Denver — Should a green building code mandate installer qualifications? And if it does, will it effectively prohibit homeowners from making their own green improvements, wondered members of the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee meeting here in August.

The IAPMO GTC is developing a Green Plumbing and Mechanical Supplement as an adjunct to IAPMO's Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code.

The original wording of the passage stated that, “The installation and service of systems covered by this Supplement shall be made by contractors, installers or service technicians experienced in such systems.” It also said that the Authority Having Jurisdiction could require contractors and installers to demonstrate competency and hold a license.

IAPMO's Director of Special Programs Pete DeMarco suggested changing the word “contractor” to “persons” so homeowners could perform green work on their own houses, such as installing a rain barrel.

Engineering consultant Erik S. Emblem, 3E International Inc., Sacramento, Calif., who was at the meeting as an observer, pointed out that a homeowner could quickly get in over his head on some of the more sophisticated green technologies. Emblem suggested requiring a license for green work when a permit is required.

United Association Training Specialist Phil Campbell, who was also at the meeting as an observer, pointed out to the committee that there are 85,000 jurisdictions in the U.S. Campbell said that the committee should leave it up to Authorities Having Jurisdiction.

Clark County Building Department official Jordan Krahenbuhl, who said that state and local licensing laws would trump anything the committee put in the Supplement, seconded Campbell. Local laws tend to give homeowners broad sway over anything they want to do in their houses, Krahenbuhl said.

Campbell argued that proof of competency and licensing should be required if a structure is going for LEED certification or some other type of certification. Other than that, homeowners should have the leeway to do whatever they want within the law and, when they screw it up, they'll have to call a licensed plumber, he said.

Committee member Doug Kirk, GreenPlumbers USA, said the supplement requirements can't be too onerous or else homeowners will do their own work without pulling permits or seeking competent advice. What about low-flush toilet giveaways, Kirk asked? Would the supplement discourage homeowners from installing them?

Committee member Thomas Pape, Alliance for Water Efficiency, urged the committee to not create barriers to homeowners improving their properties.

But the debate also created strong feelings on the other side. Emblem argued that anyone who wishes to live in Berkeley, Calif., has to abide by that city's rigorous code, and the State of California's green building code also requires contractor and installer qualifications.

“This needs to be addressed,” Emblem said. “This is not a minimum, base code.”

“This degrades our profession if you don't need a unique set of skills,” said New Jersey plumber Kevin Tindall, Tindall & Ranson Plumbing, Heating and A/C. “It always comes down to the contractor doesn't have any value in this.“ Tindall is on the committee as the representative of the IAPMO Committee for the Awareness and Understanding of a Sustainable Environment.

The qualifications issue isn't new. Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association has urged that properly qualified plumbing professionals be required during the construction of single-family homes displaying EPA's WaterSense label.

A year ago in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PHCC pointed out that many new homes do not have specifications for pipe-equipment sizing, venting and load calculations that are necessary to ensure that the total installation is not only water efficient, but also that it works to the satisfaction of the homeowner.

“Anyone who is not properly trained in plumbing will make decisions that could compromise the entire plumbing system, resulting in a poorly constructed system that does not meet the water efficiency that WaterSense is seeking,” PHCC said.

So far the EPA has not included contractor qualifications in its WaterSense for New Homes program.

Debate on the Green Supplement often highlighted the clash between the ideal and the practical; the need to make a green “statement” versus the possibility that local code and building authorities will decline to adopt the supplement's provisions.

Those conflicting interests arose during the debate over Chapter 7, covering energy efficiency of HVAC equipment. One passage in the supplement reads, “The capacity of the heating and cooling systems shall not exceed the loads calculated in Section 704.4.2,” which refers to the industry's load calculation standard, ASHRAE/ACCA Standard 183.

Several committee members indicated that the supplement should restrict the maximum capacity beyond the design load, while others said no contractor wants a callback when conditions are at design temperature, so they will always oversize a system. Should the panel call for systems to be oversized by up to 10%? Should unconditioned spaces, such as unfinished basements that might later be occupied, be factored into the load calculation, one committee member asked? Another committee member suggested referencing ASHRAE Standard 189P, Standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. ASHRAE Past President Kent W. Peterson, P.E., told CONTRACTOR, however, “I don't believe we have any equipment sizing requirements in Standard 189.1.”

Committee member E.W. “Bob” Boulware, P.E., Design-Aire Engineering Inc., Indianapolis, opined that sizing should be left up to the judgment of the design professional.

The panel ultimately was not able to reach a conclusion. Committee member Gary Klein, Affiliated International Management LLC, Newport Beach, Calif., suggested that the committee ask for specific comments on equipment sizing during the public comment period.

Panel members also wondered aloud why the equipment efficiency requirements seemed to be so low, until it was pointed out that they were constrained by law by the federal National Appliance Energy Conservation Act. For the same reason, ASHRAE standards also cite the seemingly low efficiency requirements of the federal minimums.

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