How one person made a destructive difference at the ICC annual meeting.

As the luck of the draw would have it, the Plumbing, Mechanical, and Fuel Gas Code lost at the recent ICC Annual Meeting. The hearings for these three codes were the last to be held during a week-and-a-half meeting. The plumbing hearings began at 6:35 p.m. on the second to last day. They continued until almost 11 p.m. By the time the hearings started, 90% of the ICC membership had already departed the meeting. What remained was a hard core group that would control the outcome of the plumbing changes that received public comments. Changes that did not receive a public comment are automatically approved in accordance with the recommendation of the Plumbing Code Change Committee.

The hearings started well, with many inappropriate code changes being disapproved. This included proposals to arbitrarily increase the number of fixtures for various occupancies. Other necessary changes were approved with the appropriate modifications that had been submitted.

Consensus Destroyer

About an hour and a half into the hearings, Guy Tomberlin, an inspector from Virginia, decided to highjack the proceedings. Guy is a very brilliant and dedicated member of ICC. However, sometimes he gets myopic and thinks about Virginia and ease of inspections rather than the big picture. Guy decided he was going to control the outcome of the code changes. With such a small voting membership in the audience, it became easy for him to do. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it was done to the detriment of the International Plumbing Code and the engineering community.

Many in the ICC process, including everyone on the Board of Directors, are considered consensus builders. They work with all stakeholders to improve and advance the ICC Codes. During this meeting, Guy could have been classified as a consensus destroyer.

One of the early changes that he opposed was the single stack venting section, submitted by the American Society of Plumbing Engineers. For the third hearing in a row, he testified that the code already had enough venting options - there is no need for another method.

I was ready to jump up and say, “Let’s close off all of the venting chapter to code changes. It already has enough in it, why modify it?”

Of course, any section is open for review, addition, or subtraction. Another absurd statement made was that the system was more expensive. The implication was that engineers only design inexpensive systems. Guy continued to make statements intended to create a rift between inspectors and engineers. He was playing to the inspectors, the only voting members. He implied that the inspectors shouldn’t let the engineers shove these systems down their throats.

With testimony limited to two minutes initially, and one minute in rebuttal, it was virtually impossible to rebuild the close-working relationship between inspectors, engineers, manufacturers, and contractors, as well as respond to the inaccurate reasons for disapproving the code change. Of course, Guy knew that. This is a part of the game that is played at the final action hearings. Some would consider him an obstructionist, others a saint for protecting the interests of inspectors. To the plumbing engineering community, he was definitely an obstructionist.

With such a small crowd, Guy managed to overturn the committee recommendation and have the change disapproved. Once again, ASPE’s request for single stack venting was rejected for no technical reason other than “one inspector doesn’t like it and there are already enough venting options.” Those voting against the change should be ashamed of their vote.

One of the next changes up for consideration was siphonic roof drainage. Two standards were proposed - the ASME standard for the material requirements and ASPE standard for the design requirements. But these standards didn’t meet with Guy’s approval. Incorrect information, which had previously been refuted, was used as part of the justification for opposing the change.

This change should have been a slam dunk. However, the membership overturned the committee recommendation to approve the change. During the motion to disapprove, I could no longer sit idle and watch. I jumped up and testified as the president of ASPE. I stated that the membership is removing an important tool from the code that provides the inspector with teeth for the enforcement of a new engineering design.

A Passionate Plea

Many in attendance told me afterward that I got up and blasted the voting members. I tend to view it as a passionate plea for them to do what is right. After my plea, the vote to disapprove failed. However, this was a hollow victory since the ICC procedures prevent a reconsideration of a vote to approve. The change fell into the proverbial “no decision,” which means it is rejected. This is a part of the ICC procedures that definitely needs fixing. If a mistake is made, correct it right then and there, not three years later in the next edition of the code.

The last of the ASPE changes up for consideration was the rewrite of the storm drainage design section. During the testimony, it appeared that inspectors invented the concept of always having separate piping systems for primary and secondary roof drainage. We also heard that inspectors have had problems with combined primary and secondary roof drainage systems.

When you cannot come up with a technical reason for objecting to a code change, a testifier will normally say, “We have had problems with the system.” However, they are very careful to never tell you what those problems are. Typically, because they don’t exist.

As for separate primary and secondary systems, inspectors had nothing to do with these changes. The concept of separating the primary and secondary storm drainage was championed by the structural engineers to reduce the potential for roof collapse. However, ASPE worked with all stakeholders to develop a design that would provide sizing for both the primary and secondary roof drainage for any combined storm drain. The concept accounts for a hurricane factor where the system may need capacity for both primary and secondary.

It was also pointed out that, prior to 1993, secondary drainage was not required by the code. All secondary drainage systems (many combined with primary) were voluntary systems added by the plumbing engineers.

None of this mattered - the pontificating carried the day. The code change was disapproved.

I could tell that many in attendance were not pleased with the outcome of the hearings. But, the IPC and ICC process will live for another day. Like the Cubs, wait until next year, or in this case the 2012 International Plumbing Code.