Here is a collection of Letters to the Editor collected throughout 2002 that never made it to print in PME, due only to space constraints.

More Memories of Levittown

I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Holohan's article "The Treasure That is Levittown" in the February 2002 issue, and felt compelled to write.

I was one of the many children of returning GIs who purchased their homes in Levittown on the GI Bill. In this case, it was actually my mother, who was in the women's Army Corps, who purchased our first home on Fisher Lane. I, too, have many fond memories of growing up and playing on those very warm asphalt tiles. And I remember to this day when a puddle of water would be discovered somewhere on the ground floor. Since we didn't own a pet, the children were the first ones accused! And if that wasn't bad enough, the liquid, to my remembrance, did have a yellow tinge to it. Possibly an anti-corrosion additive?

Once we were cleared of any responsibility, the panicked call to Meenan Oil took place.

There was nothing like the sound of jackhammers reverberating through those tiny rooms (always in the dead of winter) as the Meenan Man searched for the buried, leaking pipes.

It was explained to me many years later that the reason that the copper tubes leaked was due to the uncoated staples used to strap the pipe to the wood studs Dan spoke of. Galvanic action took its course in short time.

Thanks again, Dan, for the trip back in time.

Marc R. Mann
San Diego, CA

Shenanigans and Turf Wars Amongst the Model Code Bodies

Each month I read Julius Ballanco's PME column both with interest and a certain measure of chagrin as he describes the political shenanigans and turf wars amongst the various model code bodies (June 2002). I checked briefly into the development of the first plumbing code as we recognize it today. Both Dr. Roy B. Hunter and Herbert C. Hoover are credited with contributing to the National Bureau of Standards publication BMS 66 in the 1940s to provide a methodology for sizing of water and drainage piping. Both Hunter and Hoover were engineers.

Obviously plumbing codes were and are instruments to standardize plumbing installation to protect the public health, welfare and safety. However, I am not aware of any state or federal statute that affords model plumbing code bodies the authority to evaluate and/or authorize technical code changes. By making technical changes to a code, these people are entering into the area of engineering judgement and are therefore required to have an engineering license in order to comply with state laws protecting the public from unregulated engineering practice.

If you take IAPMO as an example, a quick look at the Board of Directors' credentials reveals that there is only one registered professional engineer among them. The majority are practicing plumbing inspectors or in similar practice. An inspector's duty is to enforce a code as written. No wonder they will not entertain innovative changes in technology! They are not qualified either by education or by law to understand or act on them.

In my opinion, it is unlawful for these bodies or committees to make technical changes to the model plumbing codes if the codes are subsequently adopted by a state. Not only can they not approve a technical change, but they are also acting in an unregulated and unlicensed capacity when rejecting proposed code changes. In other words, these bodies are ineffectual.

Engineers in the plumbing profession must take back the reigns of responsibility for the technical content of model codes. Only then can the public be assured that plumbing installations and products used are based on sound and objective engineering judgement and in their best interest.

John M. Rattenbury, PE, CSI
Rattenbury Engineering LLC
Hull, MA
jrattenbury@attbi.com

Don't Be Afraid of Change

I just finished reading Julius Ballanco's column in the June 2002 issue of PM Engineer magazine. Shades of what I listened to last November 2001 in St. Louis when I did the "Seminar/Workshop on the Philadelphia Single Stack System." Thinking back over the last 49 years, and being 69 years of age, I have lost track of how many times I have heard "that someday there will be one plumbing code for the entire country."

Since I have had the opportunity to sit, speak and listen to the ASPE board and its narrow-minded opinion of the Philadelphia Single Stack System (no offense), I can just imagine what the attitude of the IAPMO/UA was during the discussions, or shall I say, debates.

It is amazing what a bit of insecurity does to people. They are afraid that their power base is to be destroyed. When I listened to others' fears and indifference to moving ahead on improvements, and then read Julius' article, I would normally think that these opponents to merging ideas that may bring about changes that may benefit everyone have their heads in the sand. Or, unfortunately, in this case, their heads in the toilet.

We who have a thirst for knowledge can understand that change requires the brain to explore, absorb, analyze and evaluate the advantages that change may bring about. It is a good thing that those who brought us this far were not afraid of change.

However, we must remember and be sympathetic to those people who refuse change, for we know that the only person who accepts change immediately is a baby when you change it's diaper."

Joseph M. Smaul, P.E. NSPE
joseph.smaul@verizon.net

Offering One More Chance

Here's an interesting story. We have a distributor in Chicago that has started a mechanical construction company utilizing inner city people who have reached the point of becoming wards of the city and state. However, these are people that have skills to offer to a company that is willing to give them one more chance to make a good and productive life for themselves. His company has just completed an installation of two of our units at the Canal Barge Terminal in Channahon, IL. Although I was doubtful of their capacity to perform in the beginning, I must say that the workmanship on the job was a real treat to witness first hand. I did get to meet some of the employees on the job, and I was totally impressed with their dedication to doing a good job, and doing it in a timely manner. I really believe that this gentleman, Bill Harrington, deserves some credit for what he is trying to accomplish with these people. All too often in this day and age, we as manufactures, and also as consumers, tend to be rather critical of the contracting business in general. It is kind of nice to see that someone out there is not only doing a really good job, but is also doing something for their fellow man besides taking advantage of him.

John West
Callabresi Combustion Systems Inc.
jwestccs@sbcglobal.net

Multi-Purpose Sprinkler Piping

This letter references Julius Ballanco's article, "Multi-Purpose Piping in Townhouses," in the May 2002 issue. I am glad to see attention directed to this approach, which is commonly ignored or misunderstood by contractors and not often put into designs by engineers. In the area where I practice, at least two jurisdictions (District of Columbia and Prince George's County, Maryland) are now requiring sprinklers for all dwellings, including single family detached, regardless of height. The multi-purpose piping system seems to be an obvious choice.

I feel that Mr. Ballanco's article is a bit misleading, as it seems to imply that only plastic piping may be used for the multi-purpose piping system. The more traditional and still widely used copper water piping may also be used. Copper is still preferred by many builders, homeowners and contractors.

We have recently designed a group of townhouse that have four stories. They are required to be sprinkled by the applicable local code. Each of the townhouses has three "wet stack" areas. Our approach was to oversize the cold water riser for each of these stacks so that it would also serve as the sprinkler riser for its area. This minimizes the lengths of horizontal sprinkler pipe that would be needed if only a single riser was oversized.

A common problem I encounter in these systems is the comment from the contractor that a separate sprinkler shut-off valve is needed. I have great difficulty convincing them that installing such a valve is not only not required, but is clearly wrong, as it defeats the supervision of the sprinkler water supply that is provided by the common connection to the domestic supply. In a system we designed about 10 years ago, even the local authority insisted on such a valve, and then they had to install the required tamper switches and alarm system.

An additional concern for all NFPA 13D systems is the water meter. Many jurisdictions commonly provide 5/8" or 3/4" water meters for single family dwellings. Such small meters present two problems for sprinklers. First, the meter pressure drop can cause insufficient sprinkler pressure and flow if street pressure is marginal. Second, the sprinkler flow can exceed the maximum rating of the meter, potentially leading to meter failure, in which case the meter internal parts can jam the line and reduce flow. I have found little information on this in the literature.

The problem with oversizing the meter is that some jurisdictions charge "tap fees" for meters based on the meter size rather than usage fixture units or numbers of fixtures or bedrooms. In my area, the "tap fee" for a one-inch meter can be $6000 to $9000. This is obviously a disincentive to sprinkler installation. I understand that some jurisdictions will install oversized meters but still charge the smaller fees applicable to normal domestic water meters. In the area where I practice, water meter fees are established by the public or private water authority or company, and not by the code authority having jurisdiction.

I believe that the technical and cost issues relative to water meters on sprinkled NFPA 13D construction need further attention by the industry and regulators.

Robert M. Cohen, P.E.
Solar Energy Design, Inc.
Mechanical and Electrical Engineers
www.sed-inc.com

No One Down Here But Us Rats

To Dan Holohan: Just a note to tell you that, as always, I just finished reading your column in the June 2002 PME magazine. Fascinating as usual, and I couldn't agree more about getting youngsters interested in our industry!

Only one fly in the otherwise great ointment. The guy who probed the Chicago River wasn't some poor schmuck laboring in a dark, dank basement that punched a hole through a wall. It was some poor schmuck that drove a piling into the river bed up north of the Merchandise Mart and penetrated the ceiling of a long forgotten tunnel that crossed under the Chicago River at that (and several other) points. That tunnel system connects most of the great older buildings in the Loop (downtown) area, and was used to ferry coal to the buildings and merchandise between and to and from them in the old days. In recent years, some sections were used as a convenient place to run power and data/communications cabling, which exacerbated the problems, as you now had dozens of sub-basements and dozens of blocks of tunnel system full of water interlaced with 1380V main feeder cables! Not a pretty picture. Fortunately, no one ended up as a crispy critter, but many of those buildings ended up without power and two or three basement levels full of water laced with a hundred years of dead rats! Thus, the Great Flood of Chicago.

Clete Davis

Communication Breakdown

I got a chuckle from Dan Holohan's article, "Somewhere In America" (PM Engineer, May 2002). The basic problems as I see them are:

    1. Too much design work being performed by EITs instead of PEs.
    2. The owners don't know mechanical systems. That's why they hire engineers and contractors. This is not necessarily a problem until we consider the next item.
    3. The owners don't know what they want. The users generally know what they want, but the owners don't like to talk to the users. That would be too expensive.
    4. The designers don't have enough money in their proposals to do a complete job of designing. Usually, the owners beat down the design fees.
    5. As a result, there is too much delegation of design responsibility to the contractors.
    6. CAD makes it too easy for the designers to simply cut and paste previous designs into a new project, regardless if the previous designs are correct or appropriate.

I'm sure that other contractors can add to this list!

Mike Desmond
Western Mechanical, Inc.
Fairbanks, AK