Plumbing Codes vs. Plumbing Standards - Part 1
The name game: Plumbing standards — think of them as the code’s superhero friends
To be totally honest and transparent, my background is not originally from the code world or even the trade world. My background and my current job center on education and educating people in the workplace. Prior to entering the code world more than 10 years ago, I worked as a consultant and provided my expertise in education to a giant technology company with regard to training and testing people on communication systems and some top-secret technology. I add the “top-secret” part to sound more impressive than I really am, but I assure you that particular top-secret tech is old news now and something you use every day. However, out of respect for that company, I will keep you guessing.
Anyway, coming from an education background with just a hint of technology experience, you can imagine the difficulty I had when I started reading and trying to develop training for code content. When it comes to codes, there is very little that is intuitive for people who are not used to using them. Between the way the code is written, the tables and trade-related jargon, and all of the abbreviations, it can be very intimidating. Even now, more than a decade later, I still find myself rereading code provisions several times to understand what they are trying to say.
As I got used to the codes I found another aspect to them I once had a hard time wrapping my mind around — standards. For a layman, trying to understand the difference between the two can be a challenge. They both “tell you what to do.” They both are enforceable. And they both often require me to read them multiple times to understand them. So what’s the difference?
It turns out quite a lot of people don’t know either. In fact, there are some parts of the world that have codes they call standards. Most people, however, have a basic understanding of what a code is and its purpose, just as many people do not have a great understanding of standards and struggle to understand their purpose and place.
What’s the difference?
To better understand what standards are and why they are important, it may be better to think of them as the code’s circle of friends, each of which has its specialties and areas of expertise. For example, I am not a plumber, but the guy who was the best man at my wedding was. When I have a plumbing issue, he is the guy I call. A neighbor friend of mine seems to have every tool ever invented; when I needed a grinder to sharpen a lawn mower blade, I went to him. The codes do the same thing.
Understanding that it is impossible for the code to be the most knowledgeable entity in the industry on every conceivable area, they defer to their friends, standards, to provide the expertise needed to provide the most well rounded expert guidance possible.
Codes govern component installation as well as how systems and components are designed; standards provide requirements for the individual products and components going into a plumbing system.
A product on a store’s shelf can be established as compliant with its applicable standard, but that same product can only be confirmed in compliance with its applicable code requirements after it’s installed properly. To be a bit more technical according to the IAPMO Regulations Governing Consensus Projects: A standard is: “a document, the main text of which contains only mandatory provisions using the word ‘shall’ to indicate requirements and which is in a form generally suitable for mandatory reference by another standard or code or for adoption into law. Non-mandatory provisions shall be located in an appendix, footnote, or fine-print note and are not to be considered a part of the requirements of a standard.” Their purpose is to ensure products are made to be safe and efficient for the consumer. They also provide dimensional requirements that ensure the product can be installed and interchanged as required.
Although each standard is different, there are common requirements among them. Some of the common requirements are that standards:
- Define the scope of the product, system or process that is covered.
- Are able to be used repeatedly and not so specific that it does not apply to many applications.
- Include test methods and performance criteria with a clear and concise description for measurement and evaluation of one or more properties, qualities or characteristics. A test method produces a test result and is not a recommended practice.
- A test method is a kind of standard that produces a test result, and it is recommended practice to reference a test method along with the applicable performance requirements. (E.g. a test method may be developed describing how to measure the thickness of a finger. A performance standard will specify that the finger must be 1.5 inches or greater when measured in accordance with the test method)
- Specific requirements must be expressed in simple, precise, understandable language free from ambiguous terminology.
- Contain terms and explanations of symbols, abbreviations or acronyms that are relevant to the standard and its application.
- Be enforceable to the extent of its use and application, which includes being written in mandatory language and does not mandate the use of proprietary materials or agencies.
Standard requirements are typically based on unambiguous specifications, which include physical, mechanical and chemical properties. In addition standards identify the applicable test methods and performance criteria used to determine that each requirement is met or satisfied.
Codes and standards work together to protect public health and safety. A standard is considered a basis of comparison or an approved model. Simply stated, codes tell the user what to do and when and under what circumstances to do it. Codes are often legal requirements that are enforced by local jurisdictions that enforce their provisions. Standards provide the user with approved materials and tell the user that such products have performance requirements and are applicable only to the extent the code references the standard. For example, a standard may have performance specifications for materials and use of application or installation requirements. The standard is only applicable to the extent suggested in the text of the code. According to section 102.1 of the UPC, the most stringent text prevails when the requirements of the standard conflict with the requirements of the code. Furthermore, there are instances when the code provides additional requirements that are not addressed in the standard.
As an example, Section 604.1 of the 2015 Uniform Plumbing Code requires all water piping material to conform to Table 604.1 where the applicable standards are referenced. ASTM F1281 is one of the standards for PEX-AL-PEX pressure pipe for water distribution systems. This standard regulates the performance requirements for materials that cover PEX-AL-PEX composite pressure pipe. In addition, the performance requirements include dimensions, burst and sustained pressure performance. Section 604.13 requires that PEX-AL-PEX must not be installed within the first 18 inches of piping connected to the water heater. The mandatory information for connectors in this standard suggests if water-heating equipment malfunctions, the assemblies (connectors) shall have satisfactory strength to allow short-term overheating conditions.
However, ASTM F1281 does not address installing PEX-AL-PEX within the first 18 inches of piping connected to the water heater; therefore, Section 604.13 would provide additional requirements that are not found in ASTM F1281. Additionally, Section 604.1 requires that pipe, tube, and fittings carrying water used in potable water systems intended to supply drinking water must meet the requirements of NSF 61. However, ASTM F1281 does not contain mandatory language that this material must conform to NSF 61. However, assuming ASTM F1281 did not contain mandatory language that this material must conform to NSF 61; therefore, Section 604.1 provides additional requirements that are not found in ASTM F1281. Remember, the referenced standard is a guide to aid the user in deciding whether a product, device, joining method or installation complies with the code.
Section 301.2.1 requires that each pipe and each pipe fitting, trap, fixture, material and device used in the plumbing system must have the manufacturer’s mark or name cast, stamped or permanently marked on it, which must readily identify the manufacturer to the end user of the product when such marking is required by the approved standard that applies. The code does not specifically state the marking requirements, except for the manufacturer’s identification, but the referenced standard does. The identification requirements vary by standard but typically include any of the following: the name of the manufacturer or trademark; type or model number; maximum rated pressure and temperature; serial number; nominal size; and standard designation.
Section 301.2.2 requires that standards listed or referred to in this chapter or other chapters cover materials that will conform to the requirements of this code, when used in accordance with limits imposed in this or other chapters and their listing. This section covers the limitations imposed in the code and the standard that must be met.
The terms “listed,” “listing agency,” “approved,” and “approved testing agency” are defined in Chapter 2 of the UPC. A pipe or plumbing product must be listed or labeled and presented to the authority having jurisdiction for approval. Listing provides independent confirmation that a product conforms to standards and that it is verified to comply with those standards. For a product to be “listed,” it must be tested to the applicable recognized standards for that product, be found safe for use in a specific manner, and then be put on a list of such products by a “listing agency” that maintains period inspections. These lists (usually called “directories” of listed plumbing products) are used by jurisdictions when inspecting installations for code compliance. A listed product is labeled with the mark of the listing agency so inspectors in the field can identify it as listed.
In order to be listed, plumbing products are required to comply with standards that are designed to prove the products’ ability to provide safe operation over long periods. A product typically undergoes many different tests that simulate use and extended wear and tear. Testing criteria are used to develop maximum tolerances for products and materials. All testing procedures and results must be verifiable.
Tip of the iceberg
I hope I have been successful in trying to sort out what a standard is and what it does, but that is just the beginning. What has been discussed so far has been very general compared to the specific detail yet to come as we dig deeper into the types of standards that appear in the code, as well as a greater discussion of what standards consist of and include.