A show of power, an embarrassment, a joke, well-executed hearings are all terms used by various individuals to describe the IAPMO final action code hearings Sept. 24-28 in Anchorage, Alaska. The membership is given one final opportunity at the IAPMO Annual Conference to support or oppose the Technical Committee’s recommendations for the code changes to the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and the Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC).

It is a well-known fact that the United Association (UA), or plumbers’ union, controls the power at the annual meeting. There is nothing hidden. The UA supporters have the majority of the vote and they tend to vote as a single unit.

Anyone actively involved in the code change profession knows that prior to the code hearings you request the support of the UA. Once requested, you know that the code change will be discussed at the meeting held by UA members prior to the hearings. On the day of the code hearings, it is always impressive to watch the breakfast room clear out as the UA members go to their pre-hearing meeting.

Sometimes you get the UA’s support, other times you do not. Sometimes the support comes in the form of the UA not rising to object to an action taken by the technical committees. That is a way of expressing its support without having to publicly state anything. I always appreciate this level of support.

To its credit, the UA raised only one issue on plumbing at the hearings. The issue is one near and dear to many of my California union colleagues — the minimum size of the shower drain. ASPE proposed reducing the shower drain to a 1 1/2-in. minimum. The California contingency likes a minimum size of 2 in.


Raising concerns

During the Technical Committee meeting, Plumbing Manufacturers International proposed a compromise to the shower drain issue. The change would allow a 1 1/2-in. shower drain when a bathtub is removed and replaced with a shower. During the vote of the committee and the follow-up letter ballot, the compromise was overwhelmingly approved. However, many of us knew it would not see the light of day. It was too hot of an issue for the UA to sit idle.

During the plumbing hearing, there was a long line of UA members and plumbing inspectors that rose to speak against the compromise. They demanded that the entire code change be rejected, with the shower drain size remaining 2 in. As expected, the vote was overwhelmingly approved and membership rejected the change.

The Mechanical Code hearing saw more issues raised for discussion. The first was on the issue of flexible duct. A change submitted by labor on the sheet metal side would restrict the use of flexible duct in a dwelling unit to 5 ft. Why 5 ft.? No one knows.

As an engineer listening to the debate, I will admit the labor side supporting the limitation of 5 ft. sounded ridiculous. There was no valid reason provided for the code change other than we don’t like flexible duct.

The supporters of flexible duct delivered a well-orchestrated presentation on why the limitation of 5 ft. for flexible duct was a foolish code change. Of course, neither testimony really mattered. The decision had been made earlier. The final vote appeared to be around 175 for the change and 60 opposed. Hence, the membership is recommending that the UMC limit the use of flexible duct to 5 ft. in any dwelling unit or commercial building.

I was involved in the next three issues relating to A2L refrigerants. Having chaired the IAPMO A2L Task Group, I was responsible, under the procedures, for making the motion to approve the three public comments to a single change. Again, the testimony supporting the change was excellent. However, I had been tipped off before the meeting by a UA colleague that I did not receive the support I had requested for the public comments. As such, I knew that testimony, as good as it was, would not sway the audience.

Only one UA colleague spoke in opposition to the change, stating the membership should not support the proposals until ASHRAE completes the approval of its similar changes to ASHRAE 15. In his defense, ASHRAE has been slow to approve the changes to ASHRAE 15 regarding the use of A2L refrigerants for human comfort. However, ASHRAE also has been slow to approve the changes to the A2L machinery room requirements. Yet, the Mechanical Technical Committee approved the code changes on A2L refrigerants regarding machinery rooms.

While the public comments received more positive votes than the opposition to the flexible duct limitation, the public comments were still not approved.

There were two other minor issues raised regarding plastic ducts. When observing the vote, it appeared neither item received a single vote from the membership. Both issues deserved to be rejected.


Appeals process

The next step in the IAPMO process is the letter ballot of the technical committees. This is followed by the appeal process. It appears that five issues are headed to the appeal process: the shower drain, flexible duct and three A2L refrigerant comments.

I viewed the hearing as missed opportunities for the IAPMO membership. The shower drain issue has been widely discussed. In my opinion, the compromise could have easily been approved. Such a change in the code would show a willingness to allow an easy transition to a shower from a bathtub for the aging population. As one plumbing official told me, “We all accept the request under the alternative approval section, so it’s not a big deal.” There is a lot of truth to that fact.

With the flexible duct limitation and A2L refrigerant for human comfort, the membership made the code less desirable for the adoption when compared to the International Mechanical Code (IMC). Had both issues had opposite results, the UMC would have been more advanced than the IMC when it came to regulating new and innovative mechanical systems. Rather than being able to knock off a few states or jurisdictions with the 2018 edition of the UMC, it may lose jurisdictions.

Of course, the Standards Council could still save part of the UMC during the appeal process. I, for one, hate to see the UMC lose credibility because of two issues. The arbitrary limitation of flexible duct should not be added to the UMC. Also, the UMC could brag about the strides it has made compared to the IMC if the A2L refrigerant comments are accepted.

The IAPMO Standards Council will meet in November to make the final decisions regarding any appeals.