Ballanco: The good and bad of the 2018 ICC Plumbing Code
The ICC has issued the 2018 edition of its series of codes. Once again, the organization offers a great deal on the complete set of codes. If you’re a member you can buy the complete set for $750. The nonmember price is $1,000.
Another benefit to members is they receive a complimentary electronic copy of all the codes. This year, ICC also provides a complimentary copy of the electronic redline version of all the codes. The redline version shows all the changes to the code in a different color, underlined.
With every new edition comes an attempt to make the code look different and hopefully better. Two of the changes that do not fall into the good category are the introduction to each chapter and the listing of the standards.
Each chapter of each code starts off with commentary text explaining what is in that section. For example, Chapter 9 of the code is about vents and reads, “About this chapter: Chapter 9 regulates connection locations, various venting system arrangements and the sizing of piping for vent systems. The proper operation of a gravity flow drainage system (Chapter 7) depends on maintaining an air path throughout the system to prevent waste and odor ‘blow back’ into fixtures and siphoning of the trap seal in fixture traps (Chapter 10).”
Not only is this an oversimplification of the venting requirements, it also is wrong. A gravity-drainage system does not depend on maintaining an air path throughout the system. The ICC would have been better off with a simplified statement that said, “The venting system is designed to protect the trap seal.” After all, isn’t that all the system is doing?
Think about a storm-drainage system. It works fine, but there are no vents. There also are no traps. The storm-drainage system doesn’t need an air path throughout the system.
The irony of these commentary statements is that the code-change process specifically forbids the introduction of any commentary text to the code. If your proposed code change appears to have commentary text in the requirement, the code change is doomed. Yet, ICC adds this forbidden commentary text to the start of each chapter.
The other terrible change is the listing of the standards in the last chapter of each code. The standards chapter used to be one of the highlights of the organization. Everyone praised ICC for displaying standards in such an orderly fashion. The group first listed the standard-writing organization with its address. Under each organization were three columns. The first had the standard number, the second had the title of the standard and the third listed the code sections where the standard is referenced.
The new format must have been put together by some creative designer that thought they should make it appear nice. Well, it doesn’t. It becomes less useful. The acronym of the organization appears on the left, the address appears on the right. Why isn’t the address right under the acronym like it always has been in the past? Then the standard number, title and section reference are in a continuous running format. There are no columns and therefore it is more difficult to use and find what you are looking for in the code.
So, ICC took something that was great and made it a mess. It needs to stop doing that. I would strongly urge them to go back to the old style of listing standards. At the same time, get rid of the commentary text at the start of each chapter.
Some of the technical changes impacting the engineering community may not be immediately obvious. However, these changes are just as important. For expansion tanks, there is a new provision that prevents the pipe from being the support for the expansion tank. This will impact all the smaller expansion tanks often used with the installation of a water heater. The tanks can no longer be supported by the piping, even if it is hard-piped copper tube. There is a copout statement — if the manufacturer allows the tank to be supported by the copper tube — it can be.
Another wrinkle is whenever a single-occupant bathroom is installed in a commercial building, it must be identified for use by either sex. In the past, when two single-occupant bathrooms are provided, one used to be marked male, while the other was marked female. Now, they must be identified as being available to both sexes. A urinal still is permitted to be installed in a single-occupant bathroom. However, that does not make it a men’s room. It still must be identified as being available to both sexes.
While there has been a significant number of changes to Chapter 4 on fixtures, very few technical changes occurred. Most of the changes were reorganization and clarification. The one new item that will assist engineers is the allowance of pumped-waste fixtures. A fixture can be located anywhere and the waste pumped to a gravity drain line. This also avoids the need for a vent for the fixture. This will make it easier to add fixtures to existing buildings.
Under the backflow-protection section, miniaturized double-check valves now will be permitted to be used for backflow protection for humidifiers, coffeemakers and non-carbonated drink dispensers. This is a significant change compared to the previous requirements.
Additionally, all the health-care plumbing requirements were removed in the drainage chapter. They were considered antiquated and no longer appropriate.
Another significant change is the prohibition of a food-waste disposer discharging to a grease interceptor. In food-handling establishments, the discharge from a food-waste disposer must be piped to downstream of any grease interceptor.
The ICC has provided a PDF document listing the significant changes to the Plumbing, Mechanical, and Fuel Gas Code. The document can be downloaded at https://tinyurl.com/y8cgoo3g.
It should be noted that this month also is the start of the next cycle of the ICC Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Code. Code changes were required to be submitted at the beginning of January. The next hearing for considering changes to be included in the 2021 codes will be held starting April 14 in Columbus, Ohio.