Code Wars Over? Coming Soon: One Plumbing and Mechanical Code


History was made on a sweltering day in Denver this past month, when two model code organizations, the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Assn. of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), announced their intentions to publish one unified plumbing and mechanical code by 2009.

This is indeed an historic event and probably the most significant change in the plumbing and mechanical codes since the introduction of the common code format and the drafting of the “Joint Model Plumbing Code” in 1994.

The ICC, of course, publishes the International Plumbing Code (IPC) and the International Mechanical Code (IMC), while IAPMO publishes the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and the Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC).

The joint announcement was made July 15 at ICC's town hall meeting, where the two groups officially reported on the progress to produce a single model plumbing and mechanical code.

One of the major motivations for a joint code, according to Chris Salazar, president of IAPMO, was the fact that both organizations had been spending large sums of money meeting with various municipalities in order to convince different jurisdictions to use their particular code. This “Code War,” he said, often a daily battle, took intense effort, a huge time commitment and significant travel expenses going all around the country. In fact, Salazar said these expenditures were the largest line item in the IAPMO budget.

“By joining forces with the ICC to produce one model plumbing and mechanical code, the money and personnel resources of both organizations can be better spent on education, producing technical documents or other member services,” said Salazar.

As things stand today, code adoption by state looks something like this:

  • IPC-dominant states: 22

  • UPC-dominant states: 12

  • Both model plumbing codes adopted in various communities within a state: 9

  • Third-party or home-grown plumbing code states: 7 (for example, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors code in New Jersey)

  • IMC-dominant states: 40

  • UMC-dominant states: 3

  • Both model mechanical codes adopted in various communities within the state: 6

  • Building Officials and Code Administrators National Mechanical Code: 1

If the code wars had continued, each organization would have had to match the other's efforts to fight local code adoption battles. Each organization felt it could maintain its current market position and were dug in for trench warfare.

This was certainly a lose-lose situation. Furthermore, it was also a losing proposition for the communities involved, as they too were spending significant resources comparing the two codes.

The facts

During the town hall meeting, it was announced that the new joint code would be based primarily on the UPC. An integration committee will develop a list of proposed changes for the next round of hearings to create a true hybrid. The titles of the new codes will be the International Uniform Plumbing Code (IUPC) and the International Uniform Mechanical Code (IUMC).

This did not come as good news to a number of attendees present. Several people made passionate pleas to use the IPC as the basis for the new code as they felt recent work reflected in that code was being thrown out.

The IAPMO/ICC panel rebutted this point, reporting that both codes contain about 95% of the same material, with only about 5% of the items significantly different. Again, the integration committee will identify these differences and automatically prepare these items for discussion in the combined code.

It doesn't really matter which code is chosen as the template. What matters is the makeup of the integration committee and the makeup of the ensuing code committees. These committees should constitute a balance of code officials, users and industry representatives who will be able to meet ANSI's requirements for a consensus code-development process.

In fact, at the town hall meeting, I asked the panel to make sure design professionals and consulting engineers are among those included in the code-integration committees. It was also suggested that prerequisites be established, including a minimum level of related experience, education or training. This selection criteria could range from a master plumber's license to CIPE or CPD certification.

Some history

This historic change has come relatively quickly. Discussions for a unified code began in Chicago back in May 2005 at a “One Code Summit” sponsored by the American Society of Plumbing Engineers. ICC and IAPMO formally met that summer for further exploratory discussions.

In a nutshell, ICC wanted to further its mission of a single family of coordinated codes that also brought in governmental involvement in the code-development process. IAPMO wanted to make sure the code was developed in a consensus-based process that gave equal representation to all parts of the industry. The two groups met for a second time in September 2005 to work out details and signed a memorandum of understanding.

Things got more serious in November of that same year when negotiating teams, including executive and senior staff members from both organizations, met for a full day in Little Rock, Ark. On the agenda for discussion was the relationship a unified code would have to recently created codes and international codes; the relationship it would have to the International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC); and how ancillary services such as training and certification would be handled.

Negotiations continued in February 2006 in San Antonio, Texas where extensive discussions were held on key issues for each code organization's values and goals. IAPMO, for example, wanted to emphasize the importance of the plumbing code to the organization's identity and the necessity to maintain ANSI accreditation in the development process.

The outcome of the meeting was the realization that both sides had a sincere desire to reach an agreement for one model plumbing and mechanical code. They also realized the need for intense efforts to resolve issues in order to produce a joint code for the 2009 code change cycle.

Furthermore, during the meeting, both organizations agreed to establish two work groups to find potentially acceptable solutions regarding the code-development process and business arrangements.

Following the San Antonio meetings, several Technical Advisory Groups were formed, comprised of members of each organization, to examine the following issues: the code-development process; business issues; education; training and certification; and voting.

What's next?

While this joint effort is certainly major news, there are still many questions that remain to be answered. For one, what's going to happen with NFPA's national building code, or the National Electrical Code and the Fuel Gas Code for that matter? The NEC and Fuel Gas Code are popular documents that may still be adopted by some municipalities. At the same time, they may fall out of favor because they are not integrated to cross-reference the ICC International Codes.

But that's putting the cart before the horse. There's still a lot that must be accomplished to even get a unified code ready for consideration. I just hope both organizations can move forward and that we will indeed have a new code to consider in 2009.

The New Arc Flash: SCCR

You may or may not be aware of a relatively new Underwriters Laboratories electrical safety requirement that's mostly affecting electrical panel manufacturers. But to avoid future litigation, consulting engineers should also acquaint themselves with a new acronym: SCCR, or short circuit current rating. As the result of the passage of UL508A this past spring, manufacturers of electrical panels, including lighting panels, must list the current rating of the total assembly. But Todd Lottman, a services product manager with St. Louis-based Cooper-Bussmann, who serves on the 508A committee, says consultants too must be aware of the total amps running through the assembly, meaning they are legally obligated to determine that amperage and ensure the respective equipment is indeed rated to handle the load.

“It's going to be a slow learning curve, like arc flash, but we're trying to speed up that process,” said Lottman.

One way the company is doing so is with the launch of its web-based Online Short Circuit Current Rating program. “OSCAR” is a TurboTax-style program that calculates SCCR. In fact, Lottman says the subscription-based program can calculate SCCR in minutes vs. weeks (visit

Lottman is prepared to be patient but is hopeful, noting that arc-flash awareness has really taken off in the past two years. In fact, his company's business in that area is growing at an 80% rate. “And not just for big industrial users, but also for large commercial operations, including banks and skyscrapers.”

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