Fine Fifty: ASPE celebrates a half-century of elevating the plumbing engineer profession
The year 1964 was a pivotal one in many ways. It saw the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident further escalated the Vietnam War. And, the British Invasion came in full force as the Beatles arrived in the U.S. and appeared to the nation on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the plumbing industry, 1964 was also a very significant year in that it saw the founding of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE). As ASPE now celebrates 50 years of furthering the science of plumbing engineering and contributing to the health, welfare and safety of the public, it’s important to look back to see where it all began. Looking back helps us better know where it will go in the future.
Inspired by a memo from an HVAC sales engineer named Arnold Bogart, a group of plumbing engineers got together to discuss the fact that plumbing engineers in Los Angeles did not have a representative organization. An interim board of directors was put together and ASPE was incorporated in Los Angeles, in September 1964.
Serving on that original board of directors was Donald F. Dickerson (president), Horace Yeh (1st vice president), Edward Saltzberg (2nd vice president), Richard Owens (3rd vice president), Eugene Mandel (administrative secretary), Richard W. Drenske (treasurer), and Wayne Jensen (corresponding secretary). The Society launched with a number of important goals that were the core of its mission. Among the goals was the promise to raise the profile, recognition, and knowledge base of plumbing engineers and designers. The mission was nothing short of redefining the profession for the present and future.
“The original concept of ASPE was to determine what constitutes good plumbing engineering,” explained Edward Saltzberg, PE, FPE, CPD, FASPE, FNAFE, president of Edward Saltzberg & Associates Forensic Mechanical Engineers.
Saltzberg is a founding member of ASPE and served as the Society’s president in 1970.
“We should be telling the up and coming plumbing designers and the seasoned plumbing designers how to design plumbing, not per code, but to what constitutes good plumbing engineering,” Saltzberg said. “We have to remember that the plumbing codes are simply the best of the worst of what society will accept. We should be setting a higher aspirational standard.”
The Society began primarily as a regional group in California. But, by 1968 it began to spread through local chapters in different parts of the country. Also in 1968, the first issue of The American Plumbing Engineer (now Plumbing Engineer magazine) was published, and the first ASPE Convention was held in Los Angeles. In the following decades, ASPE continued its expansion and eventually relocated its headquarters to Chicago in 2000. Through an ever-growing array of education, outreach and networking opportunities, ASPE continues to aspire to its founding goals.
“My experiences with ASPE have been a major factor in my development as a plumbing engineer,” said Philip L. French, PE, FASPE. French joined ASPE in 1968 and served two terms as the Society’s president in the 1980s.
“The information I was looking for was not available in one place” French said. “Today, we have design manuals and many technical publications (including Plumbing Engineer) that are available to us. We are fortunate to have so many plumbing engineers willing to share their experiences.”
Engineers today still have many of the same needs, and the same inspirations for joining ASPE.
“I was told by my manager that if you want to be a plumbing engineer, you have to be in ASPE,” said Cory Powers, mechanical engineer with HGA Architects and Engineers, and an ASPE member since 2008. Powers is part of the ASPE Young Professionals (AYP) group.
“My experience with ASPE has been very rewarding. My career has been enhanced by ASPE in terms of education and professional networking. The consistent exposure to education and new technology is why I will be an ASPE member for life,” Powers said.
“I consider the most significant value our members receive to be access to information to allow them to design high-quality plumbing systems and advance their careers,” said Jim Kendzel, executive director and CEO of ASPE. “This information comes through monthly chapter meetings, training programs, technical publications, and networking with other designers and engineers.”
“Although the basic concepts of plumbing have been around for centuries, the plumbing engineer hasn’t always been a well-known profession,” said Theresa Allen, PE, CPD, LEED AP BD+C,
project engineer with Grumman/Butkus Associates. Allen is also part of the AYP group and has been ASPE member since 2008. “Even now we are few and far between, so being able to keep a national organization thriving is a great accomplishment. We owe thanks to all the volunteers and staff members who have helped ASPE be successful for the past 50 years.”
While he believes there are many things still to be done in terms of research, membership and overall reach, Society Co-founder Saltzberg is proud of the education and quality standards ASPE has delivered over the years.
“We wanted ASPE to upgrade the profession from a person who just puts his finger on a code and draws it,” Saltzberg said. “The educational aspects have improved, the classes that are sprouting up all over the nation are improving, and the CPD (Certified in Plumbing Design) program has significantly improved the knowledge of the plumbing engineer. We have definitely raised the profile of plumbing engineers and designers through ASPE and the CPD.”
“Back in the day, plumbing engineers and designers were not recognized. We were part of a larger mechanical group and looked upon with an attitude that ‘anyone can design plumbing systems,’” French recalled. “The thought was that all plumbing design was is drain-vent-waste (DWV). We all know there is much more involved, and ASPE has been instrumental in changing that attitude.”
The biennial ASPE Convention and Expo is another way the Society has made its mark on the profession and the plumbing industry over the years. While there is no shortage of trade show and conventions in the industry, ASPE prides itself on doing something different. It is an opportunity for a more engaged level of conversation between engineers and manufacturers.
“We educated [exhibitors at the first ASPE convention] that it wasn’t going to be the same as the kitchen and bath show or other conventions,” Saltzberg said. “Attendees don’t go to your booth and ask ‘what’s your handout and what’s your discount?’ You’re going to get a bunch of guys who ask, why is this unit better than your competition? Why should I specify this? It was a whole different concept for the manufacturer’s reps and we emphasized that they have to have something because the engineer is a very different kind of individual. We wanted the manufacturers to have input from engineers all over the country. We could come in and critique their product and tell them, this is no better than your competition, but if you did this, it would be.”
Reaching the 50-year mark is cause for celebration and reflection, both in terms of recognizing what has been accomplished and understanding what still needs to be done.
“Fifty years is a significant milestone and attributable to a group of plumbing engineers and designers – our founding fathers – who came together and defined a specific purpose and vision for ASPE that still holds true today and going into our future,” Kendzel said. “We have achieved so much over 50 years and have become the voice of the plumbing engineer and designer. This is an achievement that we see as our sacred trust to maintain and grow in the next 50 years.”
“It has been like watching the History Channel, listening to ASPE veterans talk about the Society’s start in California and how it has evolved to what it is today. It’s inspiring,” Powers said. “In the future I see more international networking with our plumbing industry peers, along with additional research projects. The research projects are something that can take our Society to the next level.”
“ASPE has changed dramatically, with technology as the driver,” French said. “Our generation developed the tools used today. It is up to the next generation to develop the tools that lead us into the next 50 years. I think reaching the 50-year mark is a tribute to our founders. The success we have obtained will be even greater in the next 50 years.”
With an enthusiastic membership and staff, Kendzel sees big things for ASPE in the coming years.
“I believe ASPE has just reached its stride in achieving its overall purpose and vision,” Kendzel explained. “The first 50 years has set a solid foundation for our Society to advance public health and safety, ensure that our members receive the respect they deserve and finally, that the next generation sees the profession of plumbing engineering and design as an exciting career that has a direct impact on public health and safety.”
“ASPE will hopefully remain one of the main resources for code officials to use to update our codes, especially the pipe sizing guidelines that really need to be changing, along with the lower flow fixtures and new technologies out there,” Allen said. “With that comes research, which hopefully the Society helps fund to keep our codes and sizing criteria up to date.”
“Where we go from here will depend on the leadership, and as long as the leadership is willing to have the Society’s best interests in mind, we cannot fail,” French asserted. “I congratulate the current Board for the intestinal fortitude they have shown in making the tough decisions to put us on the right track to success.”
For those who are not already members of ASPE, now is a great time to join and get involved.
“If you are involved in the profession of plumbing engineering and design, it is critical that you belong to the leading global organization representing you and your profession,” Kendzel said. “It is critical both to your career advancement and personal growth.”
“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining,” Allen said. “As with most volunteer-based organizations, you get out of it what you put into it, so start volunteering for positions in your local chapter.”
“Plumbing engineers and designers are part of a growing profession,” French said. “Be part of that growth. And, when you join, be active in Chapter and Society activities. Take advantage of the many programs ASPE has to offer. Become certified. Share the knowledge you gain with others and your career will flourish as a result. I know mine did.”
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