Code and standard update

The International Code Council (ICC) held its Group “A” Commentary hearings in Long Beach, Calif. in late October 2015 and early November 2015. The big story of the ICC code hearings was problems with the new electronic voting process. This was the first code cycle to employ the CDP Access electronic voting process. ICC had tested the electronic voting in past code hearings on a trial basis. I also understand that electronic voting devices that were used at past hearings were different than the ones used for the CDP access and the old ones are not compatible with the new CDP Access software.

As I understand it, this was the first time the votes were done with the new electronic voting devices using the CDP Access software. During the hearings, there was discussion by several people sitting around me that the number of votes from one code change to another was significantly different. Some code changes were recorded in the hundreds of votes and others were recorded with as few as 16 votes. I thought it must have been that the many of the code officials were just not interested some of the code changes. It would seem like the number of votes in the voting totals should be pretty close to the number of voting devices in the room. (Only code officials can vote at the commentary hearings).

Later in the hearings, someone noted that they felt that the voting numbers being displayed on the screen did not seem accurate. This may have been based on the number of people in the room. There was a request for a hand vote to verify the electronic vote count. At that point, ICC staff did the prudent thing and recessed to look into the issue. Upon return from the recess, additional test votes of the electronic devices indicated the devices were not accurately recording the votes. At that point, the electronic voting was suspended and all voting from that point forward was done by hand. This brought into question the validity of the prior votes from the electronic voting process.

There were some health and safety plumbing code issues that were defeated, and there were some code changes where manufacturers were trying to get a new standard approved that were disapproved. In some instances, the code committee had approved the code change and the code change was being challenged at the commentary hearings. Using the electronic voting system, the proposed code changes were disapproved. I’m sure the manufacturers of those products meeting the new standards are watching the outcome closely to make sure the outcome is fair to them.

The final online voting process has been delayed for some time to allow ICC to evaluate the situation and propose a fair solution to deal with this issue and maintain the integrity of the ICC process. I applaud ICC for holding off on the final process and working toward a fair solution.

It would seem like they could ask everyone who has a voting machine in the room to select one of three buttons: “For,” “Against,” or “Abstain.” In this case, then the total number of votes should be the same for each vote. If someone leaves the room they could set their voting device to “Away.” It is not clear what caused the voting problem. It would seem that with a room full of electronic voting devices like TV remote controls sending to a receiver there could be lots of opportunities for interferences, dead zones and technical glitches.

In November, ICC worked out a solution and they published the plan on-line to address the voting problem. The two part solution is published on the ICC website. We may see a more advanced system like an addressable tablet or smart device with a Wi-Fi connection to record votes and also to provide feedback to the voter as to vote totals. The electronic devices could also indicate to the voter that their vote was recorded.

The proposed code change to accept the new ASHRAE 188 standard “ASHRAE 188 Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems,” was disapproved at the initial Code Action Hearings in Memphis. The original disapproval was because the standard was not officially published yet. However, it was anticipated that the standard would be completed in time for consideration at the commentary hearings. So, I submitted a code change to get the standard in the process for consideration. It was understood by all that the standard would most likely be turned down at the first round of hearings in Memphis because of ICCs rules, which require a standard to be published in its final form before the committee can consider it for adoption.

For the original submittal, ASHRAE staff provided a final draft submittal with the code change, but the standard still needed to be published and approved by ANSI before it could be adopted in the codes. The testimony at the original code hearings was beneficial for the ASHRAE 188 committee because testimony at the initial code hearings pointed out some language in the draft, which needed to be adjusted. The language in the draft was adjusted for the final issue of the standard. The standard was approved and published by ASHRAE in June 2015, and copies were submitted to ASHRAE staff for review before the commentary hearings in late October.

The ASHRAE 188 standard was one of the code changes in question with the electronic voting. According to the electronic vote counts, it was defeated. With the significant number of people testifying against the code change, I’m sure the official vote count was likely for disapproval. There was no shortage of people who were speaking against the code change. It seemed they were not familiar with the standard. It also seemed that many of them spoke against adopting the standard more out of fear of the unknown, rather than having any technical arguments against the standard in testimony. It was obvious from testimony that many of the people testifying had not read the standard. There was testimony that is this code change was calling for plumbing system designs to comply with the standard, but the standard was a standard for a water management plan not a design standard. Rebuttal testimony showed there are sections in the standard that cover system design requirements for control of Legionella in all types of building water systems, including plumbing systems, cooling towers, decorative fountains and other sources of aerosolized water. ASHRAE will need to publicize the standard and promote it to the inspectors and the industry.

Another person spoke on behalf of dental industry, saying it would be an undue burden on a dental clinic to have to install backflow preventers to deal with Legionella bacteria. His testimony showed he did not read the standard or the plumbing code. There is nothing in the standard requiring additional backflow preventers for dental facilities. The standard only says to check and make sure proper backflow prevention is installed. There were other lobbyists that spoke against the new standard, asking for more time to review it because they did not know what it involved. These groups have historically opposed the Legionella standard because of fears of additional expense for maintenance and operating costs. Most of the testimony against adopting the standard seemed to be “fear of the unknown.” The recent increase in the number of reported Legionella outbreaks over the summer in New York, Illinois and California and the continuing efforts to conserve and reduce water usage will undoubtedly lead to more and more legionella outbreaks in the future, especially during the warmer summer months when the bacteria is most active. I can assure you, as more and more outbreaks occur in warm weather months when the bacteria is more common, there will be more cites, states and local jurisdictions adopting the ASHRAE 188 standard as a means of controlling the bacteria in building water systems. Eventually the standard will be adopted in the codes, but in the interim, there will need to be more effort put into educating the public and the industry.

The code changes for Group “B” codes will be due about the time that this magazine hits the streets. January 11, 2016 is the deadline for the International codes for the 2018 codes. The Group “B” code changes will be heard April 17 – 27, 2016, at the ICC Code hearings at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. The upcoming Group “B” code hearing should have lots of energy, environmental and water conservation folks in attendance. If the code hearings are anything like the last round of code hearings, there will be little or no representation from the plumbing industry to keep an eye on health and safety.

There have been many energy and water conservation measures passed in recent years by well-intentioned people. However, it has been pointed out that many of the water and energy conservation measures are having adverse effects on health and safety. Some of the proponents do not realize what problems the conservation efforts are creating, yet the code changes are rolling along. These code changes are affecting the plumbing systems in a negative way. Checks and balances related to health and safety issues are necessary.

It has been documented that as water flows are reduced at fixtures, the water treatment chemicals dissipate at approximately the same rate. This means the water treatment chemicals are all but non-existent by the time the water reaches the ultra-low flow fixtures. The decreases in flow rates lead to decreases in water treatment chemical residuals (Chlorine, Monochlorine, Chlorine Dioxide), which can lead to an increase in bacteria levels in the domestic water distribution piping system in areas where bacteria is present in the source water. This means an increase in Legionella and other organic pathogens in building water systems in the warm weather months. When the building water systems are aerosolized, like in a shower, a decorative fountain, a hot tub or a cooling tower it can infect the lungs of people with suppressed immune systems.

Other health and safety issues associated with water & energy conservation measures are related to low-flow shower heads being installed on non-pressure or non-temperature compensating shower valves. These shower valves have commonly been referred to as two-handle shower valves, although some newer styles of these shower valves are code compliant (compensating type) and have two handles (one for volume control and another for temperature control); however, most of the older style two-handle shower valves have no pressure or temperature compensation abilities. When a low flow shower head is installed on an old, two-handle shower valve, the flow restriction causes other fixtures nearby to become the point of pressure relief. When someone nearby turns on a clothes washer or other cold water fixture near the shower while someone is taking a shower, the pressure in the cold water pipe drops and causes the hot water to crossover in the two handle faucet and flow toward the low pressure where the adjacent cold water outlet is flowing. This condition typically results in full hot water temperature flowing out of the shower as the hot water crosses over in the shower valve. If the hot water temperatures are set high, it can result in instant scalding injuries and/or death.

Another code change that creates a conflict is a code change that allows recirculating hot water back through the cold water pipes. This was on the surface a code change to promote convenient hot water at fixture outlets without hot water recirculation systems. It sets a very dangerous precedence where they have endorsed cross connections between hot and cold water systems. I will continue to design systems with dedicated recirculation systems. The cross connected systems will likely lead to scald injuries and Legionella outbreaks in the future when these systems are poorly maintained or altered. I pointed out that this will cause people in apartment buildings to receive recirculated hot water in their cold water pipes from adjacent apartments. If there is an ice machine, the ice will be supplied with hot recirculated water.

I encourage everyone to review the proposed code changes when they are published online. If you see something that is not right, attend the code hearings and speak up to make sure the water or energy conservation efforts are sound code changes that also protect the health and safety of the public. Anyone who has received an e-mail from me in the last 10 years or so has seen the signature line on my e-mail. It says, “Save water safely.” That’s what it means!

Ron George, CPD, is president of Plumb-Tech Design & Consulting Services LLC. He can be reached at: office 734-322-0225; cell phone 755-1908; and website

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