Going head-to-head with a PI

Jan. 1, 2011
The PI had clearly made a mistake. No one's perfect and everyone makes mistakes. It seemed obvious, to me, that a simple conversation would easily resolve this crystal-clear error.

The first bully I encountered was in fifth grade. When I’d finally reached my limit of tolerance, he got a fat lip and that abruptly ended that problem. A few more showed up over the course of public schooling with one failing to show up after school for our scheduled rendezvous, another required a sound thrashing, and others who quickly moved on once they knew their intended target was willing to go toe-to-toe. But what can you do when the bully is in a position of authority and abuses their powers? To complicate matters, what can you do when they have a badge, a code book and no one to answer to but themselves?

A recent plumbing inspection was scheduled for two separate kitchens. Both had identical installations of a three-compartment dishwashing sink, properly sized grease interceptor (PDIonline.org), water heater, and a hand-wash sink. Both were installed according to the plumbing code for drainage, venting and potable water lines. By sheer coincidence, these two kitchens are located within 150 feet of each other, but in separate buildings (a short walk). Kitchen No. 1 passed without any issues. Kitchen No. 2, however, was not passed and the PI (plumbing inspector) told me we would be required to pipe each bowl from the three-compartment sink separately with an air-gap to a floor-mounted receiver ahead of the grease interceptor! He did not have his code book with him and, as you might expect, I requested he provide the reason(s) why our work did not meet the plumbing code in writing with the specific code-passage cited. I headed to the office to research the code too.

A subsequent phone call revealed he was citing the IPC (International Plumbing Code) 802.1.1, which specifically refers to food-handling sinks. When I attempted to point out that this was a dishwashing sink, and not intended as a food-handling sink, he stated, "I don't care. I've made my decision and will not change my mind."

Why, I asked, would these two jobs be judged differently? No dice and he hung up while I was in mid-sentence. Naturally, I turned to my IPC Commentary Edition where each code passage contains an explanation that's designed to provide clear guidelines on proper interpretation of what was intended and, in a perfect world, eliminate bad judgment calls.

The non-commentary code book notes in 802.1: Fixtures not required by this section to be indirectly connected shall be directly connected to the plumbing system in accordance with Chapter 7.

So, that's not exactly crystal-clear, but the Commentary Edition is quite specific about this issue. It starts in the Abstract (opening paragraphs in Chapter 8: Indirect/Special Waste) with: Excluded from this requirement are dishwashing machines and dishwashing sinks.

If that's not easily grasped or understood by the reader, 802.1.1 (the passage cited by the PI in flunking our job) states not just once, but three separate times the following:

  • This requirement shall not apply to dishwashing machines and dishwashing sinks.
  • Excluded are dishwashing sinks and dishwashing machines.
  • Dishwashing sinks and dishwashing machines do not require an indirect waste connection, as they are designed for the use of contaminated water and do not come in contact with food.

But it goes even farther by indicating dishwashing sinks connected to a grease interceptor would cause grease to collect in the waste receptor creating a health hazard. The PI had clearly made a mistake. No one's perfect and everyone makes mistakes. It seemed obvious, to me, that a simple conversation would easily resolve this crystal-clear error. I wasn't about to alter our plumbing given the admonition it would create a health hazard. Across from my desk hangs the American Standard poster The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation. To its left is a picture from 1910 of our founder, Frank Behler, who began his plumbing career in the 1800's – when plumbing was evolving to eliminate water-borne diseases. Ironically, I had previously responded to American Standard’s Facebook page with a picture and comments about the poster while holding the IPC Commentary Edition: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Plumber-Protects-the-Health-of-the-Nation/155296257844004.

If you're a plumber, you don't deliberately install health hazards! My repeated phone calls and voicemail requests to discuss this with the PI went unanswered. Our customer was, understandably, getting anxious because of the rapidly-approaching occupancy inspection. I finally got through on the fourth day, by calling the PI well before normal business hours. He stubbornly refused to discuss the issue and when I told him the IPC Commentary Edition was crystal-clear, he once again hung up!

A few hours later, he met with the building owner's representative who is leasing the site and said to her, "I don't care about any commentary book – that's just someone's opinion and I've made my decision. If they don't alter the plumbing, the bakery will not be allowed to open for business."

Good grief – a rogue PI clearly refusing to admit an error.

Did we alter the plumbing? Was the bakery allowed to open on time? Am I still waiting for the city's code enforcement officer to render a decision about this independent third-party PI ruling? Has my blood pressure returned to normal? Tune in next month and I'll let you know what happened next.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at: [email protected].

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Web site is protected by Copyright 2011. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].

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