Julius Ballanco: Where has the honor in code-change debate gone?
Process is mired in false claims and selfish reasoning.
The ICC held its final code hearing Oct. 21-29 in Richmond, Virginia, for the technical content of the 2021 International Plumbing Code, Mechanical Code and Fuel Gas Code.
There also were hearings for the Building Code and Fire Code. The final hearing is when the ICC voting membership gets to vote on the outcome of the code changes. The voters are the members that represent jurisdictions and enforce the codes.
The final hearings always have been considered part technical and part political. The hope always is the codes are based on technical content. However, everyone involved in the process knows politics play a part. It is when politics trump technical content that the codes run into problems.
The plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas code-change hearings were scheduled to follow the building and fire code discussion. However, with some plumbing and mechanical issues in the building and fire code, many of the code professionals who normally only attend the plumbing and mechanical hearings were present for the building and fire code hearings.
During testimony, a plumbing colleague seated next to me said: “He just lied. Is that allowed?”
“Unfortunately, it is. It happens all the time,” I responded, while laughing. “They are grandstanding for their position and sometimes it is easier to just misrepresent the truth. This is not a trial where everyone testifying must swear to tell the truth.”
“That’s just not right,” my colleague replied. “How do you put up with this all the time?”
That discussion continued into the dinner hour and eventually made its way to the ICC staff. One of the staff members commented that it is up to the opposition to point out the lie.
While that is true, experienced code professionals know ICC procedures and wait until the re-rebuttal portion to tell the whopper lies. That is the point in testimony where the opponents can no longer speak. They are done after rebuttal testimony. There were many big lies spoken during re-rebuttal.
Standing up for what’s right
This begs the question: Where has the honor gone in code hearings?
When I entered the codes and standards profession 41 years ago, there was a sense of honor in testifying at hearings. Many of us old-timers continue to abide by that honor we learned when we started. Forty years ago, the old-timers mostly were World War II veterans and their sense of honor was tremendous. They saw the worst during the war and wanted the best for the public with the codes.
Unfortunately today, more and more testimony sounds like lobbying on behalf of concepts that provide an economic advantage for clients. Oftentimes, that involves testimony against code changes to introduce new technology that may provide unwanted competition. Other times it includes adding ridiculous requirements to also provide an economic advantage for clients.
The lack of honor is most noticeable during the building and fire code hearings. After these hearings, the Fuel Gas Code and Mechanical Code followed. I have noticed a higher sense of honor during the plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas code hearings. However, with an overlap, there were some shenanigans that continued into the mechanical code hearings. These were the same individuals who had just testified at the building and fire hearings.
By the time the plumbing hearings started, the sense of honor seemed much higher. One of the reasons may have been because there were fewer controversial code changes. I like to think that the plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas code professionals still maintain the honor we all expect.
The nitty gritty
During the plumbing hearings, as anticipated, there was a lot of discussion on the gender-neutral toilet-room requirements. The testimony was excellent during these code changes — one that you may be interested in watching on the ICC website. (All the hearings are recorded and posted on www.cdpACCESS.com.)
The membership voted to add the allowance for gender-neutral toilet rooms. There were no changes to the current privacy requirements already in the toilet-room code. For gender-neutral toilet rooms, the fixture count will be based on total occupant load rather than number of males and females.
When the series of code changes regarding the new water-heater standards was discussed, the code outcome became confusing. The three ASSE standards being considered were ASSE 1082, ASSE 1084 and ASSE 1085. Unfortunately, by the time of the hearing, ASSE 1084 had not completed the ANSI process. As a result, the membership did not support any code changes that required ASSE 1084. Therefore, some changes were accepted that recognized ASSE 1082 or ASSE 1085. The other changes were not approved.
The resulting text is some recognition of the new standards but not complete acknowledgement. The testimony against the consideration of ASSE 1084 was in accordance with ICC policy. As many testifiers pointed out, during the next cycle, we’ll pick up what we missed this time because of procedures.
I suspect the plumbing engineering community will be happy to see that the quick sizing method for storm-drainage systems was approved. A requirement for storm-drain manufacturers to test their roof drains to ASPE/IAPMO Z1034 also received approval. This will provide the engineer the flow rates required for sizing the storm-drainage system.
Also accepted were the changes relating to the new standard for rainwater harvesting, CSA B805/ICC 805. This standard includes requirements for both non-potable and potable use.
As of pme’s press time, code changes were being voted on electronically by the membership. Following the hearings, the membership is given a two-week period to vote on each code change if they were unable to attend the hearings. The final results will be posted following online voting.
Over the past 25 years, I have tried to place you inside the code hearings to understand the process, both the good and bad. I appreciate that you have given me this opportunity. With that, I would like to wish all of you a Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.