State of Technology

A conversation with Billy Smith, FASPE, ASPE’s Senior Director of Technical and Regulatory Affairs

Technology is always on the march forward, and while the products and tools we use to do our jobs may change, the central mission of delivering safe, clean water in an efficient manner is timeless.

Plumbing Engineer recently discussed the state of technology with Billy Smith, FASPE, the senior director of technical and regulatory affairs at ASPE. While efficiency has taken a lot of the attention and technological bandwidth in the past decade, water safety continues to keep the attention of the best minds in the industry.

PE: How would you rate the level of technological development today?

Smith: Even during the economic downturn of a few years ago, for the most part companies looked to R&D as an avenue to keep them relevant and focused on bringing their respective companies out of the recession with fresh ideas and/or products. Having said that, the technological development in the plumbing product industry is moving forward. It does not seem to be at a brisk pace, but it is a very focused pace. It seems that most of the focus has been on water use reduction and the introduction of new lead free products. It does not seem that there are any major changes to the plumbing industry. But, there are many subtle changes occurring among the manufacturers who are looking for ways to make their products more affordable while offering some options or accessories that may not have been available in the past.

PE: Do you see particular technologies or issues related to technology that the industry is focused on at the moment?

Smith: The issues that we are seeing more frequently are related to low flow fixtures and how that may affect drain line carry. The reduction of flush rates and volumes for toilets and urinals continue to be an industry focus in an effort to conserve water. However, the needed drain line studies to confirm the requirements and effect must be completed to address the slope of the drainage piping. The fact that this piping must carry the waste from the applicable fixtures while using a reduced amount of water along with the minimal slope of the pipe, which was originally designed to carry much larger volumes of water, is an issue. Under these more stringent industry requirements, additional technologies for consideration, such as vacuum systems design, are options to pursue, as this type of technology is a tremendous water saver as well a very effective in contamination and/or infection control within the design of health care facilities.

PE: What technology issues or trends are ASPE most focused on at the moment?

Smith: Having just touched on the continued industry focus on the reduction in the amount of water used or needed for proper function of industry products and components, ASPE is always looking at research opportunities to better serve our members and industry, as well to protect the health and safety of the public. The ASPE Research Foundation, via a proposed study, is looking to get a better understanding of consumer knowledge regarding dual flush toilets and the potential water savings these fixtures offer. The goal of the proposed study is to determine if the public realizes the difference a dual flush toilet can make in regards to furthering the reduction of water consumption, and if the public is willing to help save in the process by properly using these products.

PE: There are concerns about water efficiency’s unintended impacts on water safety, such as Legionella. Can you comment on that issue and how you think the industry and ASPE are dealing with it?

Smith: From ASPE’s perspective, Legionella is a concern in the back of everyone’s mind. Industry design professionals and manufacturers alike try to keep these concerns at the forefront during the systems and product design process. ASPE, in a collaborative effort with other industry associations, is participating in a thorough review of the subject of water safety.

To that end, just recently, I was appointed as ASPE’s Primary Organizational Representative to the ASHRAE SPC 188, Minimizing the Risk of Legionellosis Associated With Building Water Systems. ASPE is very excited about the opportunity to participate. It is another big step in our efforts to broaden the Society footprint in serving our industry.

As to water efficient technology, ASPE is aware of the various studies that have been done regarding hands free faucets and the presence of Legionella but there does not appear to be conclusive evidence whether the hands free devices contribute any more to the problem than a standard manual faucet. This subject will require further investigation and research before there is a consensus on this subject and ASPE plans to do our part.

PE: The plumbing industry has traditionally been good at advancing and adapting with evolving regulatory demands, such as lead free and water efficiency. Do you see any other changes on the horizon in the code and regulatory world that might impact technology in the industry?

Smith: ASPE is monitoring closely in a collaborative effort with all the plumbing industry associations, as it appears that the regulatory trend is to further reduce the consumption of water. Manufacturers continue to monitor these trends as well via their respective R&D and product compliance efforts as to developing lower flow technologies within their product lines. ASPE will continue to increase our participating within the model code and applicable standards development process relative to the impact these ever evolving demands may have on the health and safety of the public.

PE: Any new technological developments in the past year or so that you have been particularly excited about?

Smith: Not necessarily new, per se, but the combined efforts of our industry manufacturers and design engineers relative to the increased focus on issues, such as lead free, water reuse, efficiency, and resiliency, brings about excitement from and industry standpoint as to just where will these efforts take us. More from an improvement standpoint rather than new as to the development process moving forward. Now, our industry needs to take advantage of this increased focus for the betterment of all areas such as design, manufacturing, planning, construction and techniques.

PE: Anything of particular note you see coming down the pipeline in the next couple of years?

Smith: ASPE feels strongly that our industry needs to continue its focus on drain line carry studies as well as how low flow fixtures affect the sanitary drainage system. ASPE, through our collaborative participation with other industry associations will facilitate more movement in these areas of concern. We also believe that you will see more building owners becoming more receptive to technologies relative to rainwater harvesting and gray water reuse systems as the cost of fresh water continues to rise.

Speaking of the increasing importance of water reuse, ASPE recently planned and moderated a “Water Reuse Workshop” in Chicago that had outstanding attendance and participation from many industry stakeholders. Providing a “teamwork” type environment, ASPE’s goal for the workshop was to begin development discussions relative to national strategies for future water reuse standards and codes language to help guide the applicable consensus bodies on future editions of codes and standards.

PE: Is there anything else of interest you would like to share?

Smith: ASPE is focused on continuing our efforts to assist the industry through the deep talent pool that is our membership for the betterment of the design, specification, installation, inspection and operation of plumbing systems as they relate to the public’s health, welfare and safety. The plumbing industry is trying its best to reduce water consumption but the cart is before the horse in some instances. Currently, we are only focusing on one aspect of reducing water, but we have not addressed what happens downstream of these systems.

At ASPE, our Research Foundation has these issues in their sights and would like to do their part to understand the effects on our infrastructure but we need funding to study these issues. We would like to reach out to the leaders in our industry for their support and backing so that we can fully understand the consequences of water reduction and what changes need to take place to accommodate these new technologies.

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