Julius Ballanco: Transgender bathrooms will be a central topic at ICC Final Action hearings
My wife and I were watching a television show when one of the stars was asked, “What’s your pronoun?”
The answer was “they, them and their.”
We were laughing because it was the first time we heard such a question on a popular television show. Since that first time others seem to be copying the question.
One of the reasons we laughed is because my wife asked, “Are you straightening that out in the plumbing codes?” She meant “you” in the all-inclusive sense.
This will be the initial topic of discussion at the ICC Final Action Hearing Oct. 24-29 in Richmond, Virginia. Both the 2018 ICC International Plumbing Code and IAPMO Uniform Plumbing Code added requirements to address issues raised regarding transgender use of a toilet room. This cycle, there are follow-up code changes moving in the direction of gender-neutral toilet rooms.
While this is new in the U.S., it is common in other parts of the world. Having just returned from Europe, there were many locations where you walked into a separate compartment in a common room available to both men and women. There wasn’t anything strange about using these facilities, plus it equalized any issue regarding wait time.
The code changes to the IPC received some support and some rejections. Hence, the numerous public comments that have been submitted. One of the key questions has been, “What do you do with urinals?” The concern has been whether the code changes have properly addressed privacy when using a urinal.
A few of the public comments are proposing privacy compartments for urinals when there is a multipurpose room for all genders. Another comment would allow either a privacy compartment or an obstructed area that provides privacy.
The other issue that will be addressed is the division of fixtures between the genders. Currently, the code requires fixtures to be divided equally between men and women unless there is justification provided to establish a different division of fixtures.
When you switch to gender-neutral toilet rooms, there is no division between the genders. Any gender can use the toilet room. That would seem to imply that, when using the table for determining the number of fixtures, you would use 100% of the total occupant load to determine how many total fixtures are necessary. While that may seem logical, that is not in the code yet. If one of the public comments is accepted, this will become an allowable calculation in the code.
One additional item with gender-neutral toilet rooms is knowing whether a compartment is occupied. There is a public comment to require indicators on the door identifying if the compartment is occupied or unoccupied. This reminded me of going to outside venues where a row of portable toilets is lined up. The doors either have a green or a red indicator; green meaning no one is inside, red meaning the opposite. This public comment would require a similar indicator in gender-neutral toilet rooms for each compartment.
Apart from the gender-neutral code changes is a separate change to require public restrooms to provide screening to prevent people from the outside invading the privacy of the users of the restroom. The requirement also applies to the placement of mirrors in a restroom. The only exception to this requirement would be single-occupant toilet rooms.
When you are installing gender-neutral toilet rooms, the question of privacy appears to be moot. Anyone can enter the toilet room. The other question raised with the privacy screening is:
- How is it to be enforced?
- What level of privacy is required?
- Are you allowed to see someone in front of a lavatory if the door is swung wide open?
- Is privacy still necessary?
- If a water-closet compartment is provided for the fixtures, does this count as privacy?
Odds and ends
Following all the fixture public comments will be a number of code changes on hot water. As reviewed in last month’s column, temperature and means of controlling hot water will be the subject of discussion. A lot will depend on whether ASSE completes the three new standards on water heaters. The timing should be very tight, based on ICC requirements.
At the end of the plumbing hearing will be a few proposals on storm drainage. Since the addition of the new sizing method for storm-drainage systems, there have been requests for a simplified method of sizing. I submitted a change to add a quick-and-easy sizing method based on a proposal developed by the Storm Drainage Task Group.
The storm-drainage sizing consistently has been opposed by the Plumbing and Drainage Institute. The reason for PDI’s opposition has been that the sizing is based on the flow rate through a roof drain. PDI wants the sizing based on the pipe size. Engineers have been asking how you size based on pipe size if you don’t know what is going through the roof drain.
ASPE and IAPMO developed a standard for determining the flow rate through a roof drain, which is proposed to be included in the code. This change also is opposed by PDI. The reason for opposing is complex. One of the oppositions is that the standard requires a roof drain to be connected to piping. PDI claims there should be no piping connected for testing the flow rate. While that sounds holistic, it has been well-established that when you add pipe, the flow rate significantly increases through a roof drain.
When I have asked how an engineer is supposed to design a system with pipe when the roof drain is tested without pipe, I’ve been told the engineer can calculate the flow rate through the roof drain. When I asked what equation you use for such a calculation, I always receive a blank stare. This is followed by, ‘You’re the engineer, you should know how to calculate that value.” Actually, I don’t know.
The storm drainage changes should once again produce interesting testimony.
Following the public comment hearings, the ICC membership will be given the opportunity to vote online. It is unfortunate that the online voting has become somewhat of a joke, with less than 3% of the membership casting a vote. Many vote totals for a given code change are less than 1% of the ICC membership.
One of these days, ICC will reconsider its online voting and come up with a better method of finalizing code changes.