Can a shower valve become a future problem?

Sept. 4, 2014
The group debated mechanical retraction devices for swimming pool covers weighing over 40 pounds.  They discussed pipe insulation requirements. They discussed which standard should govern drain water heat recovery devices. They discussed what the opportunities would be to recover waste heat from steam boiler blowdown.   

ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA — What’s behind the wall and can it get you in trouble? If it’s an old shower valve, it might. That was one of the many issues debated by members of the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee meeting here in August.

Showerheads and shower valves are not installed together. Typically the shower valve is put in when the house is built and may only be changed once or twice during remodeling. The showerhead, however, is a decorative plumbing item that may be changed every couple of years. Water utilities, especially in drought-prone regions, love to give away water-saving showerheads, some spraying as little as 1.5-GPM. Product standards dictate that, in the box, the shower valve and the showerhead must match, but that doesn’t account for future changes.

It was with that in mind that Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, proposed that all shower valves be tested to ASSE 1016 anti-scald levels down to 1.5-GPM. That sparked debate on whether the GTC was the appropriate venue and what is the proper purpose of a “reach” code like the Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement.

There are hundreds of showerheads on the market that produce 1.5-GPM, Osann said, and, while the federal standard for scald protection in valves is 2.0-GPM, testing has found valves that fail to guard against scalding even at 2.5-GPM.

Such a requirement should not be in the GPMS or even in the Uniform Plumbing Code, said Matt Sigler, the technical director of Plumbing Manufacturers International. The proper place is in a product standard, he said. The Green Supplement is an installation code and manufacturers wouldn’t even be aware of the requirement.

Dave Mann, a United Association member representing the California Pipe Trades Council, said unequivocally that the proposal doesn’t belong in the code. The influential Mann noted that there are plenty of provisions that he’s voted for in the Green Supplement that he would squelch in the Uniform Plumbing Code.

Consultant Tom Pape, who was there representing the Alliance for Water Efficiency, pointed out that the Green Supplement contains many provisions which go beyond standards and code. He also noted that the people who say such issues should be addressed in product standards often fiercely resist any change in the product standards.

Perhaps feeling that his issue was getting hijacked, Osann made the point that the committee should provide backup for WaterSense. The California Energy Commission has found 700 showerheads on the market that flow less than 2.5-GPM, Osann asserted, and 500 of them flow between 1.5 and 1.99-GPM. This is an installation issue, he said, because the valve and the showerhead are often installed separately.

“We’re looking at the future of the dwelling in case a lower flow showerhead is installed down the road,” said California engineer John Koeller.

Koeller though it should be easy for a plumbing inspector to see the ASSE 1016 rating for a valve because it’s on the box. Mann countered that he worked on jobs where the contractor prefabbed hundreds of assemblies for a multi-family project and there no boxes to be seen.

While Osann was bringing up an important point about scald protection, the committee defeated his proposal, saying it belongs in the product standard, not in a green code.

Osann’s next proposal called for a permanent manufacturer’s mark on the valve showing its flow rate that would be visible after the valve is installed. Sigler again countered that this should be addressed in the product standard and, secondly, manufacturers use the same trim and escutcheons on different valves, which may have different flow rates. Koeller suggested that the marking could be a temporary tag, much like the ones consumers see on hair dryers. Indianapolis engineer E.W. “Bob” Boulware objected to the notion of the warning label being temporary.

IAPMO’s COO Dave Viola reminded the committee that the Green Supplement covers lots of things that are not covered in standards or codes. The GPMS is a proving ground — half the provisions may end up in the UPC or UMC and half will go away. There are a great many things in the green realm that have no matching standard. The committee should concern itself, Viola said, with feasibility and public health and safety.

The committee voted in favor of temporary labels, as a starting point.

And so it went for a committee that tackled the low-hanging fruit a long time ago. The group debated mechanical retraction devices for swimming pool covers weighing over 40 pounds. It was defeated as being overly specific. They discussed pipe insulation requirements, pointing out that the language in the GPMS differs from the language in ASHRAE Standard 90.1, which again is different from the language in ASHRAE Standard 90.2. The committee voted to accept whatever comes out of ASHRAE. They discussed which standard should govern drain water heat recovery devices and what the opportunities would be to recover waste heat from steam boiler blowdown. They covered commercial combination ovens that use water and food steamers and ice cream parlor dipper wells.

As long as we use water and energy — in other words, forever — the codes will evolve and the Green Technical Committee will be working on that evolution.

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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