Shock waves were sent throughout the code industry when Henry Green, immediate past president of the International Codes Council (ICC), issued a statement indicating that the preliminary deal struck between ICC and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to have a single plumbing code and mechanical code by 2009 was dead. ICC withdrew their support after their membership bombarded the board of directors with comments regarding the deal.
Russ Chaney, executive director of IAPMO, issued a statement in response, indicating that he was shocked that ICC was not going forward with the deal. The two organizations have been working diligently for the past year to come to an agreement on a joint set of codes.
Within hours of the two announcements, I received numerous phone calls and e-mails. Everyone was asking the same question, “Were you shocked?”
The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
I, like many, thought this was a done deal. It wasn't perfect, but it appeared that both groups wanted to give it a try. Having watched the “National Town Hall Meeting” in Denver, I thought that the board of directors of both groups stood firmly behind the preliminary agreement. So what went wrong?
The biggest mistake that both ICC and IAPMO made was deciding to use the current codes as base documents to get started. They selected the Uniform Plumbing Code for plumbing and the International Mechanical Code for mechanical. This enraged the plumbing inspectors, as well as plumbing industry members of the ICC.
While the two mechanical codes are very similar, the plumbing codes are not. The 2006 editions of both plumbing codes are more similar than the 2003 editions. However, there are still some major stumbling blocks that separate the codes. Included are DWV sizing, water pipe sizing, venting methods, air admittance valves and non-water-supplied urinals. The two codes are also worded differently. While the requirements may be the same, the code text is completely different.
For the past 10 years, plumbing inspector groups within ICC have been submitting numerous changes to the IPC to clarify the code language. These code changes are typically considered nickel and dime changes since they merely wordsmith the document. However, the various groups have spent countless hours reviewing and clarifying code text. They viewed all of this work as being for naught. With a change to the UPC as the base document, all of the corrected text would require resubmission and reapproval.
It should be noted that all of the wordsmithing has produced a well-written code. Most code sections are very clear on what is required by the code.
Although the major concern was the selection of the UPC as the base document for the plumbing code, those opposed to this part of the agreement started to raise the red flag regarding every other aspect of the preliminary deal. Most of these concerns were window dressing to camouflage the true objection in the selection of the UPC.
ASPE to the rescueThe American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) board of directors reviewed the preliminary agreement and vocal objections at their July board meeting. ASPE has been a major proponent of having a single plumbing code. They sponsored a “One Code Summit” and issued a policy statement supporting a single code.
ASPE realized that the selection of the UPC and IMC as the base documents for the plumbing and mechanical code, respectively, would create consequences with both organizations' membership. ASPE supports the creation of a new base document that is the best of both codes.
ASPE President Joe Scott sent a letter to the presidents of both ICC and IAPMO offering the services of ASPE to develop a single base plumbing code document. ASPE volunteered their top plumbing engineers to develop this document.
Using the services of ASPE would free both the ICC and IAPMO from the prejudicial infighting that could delay the development of a base document. ASPE reviews documents based on engineering concepts, not political bias. Hence, the base document that they would prepare would result in being the best of both plumbing codes.
It would behoove both ICC and IAPMO to at least accept part of the offer from ASPE, if not the entire offer. An independent third-party observer can often get discussions off dead center and moving in the right direction.
Discussions not deadAlthough the deal is dead, discussions between ICC and IAPMO are not. For the month of September, both groups needed a breather while they elected new boards of directors and had their annual conferences.
With new boards in place, and a new CEO for ICC, it is time for the two groups to resume discussions on combining plumbing and mechanical codes. They have found out what doesn't work; now they have to determine what works.
IAPMO entered the discussions with certain non-negotiable points. Those non-negotiable points should not hinder further discussions.
I would recommend to both ICC and IAPMO that they begin developing a base document for the plumbing and mechanical code. Begin the real work of combining the codes and see where you come out.
What would be even better would be to let ASPE develop a combined plumbing code. I am sure other groups would jump forward to assist in doing the same for the mechanical code.
Once there is a base document, ICC and IAPMO should go back to the original agreement and see what needs to be tweaked. If they select the ANSI process for developing the plumbing code, give it a shot. Neither the ANSI process nor the ICC governmental process is perfect. But until the ICC plumbing community tries it, they won't know how the ANSI process works.
Contrary to popular belief, the membership still has a strong say in the final code changes. ANSI committees, including the IAPMO plumbing technical committee, are not prone to ignore the technical comments from the masses.
If they select the governmental consensus process, that is also fine. Both groups have their roots in this process.
The important thing is to start moving forward. It is time to resume discussions.