Despite one company’s claims, all manufacturers of trap and rise tube protective covers meet the requirements of all the major building codes.

A little more than a year ago, I received a phone call from my good friend Mike McRoberts, the president of McGuire Mfg. Over the years, Mike has retained me to assist on some issues related to their products. 

Mike said he had a simple question that he was somewhat embarrassed to ask me because he thought the question was silly. He asked if protective covers for traps and riser tubes used on handicapped fixtures had to have a flame spread and smoke developed rating. I quickly responded, “Of course not!” making Mike really feel like it was a silly question.

Having been friends for many years, I started to probe. “Why are you asking? You knew how I would respond.” I knew something was up.

Arbitrary Requirements Not Allowed

As it turns out, a manufacturer of covers for traps and water riser tubes was promoting the premise that they were the only ones that met the code and referenced the International Building Code requirements for pipe insulation. The Code requires a flame spread of 25 or less and a smoke developed rating of 450 or less.

The problem with this mentality is that the protective covers are not insulation, they are protective covers. As I explained to Mike, it may appear strange but the Building Code is based on common sense. We don’t add arbitrary requirements to make the Code look ridiculous. True, sometimes ridiculous provisions make their way into the Code, but not very often.

The question I posed was, “Why would a protective cover have to have a higher flame spread and smoke developed rating than the product it is protecting?” The trap could be made of polypropylene and the riser tubes made of any number of plastic products, but it would make no sense.

To further add to the level of stupidity, the vanity cabinet could be made out of wood, as could the trim, walls, etc. You get the idea. It is inane to think that protective covers need a flame spread and smoke developed rating.

The craziness of this company’s claim did not disappear, as I had anticipated. A few months later, Mike called again and said that he needed to hire me to write an engineering report that stated what I’d already told him. I let Mike know that he shouldn’t waste his money. But he insisted that this would be the only way to help put the issue to rest. Again, after writing the report, I thought this would be the end of it.

Over and over, this idea of needing a flame spread and smoke developed rating kept rearing its ugly head. It was like I was being berated with stupidity. When you work in the codes and standards business, blatant stupidity starts to get to you.

I continued to put forth the common sense approach that there is no requirement for a flame spread or smoke developed rating. In responding to the issue, I constantly identified the product as being a protective cover, not pipe insulation. Foolishly, I thought most people in this profession understood the difference.

When I was asked if I would write an article on the subject matter, I always said no. It is such a silly issue, it doesn’t deserve to be in a column updating the industry on code and standard matters. So “Why now?” you may be asking.

Well, the issue was then presented to the IAPMO Plumbing Technical Committee (on which I serve, representing ASPE). I voted against the proposal and informed the Committee that I had offered a similar opinion to McGuire Mfg. While revealing that I had prepared a report for a manufacturer, my fellow Committee members realized that the report did not influence my professional opinion.

A few weeks later, a similar proposal appeared before the ICC ES Committee. I responded in kind, indicating that the IAPMO vote received the most negative votes of any Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) since I have been a member of the Committee. (That has since changed, with another TIA receiving even a lower vote total.)

Above Silly Partisan Politics

Aware of the partisan politics of our government, some manufacturers think they can pull the same stunts in the codes and standards arena. So, the manufacturer that I offended filed a complaint against me for an ethics violation. If you can’t win on the technical merits, shoot the messenger that opposed you. This is slash-and-burn politics at its best.

When I received the complaint, it at first made me laugh…but then I got really mad that someone would accuse me of ethical violations. It didn’t take me long to figure out who really wrote the complaint.

Having to respond to this complaint, I wrote a lengthy letter defending my honor and the honor of those who work ethically and diligently in the codes profession. (Yes, I will admit that not all of those involved are ethical, but the vast majority are.)

One of my comments in the response was, “Mr. (name withheld) states that he doesn’t agree with my opinion. He doesn’t have to. He is entitled to his own opinion, even if I consider it misguided. He can say the same regarding my opinion, if he so chooses. Rather than discussing opinion, Mr. (name withheld) launches a personal attack on my character and my ethics. It is unfortunate that, when someone’s opinion is not accepted, they resort to personal attacks rather than a re-evaluation of their opinion.”

The irony in the whole situation is that a person not involved in the code profession brings forth an inane requirement - and then screams “ethics violation” when he is ignored. Who really has an ethics problem? The people voicing their opinion on technical matters or those with a hidden agenda, like this person who wants to monopolize the market for his product, although he never stated that.

The bottom line on this silliness? All of the manufacturers of trap and riser tube protective covers conform to the requirements in the International Building Code, the International Plumbing Code, the Uniform Plumbing Code, the National Standard Plumbing Code, and the Accessible Building standard. If anyone tells you otherwise, just tell them they are silly.