Green codes advance water conservation goals

Sept. 2, 2010
ROSEMONT, ILL. — The International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code committee and the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee both met in this suburb of Chicago in August to continue work on their organizations’ respective green codes.

ROSEMONT, ILL. — The International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code committee and the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee both met in this suburb of Chicago in August to continue work on their organizations’ respective green codes.

ICC’s green code committee met for a week going over more than 1,000 comments received on the first draft of the IGCC, which covers all components of a building, including plumbing. The public hearings, which were Webcast live, were scheduled for 13 hours a day. The committee made quick work of Chapter 7, “Water Resource Conservation and Efficiency,” in less than seven hours.

The committee approved a table of maximum flow rates for fixtures and fittings, relying on WaterSense maximums in many cases. Showerheads can flow at 2.0-gpm and must be WaterSense labeled. Private lavatory and bar sinks can flow at 1.5-gpm, but public metered lav faucets are limited to 0.25 gal./cycle and non-metered to 0.5-gpm. Non-residential kitchen and bar sink faucets can flow at 2.2-gpm. Urinals will be limited to 0.5-gpf and must be WaterSense labeled. Non-residential water closets could flush at 1.6-gpf, but residential toilets would be limited to 1.28-gpf. Pre-rinse spray valves could flow at 1.3-gpm, while metered drinking fountains would be limited to 0.25-gpc and non-metered restricted to 0.7-gpm.

The committee approved having pre-rinse spray valves shut off automatically, but they deleted a requirement to ban hold-open devices at the behest of Thomas E. Pape, representing the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Pape argued that a ban on hold-open devices would result in dishwashers jury-rigging their own, often using duct tape so the valves never shut off.

The committee approved water use tables to create baseline numbers against which water savings could be calculated. For example, the baseline for a standard showerhead would be 2.5-gpm calculated to flow for 8.5 minutes per occupant with one use per occupant per day.

In order to flush the drain lines of waterless urinals, the fixtures would have to be connected to a branch drain connected to some other water-using fixture, such as a lavatory, toilet or water-suing urinal.

An attempt to ban water-powered backup sump pumps failed.

The committee approved a section regulating water use in cooling towers. Once-through cooling is prohibited, vapor plumes and drift losses must be controlled and water must meet certain hardness and cycles of concentration before it is discharged.

The panel debated restrictions on evaporative or “swamp” coolers, but ultimately voted down the suggestions, saying that they didn’t have enough data. Committee members said they needed to know what optimal water use should be in a swamp cooler and how many times the water could be re-used before it’s discharged.

The IGCC committee also rejected a suggestion from plumbing engineer Bill Hoffman, H.W. “Bill” Hoffman & Associates, Austin, Texas, to limit discharge water in large capacity reverse osmosis systems, stating the restrictions weren’t ready to be put into the code. The committee likewise rejected efforts to have separate metering in tenant spaces and leak detection devices in multi-tenant buildings.

Literally down the street from the IGCC hearings, the IAPMO Green Technical Committee began its meeting talking about the need for a more precise definition of commercial lavatory faucets. IAPMO Director of Special Services Dave Viola noted that the State of California in its CalGreen code was restricting all non-residential faucets to 0.5-gpm, even if it was not appropriate. Viola gave the example of a locker room faucet where football players wash mud off their cleats as a non-residential faucet that needs a higher flow.

The GTC debated dipper wells, such as those at ice cream parlors for the ice cream scoops, at some length. They concluded that a dipper well should not flow more than its volume, so that a dipper well holding 1-gal. of water, for example, could flow at no more than 1-gpm.

The GTC also debated pre-rinse spray valves, noting that they had mandated that the water pressure could not be less than 30-psi if the valve was restricted to 1.3-gpm, but that that water pressure caveat is not contained in the Uniform Plumbing Code. They approved a motion to pass that along to the UPC technical committee for inclusion.

A suggestion to write a separate chapter on rainwater recovery and use caused the panel to debate re-use of water at length, noting that onsite treated water, municipal reclaimed water, untreated graywater, and rainwater can be radically different. Engineer Bob Boulware, who is also president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, noted that graywater has limited uses for toilet flushing and irrigation while rainwater can do all those and also be treated onsite to become potable water.

Viola worried that pulling out rainwater would require a complete revamping of chapters on all reclaimed water. And that’s exactly what the committee should do, said Tom Meyer, a past executive director of the Green Mechanical Council, currently director of government and professional relations for the ESCO Group.

“We’re going to separate the chapters eventually,” Meyer maintained, “so do it now or do it later. We can’t contain these four technologies in one chapter and be effective. We can’t assume baseline knowledge for the people who are using this document. If we’re questioning it now, it will be even more confusing to the people who are trying to use the code. Let’s do it now while it’s a small job before these technologies mature.”

The committee voted to recommend to the Uniform Mechanical Code technical committee that the geothermal language contained in the Green Supplement should be moved into the main body of the UMC. Jordan Krahenbuhl, plans examiner specialist for the Clark County (Nevada) Building Department, submitted a lengthy proposal, which was approved, to move the entire mechanical portion of the Green Supplement into the appendix of the UMC. Viola noted that the committee would have to take out the geothermal portion because of the previous committee vote.

A representative of the Water Quality Association made a presentation on use of water softeners as a green technology. Committee members gave the presentation a tepid response, commenting that they thought WQA was overreaching. Bill Hoffman said he knew that WaterSense is considering softeners and any action by the Green Technical Committee would be premature until WaterSense acts.

Craig Selover, director – plumbing platform technology at Masco Corp., gave presentation on Life Cycle Assessment that created considerable debate because the concept is new and confusing. LCA could, for example, include the embedded energy needed to dig the ore out of the ground to make brass for plumbing products, Selover said. As Life Cycle Assessment matures, it will become a way to judge the relative “greenness” of a product.

“Some products you can measure in ways like in gallons per flush,” said Charlotte Pipe’s Greg Simmons. “Others don’t yield a clear number. For products like that you need another way to judge greenness. [LCA is] another tool to measure if you choose product A or product B. As products get more complicated, like a valve, greennness is more difficult to judge.

“This building uses 60,000 pounds of cast iron soil pipe,” noted Bill Levan, executive director of the Cast Iron Spoil Pipe Institute. “Energy and water were used to make it. LCA gets away from greenwashing and holds you accountable for that.”

A motion passed to have a task group meet to read Selover’s report and draft language for inclusion in the Green Supplement.

Bill Erickson “We have to have the people in this room come up with a simple and reasonable thing to put in Section 306.0 [the LCA section] of the code,” said Committee Chairman Bill Erickson, C.J. Erickson Plumbing, Alsip, Ill. “We don’t want to have somebody outside the industry tell us how we’re going to do LCA.”

“We’re not the only ones struggling with this,” noted IAPMO Director of Special Programs Pete DeMarco. “This is going on all over the world, especially as it applies to mechanical devices,”

A task group will consider comments on hot water recirculating systems. Currently the Green Supplement allows recirculating hot water systems if the pipe is insulated and if the pump is activated by either a push button or motion detector. The committee also discussed options to use heat-tracing wire on hot water lines if it is power by photovoltaics, and how many ounces of hot water can be contained in branch lines from a commercial recirculating system and a restroom lav faucet. The discussion became protracted and the topic was referred to a task group.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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