I’d like to take a short break from our regular programming to introduce you to the new codebook. This codebook was badly needed by members of the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA) and the hydronics industry in general. The codebook is the Uniform Solar Energy Hydronics Code (USEHC).
As with most codes, the codebook is the byproduct of a need. The need in this case is to achieve uniformity in the application of hydronics, including radiant heating, cooling and hydronic systems that utilize convective energy transfer. This code is necessary because there are so many different ways to provide good comfort that there was a lot of misapplication of these systems, which was causing consumers to question their application. Many were not getting what they were promised in terms of comfort and/or efficiency.
The Internet is full of alleged expert radiant suppliers. Their primary goal is to sell you material in the form of tubing and inexpensive heat sources. Their target is the unwary consumer who had seen or experienced the comfort associated with a properly designed, properly installed hydronic heating or cooling system. This stuff is not rocket science or brain surgery. It’s quite a bit more detailed and complicated than those two noble jobs.
As most readers know, when done right, radiant offers the highest degree of comfort possible, and also brings a high efficiency component to the table. Done incorrectly, time and materials are wasted, and efficiency and comfort are out of the equation. Our goal is to change all of that, and provide the end users with what has been promised – extremely efficient comfort.
Starting in 2004, the Radiant Panel Association offered a book titled The RPA Installation Guidelines that, while similar to a codebook, was more of a suggestion than a mandatory code language book. It was full of terms like “should” as opposed to the typical mandatory enforcement terms like “shall.” As the name implies, it was a basic guideline and not anything that was truly enforceable from the AHJ’s perspective. It was very useful in helping contractors and AHJs gain an understanding about these systems, but again, it was unenforceable. Provisions similar to most of these guidelines have been incorporated into the new USEHC.
The USEHC was developed under IAPMO’s American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited open-consensus standards development program. The process of incorporating hydronic provisions required numerous face-to-face meetings and many volunteer man-hours to bring proposals to the point where they could be voted upon by the technical committee charged with the development of the code. All affected stakeholders and interested parties are allowed to comment in either direction, positively or negatively, during the code development process.
The represented groups that are typically embraced include manufacturers, designers (engineers), installers (contractors), maintainers, AHJs and the end users. The RPA brought together a number of volunteers for a working group that represented the stakeholders, and the group produced many suggestions that were rooted in the original RPA guidelines document. The group took additional steps to ensure that the code proposals were as comprehensive – and fair – as possible. The goal was language that could provide consistency in application and enforcement by the AHJ, and an increased level of awareness and acceptance by the end users and consumers.
What does this mean for experienced, properly trained contractors? For contractors who have been performing hydronic installations using competent manufacturers’ training and application programs, it will not mean any changes. These folks know what they are doing, and have a long list of satisfied customers to prove it. If anything, we hope to make their jobs easier by educating the industry as well as enforcement officials. The goal is for all systems to perform as expected when it comes to comfort, efficiency and safety.
The goal is for all systems to perform as expected when it comes to comfort, efficiency and safety.
A code is only as good as the enforcement, and the RPA has already begun providing education for AHJs about all of the nuances of these myriad systems, giving them a good feeling of comfort and eliminating the intimidation that many of these systems can create for the inspectors. Having a knowledgeable inspector who can recognize the difference between a good job and a bad job is to the skilled contractors’ advantage. It is also to the end users’ advantage, because the inspector is watching out for the end users’ interests in making certain that the installation is being performed to the code minimum standard.
Does this mean the AHJ will be telling competent contractors how they should or should not be installing these systems? No. The code is prescriptive. This means, for example, that the code can dictate things such as maximum allowable floor surface temperatures, but it doesn’t go into detail about how to achieve these goals. If you like your staple up, you can keep your staple up, provided that you can prove through the math that it is an acceptable method of safely delivering comfort and efficiency.
The RPA’s job has been and will continue to be to train contractors about the many methods of application, and their respective limitations. We will continue our educational programs and, in fact, increase our offerings to incorporate AHJs into the process to bring them up to speed on the many different methods of acceptable application. We also will develop classes for the contractors to explain all of the reasons for different sections of the applicable code, which will assist our contractor members and make their jobs easier.
How soon will the new code be available? The USEHC is available for adoption now.
Rest assured that we will continue to educate and advocate for the USEHC to be the adopted standard for the hydronics industry.
The new codebook is available for purchase in digital form and hard copy at http://goo.gl/Q0s161. The digital form may be downloaded immediately; shipment of the hard copy is anticipated within the month. Also, a read-only digital version is available anytime on our website: http://epubs.iapmo.org/USEHC/.
Building code is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. No sooner do you get to the end of the bridge then it is time to go back to the beginning to start over again. Work on the 2018 Uniform codes is about to get under way. I would encourage interested parties to get involved in the process, and voice your opinion as it pertains to these important issues.
In general, and in my professional opinion, which is based on my 40 years of experience in the field, this is a step in the right direction for our industry. It raises the bar, which many of our members can already easily clear; creates an air of understanding between the AHJ and the contractors, thereby reducing confusion and misunderstandings; and it provides a level of assurance to end users that their investment in comfort and efficiency is being considered and protected.
The code is a good thing, and we welcome your participation in its application throughout our industry. Get involved and learn it, live it, and apply it for a better future for our industry.
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