U.S. and Canadian Plumbing Code Snafu: A Need to Speak

The International Codes Council (ICC) hearings were held during the last week of February and the first week of March in Cincinnati. The ICC does an excellent job overall, particularly when it comes to making the hearings accessible to everyone. This includes broadcasting the code hearings live on the Internet.


The International Codes Council (ICC) hearings were held during the last week of February and the first week of March in Cincinnati.

The ICC does an excellent job overall, particularly when it comes to making the hearings accessible to everyone. This includes broadcasting the code hearings live on the Internet.

The most recent hearings involved the final code changes before the publication of the 2006 International Codes (I-Codes) in late 2006. (There are two, 18-month code change cycles for each three-year publishing cycle of the I-Codes.) Public comments to the ICC code changes are due by mid-June 2005, and final action on all code changes will be voted on at hearings during ICC's Annual Meeting, the last week of September in Detroit.

Canadian Standards

In this particular cycle in Cincinnati, the Canadian Standards took a pretty hard hit. In fact, most of the proposals to list the Canadian Standards were denied. Many of these standards were proposed as additional product standards to be listed with product standards already in the International Plumbing Code (IPC). The problem seemed to be that the committee saw the Canadian Standards as not always equal to the standards that are currently listed in the I-Codes.

One of the key complaints from some of the opposing code committee members was that they received only very large electronic files of all the standards and not hard copies for review. This, they said, made it difficult to review all of the differences in the standards. Further, testimony revealed a concern that the Canadian Standards had some dimensions, tolerances and performance requirements that differed from the standards currently referenced in the I-Codes. Perhaps the biggest problem, despite a number of questions from the committee, was that there was no one to speak on behalf of the proposed Canadian Standards.

From my perspective, the problem is that each standard develops in its respective region of the world. Now that we have a more global economy, these differences are becoming more significant. For example, one of the ICC staff analysis comments indicated that the Canadian Standards were developed only for Canadian products. However, the I-Codes are supposed to be used internationally, including Canada. It became a struggle for the code committee to allow the Canadian Standards to be listed in the I-Codes because the perception was that they would have to lower the bar in some instances in order to accommodate them.

Finding harmonization

The good news is that there has been an effort undertaken by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Society of Sanitary Engineering (ASSE) to create a standards harmonization group that will try to find a point where the Canadian Standards are acceptable both in the United States and in Canada. This begs the question: Are U.S. and Canadian Standards non-standardized standards? Maybe the problem is that the various national standards are not harmonized.

Why standards?

Of course, an even bigger question is "What's the big deal with plumbing standards?" In order to truly understand the importance of standards, perhaps it is best to look back to an incident from the early 20th century.

On Feb. 7, 1904, a fire broke out in the basement of John E. Hurst and Company in Baltimore. Fire departments responded from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. However, each city had its own unique fire-hose threads and could not connect to Baltimore's hydrant system. Those fire departments were forced to watch as the fire progressed. Before it was over, the fire had burned for more than 30 hours and destroyed approximately 2,500 buildings in an 80-block area. As a result the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), began a study of fire-hose couplings, and more than 600 couplings were collected and analyzed from across the country. Based on this research, a standard hose coupling and an interchangeable coupling device for non-standard hoses were adopted as a national model. That document continues today as NFPA 1963, Standard for Fire Hose Connections .

Mix, but not match

A similar thing seems to be happening today with the Canadian Standards organization. It's as though they came to the fire with an incompatible hose thread. There is nothing wrong with their standards. The problem is, when they try to "mix their hose" with neighboring hydrants, the two simply do not match.

The U.S. and Canadian Standards have different sizes, tolerances and minimum performance requirements. The proponents of adopting the I-Codes without the Canadian Standards argue that if the Canadian Standards are allowed, then there is a potential for mismatched products that would need to be approved by code officials. This is a significant issue, and there will need to be some compromise as one or both standards must be modified to a point where everyone agrees upon one standard, or at the very least, that the two standards should have the same minimum requirements.

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