Codes & Standards

Background Information on Plumbing Codes

In addition to plumbing standards, plumbing and building codes play an important role in governing the installation, use, and maintenance of water-efficient products.  Codes are promulgated by code authorities and adopted by jurisdictions in order to protect the health and safety of the citizens. Whereas the national standards approved by the American National Standards Institute are voluntary consensus-based standards, the codes (which may or may not adopt the national standards by reference) are mandatory within the jurisdiction that adopts them.

Several areas are of current interest to water-efficiency practitioners.  For example, research is underway to investigate hot water distribution systems within residential dwellings and commercial buildings. The ultimate goal is to amend the plumbing and building codes to require that certain efficient design and construction practices be incorporated into new buildings.  These design changes are intended to reduce the amount of water and energy lost with existing design and construction practices.  The process of amending plumbing codes to achieve resource efficiencies is laborious, usually contentious, and in need of support from the water stakeholders. The Alliance’s representation in the plumbing code development process helps ensure that water efficiency is considered a priority alongside health and safety. The plumbing codes themselves have no legal status until adopted by jurisdictions such as cities, counties and states. Where adopted, the codes become as local ordinances and laws.  All jurisdictions can amend the code before and after adoption, and some do this to better suit local conditions.  For example: a city in a Montana would probably amend the code to increase measures to protect pipes in buildings from freezing in harsh winters, while a city in Florida might require measures to resist the corrosive conditions of brackish water prevalent in the area.  Except for these special conditions, jurisdictions usually adopt the code of choice (UPC or IPC) as it is written.  Each of the codes contains more than 400 pages of complex requirements; unfortunately, few jurisdictions have the ability to review and analyze every single provision before adopting the code as law.

The basis of the codes dates back to the early 1900s when water was plentiful in high population areas.  The lack of proper sanitation was of greater concern, as disease was rampant in large cities.  Water was needed to move the waste out of the cities –- and water was considered a cheap and plentiful resource.  While the codes have been updated through the years to reflect federal laws (such as the National Energy Policy Act), the codes have never implemented measures solely to ensure water efficiency. In the past, sanitation and safety was the primary focus of the IAPMO and ICC in the code process.


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