It’s time for an overhaul of the code-change process
For the last two months all the talk at meetings and conferences has been the 2021 codes. Although 2021 seems far off in the future, it is the next time anyone will be able to change the requirements in the model plumbing and mechanical codes.
In the midst of all this discussion, it was somewhat shocking IAPMO announced it is changing its deadline for submitting code changes to the 2021 Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code. The new deadline is March 16, 2018. That is six months away.
Previously, IAPMO had listed Jan. 2019 as the deadline for submitting code changes. By moving the deadline up by nine months, IAPMO also revised its entire schedule for hearings. In previous years, IAPMO and ICC would be off by one year in code-change development. With the revised schedule, IAPMO and ICC will be holding hearings on the plumbing code and mechanical code during the same year. The difference is IAPMO’s cycle runs two years whereas ICC has a one-year cycle.
That leads us to the deadlines for the 2021 codes. For the International Plumbing Code, International Mechanical Code, and the plumbing and mechanical sections of the International Residential Code, the code-change deadline is Jan. 8, 2018. The deadline for the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code is March 16, 2018.
The cycle beings
This means if you have an idea for a code change after March 16, 2018, you need to hold that thought until the 2024 code. Think about that: We are talking about a change not showing up for seven years from now.
There is something wrong with the long delay in gaining acceptance in the code. When I started in the code profession, there were code-change cycles every year. That was eventually reduced to two cycles every three years. Now we are down to one cycle every three years.
When there was a cycle every year there was a cavalier attitude when it came to accepting new technology or new concepts. Many times during testimony you would hear, “This isn’t proven and needs to come back next year with additional information.” This statement was normally from an individual who was trying to prevent a competitor’s product from entering the market.
While a one-year delay did not seem like much, it still prevented the full acceptance of a new product or concept. Often that would hurt the bottom line of manufacturers, contractors and engineers trying to make a profit.
With the switch to one code-change cycle every three years, you would think the attitude would change regarding new technology and new concepts. However, there still is a cavalier attitude taken by many who will still say, “This is not proven yet, bring it back during the next cycle.” What was a one-year potential delay just became a three-year delay. Now with the new deadlines, we can be looking at a six-year impact on accepting new technology.
Time to move
I was thinking about the introduction of the iPhone as this year marks the 10th anniversary of the smartphone. Can you imagine if the iPhone had to go through the code-change process before we could use it?
Imagine Steve Jobs testifying to a code committee that this new device is the latest and greatest in technology and how it will revolutionize the engineering and construction industry (which it has, by the way).
The competing cellular phone manufacturers would rebut Jobs’ testimony, saying, “This is not proven technology. Perhaps it should come back during the next cycle when there is more information on these iPhones.”
As a result, iPhones would not be accepted during the 2007 code-change cycle for the 2010 codes. When Jobs reintroduces the iPhone during the next cycle, there still is testimony against the technology, but perhaps the iPhone sneaks into the code. The code is published in 2013. However, it is not adopted by jurisdictions until 2015 or 2016. All of a sudden, my iPhone is not brand-new until nine years after it was introduced.
In effect, this is what we are doing in the code business. We’re delaying the use of the next great iPhone by eight years. That is not a good thing.
There are many parts of our code-change process that are broken. It just seems that nobody knows or wants to fix the system. Instead, we see constant tinkering with the code-change process. Perhaps a major overhaul is in order.
Attitudes have to change. Politics have to take a back seat to technology. Today, too many political arguments are used in the code-change process. People have become afraid of their own shadow, worrying whether they are going to be sued for something that gets approved.
Even when advances are made in the code, if a certain group doesn’t like the outcome, they go running to the politicians in various states to argue against the adoption of the new code. Just look at some of the recent statewide legislation regarding the adoption of codes.
The challenge for IAPMO and ICC is in changing the environment for the code-change process. How do IAPMO and ICC get their voting membership to understand advances in technology and new concepts is a positive, not a negative?
Both IAPMO and ICC have been trying. Unfortunately, they have not been succeeding as well as they would like. Both groups’ codes are advancing. The question becomes are they advancing fast enough?
As we enter the start of the 2021 cycles for both organizations, we have to work toward advancing new technology, not hindering it. We have to look at advances in our profession and accept them. After all, it will be 2021, not 1921.
In the meantime, start writing those code changes for the 2021 plumbing or mechanical codes. You only have a few months left before the deadline. Don’t miss the opportunity to participate in the code-change process.
This article was originally titled “Let’s talk 2021” in the September 2017 print edition of PM Engineer.