Farewell and Welcome
By Ron George,CPD,
President, Ron George Design & Consulting Svcs.
I would like to wish the best to John Messenbrink as he moves on to another publishing venture. John was a dedicated professional. Many people leave their work at the office, but John was very involved in the industry and brought many improvements to Plumbing Engineer magazine and its website. I am glad we had a chance to work together.
I would also like to welcome Jim Schneider, who assumes the role of editorial director of Plumbing Engineer, as well as its sister publication, Phc News. Jim has a distinguished resume with about 15 years working in the trade publishing business. I look forward to working with Jim.
I saw Plumbing Engineer for the first time in 1978 when I went to work at Love Frieberg consulting engineers in Fort Worth, Texas. A colleague of mine was a member of ASPE and had issues of the magazine that went back several years. I joined ASPE in 1979 and attended my first ASPE Convention in Atlanta in 1980. That trip was thanks to PVI Industries, who paid the airfare for the entire DFW chapter of ASPE to attend the convention. The ASPE Convention is coming up again this fall on October 27-31 at the Charlotte Convention center in Charlotte, N.C. The Plumbing Product Expo is October 29-30. You can register at www.ASPE.org/expo.
When I attended my first ASPE convention, I was like a sponge soaking up the products, literature and images of cut-away samples of the pumps, valves and equipment on display. That was 32 years ago. Recently, I realized it was almost 20 years ago when I began writing for Plumbing Engineer. I had many discussions with Al Steele who was the author of the “Classroom” column in Plumbing Engineer in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a letter from Al Steele to the ASPE delegates at the 1992 ASPE Convention that proposed ASPE combine the offices of Secretary and Treasurer and create the office of Vice President of Education. Al Steele dedicated much of his life to educating young designers and engineers about the science of plumbing.
When Al Steele retired, the column was continued by David Sealine. He changed the name of the column to “Designers Guide.” David wrote for Plumbing Engineer for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the Early 1990s, I had written a couple of articles for Plumbing Engineer and the editor at the time liked the articles.
David had to give up writing the “Designers Guide” column due to health issues and I was then asked if I would be interested in taking over the column. It was a volunteer effort back then and I thought I could do it for a year or two. That was about 19 years ago and I have worked with many great columnists and editors over the past two decades.
The code columnists have changed over the years and Pat Higgins took over in the 1990s. Pat was perfect for the code column because he was a code consultant and an active member of many of the plumbing code and product standard committees.
I started attending the model code hearings in the late 1980s. Pat was one of a couple of independent code consultants that represented various companies at code hearings to present code changes and discuss his clients’ concerns. He then would report back to his clients to keep them aware of what was going on with codes and standards that might have an effect on their business. Pat was of Irish descent and would always use his Irish accent or a little Irish limerick or humor when it was appropriate during code hearing testimony.
I had dinner with Pat on a few occasions and we would discuss his proposed code changes and why he proposed them. During dinner at one of the code hearings, Pat urged me to continue my involvement with the model codes and to get involved in the plumbing standards working groups and task groups with some of the plumbing related standards developers. He urged me to get involved with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Society of Sanitary Engineering (ASSE). He said the standards committees were loaded up with manufacturers and they needed plumbing design professionals that understood the system beyond just the product. He said plumbing contractors, plumbing designers and code officials were needed on these committees.
Pat Higgins was chairman of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) A112 Main Committee on Plumbing Materials and Equipment. He was also a member of many plumbing product working groups and task forces with other associations including: The American Society of Sanitary Engineering (ASSE); The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM); The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and many more. I told him my employer would not pay for my time to attend all of the meetings and they would not pay for my travel expenses. Pat then drew closer and said “You need to give back some of your knowledge and experience to the future of the plumbing industry. You can join the working group committees and provide your comments to the drafts of the standards via e-mail. Most of the work is done via e-mail and sometimes if they meet, you can join through a conference call if the travel is too expensive. We need guys like you on these working groups.”
I told him I would look into joining some of the working groups and soon after that I joined about a dozen or so ASME plumbing product standard task groups and several ASSE working groups. It was a significant volunteer commitment and Pat expressed his appreciation when I saw him at a few industry meetings. Sadly, within a year or two, I received the news that Pat had passed away. I felt an obligation to Pat to make a personal commitment to continue to attend the code hearings and plumbing standard working group meetings when I can. Both model code hearings following Pat’s death discussed code change proposals Pat had worked on in the months before his death. The code changes came up and I realized he was not there to speak as the proponent. I had talked to Pat about the code changes over dinner in the months prior and was aware of why he wanted to mandate thermostatic mixing valves and temperature limits for bathtubs. No current code had temperature limits or thermostatic mixing valve requirements for protection for bathtubs or whirlpool bathtubs. I took it upon myself to speak on his behalf and give the reasoning for his code change proposals as he had expressed them to me. I felt like I was obligated to at least explain to the code committee my understanding of what Pat wanted to do to minimize scalding.
Like most design professionals, I do not get paid a salary to attend industry meetings and I still have to plan my vacation time around the code and standard meeting dates. Occasionally a manufacturer asks me to help them draft a code change or address a code issue. I try to help out and sometimes that offsets the travel expenses. One thing has not changed since Pat and I had that conversation many years ago: there is still a shortage of plumbing design professionals and contractors at many of the plumbing standards meetings. I often look around the room at a plumbing product standard meetings and it is not unusual for me to be the only design professional not representing a manufacturing company.
The working groups that write standards typically consist of manufacturers of a product related to the standard or by competitors that may be affected by the standard. The finished standard is then forwarded to the main standards committee. When a working group is composed mostly of manufacturers of the product for which the standard is being developed, it can lead to weak or watered down testing requirements. The main committee is a consensus group, but they are not the ones developing the material and testing requirements language. The main committee generally approves a standard, or they can send it back to the working group for revisions.
It is possible for a manufacturer to be the chairman of the committee developing the material and performance requirements for a plumbing product standard. It is also possible for meaningless tests to be included in a standard to make it appear as if the product was submitted to rigorous testing. Sometimes the pass-fail criteria are set to values that could be passed if the device was not even installed on the test apparatus. In these cases a design professional, a contractor with a little common sense or just a person with no vested interest in the product would be able to read the tests and make sure the tests in the standards are realistic and meaningful.
There needs to be more independent plumbing design professionals, contractors and code officials on the plumbing product standard working groups that are do not have a vested interest in the products. On behalf of the late Pat Higgins, I ask anyone who has the time to commit to contributing to the development of the standards, especially plumbing design professionals, contractors and code officials, to please get involved in the plumbing codes and standards development process.
Recently, ASPE has increased participation at a few of these industry meetings. I urge ASPE to look for ways to fund or at least pay for the expenses of qualified design professional representatives to participate in as many of these plumbing code meetings and plumbing product standards meetings, which ultimately affect the health and safety of the public.
After Pat Higgins passed away, the editor of Plumbing Engineer asked if I had any suggestions for a replacement for Pat to write the code column. I thought about it and could not think of anyone who regularly attends all of the code and standard meetings and was available to write for the magazine. I suggested rotating the code column to a representative from each organization and letting them give an update on the codes and standards. That seemed to backfire when each code organization used to opportunity to bash each other, so Plan B was to move me from the “Designers Guide” column and instead write the “Code Classroom” column. A search was done to find another person to write the designers guide column; Tim Allinson was selected and he has done a great job.
Recently, I have seen the new ASPE Executive Director, Jim Kendzel, attending and participating in some of the industry meetings where in the past, there had been no official independent representative from ASPE. I am very impressed with Jim and his knowledge of the codes and standards process and I think he is a true asset to and ambassador for ASPE. I hope to see many of you in Charlotte.
Ron George is president of Plumb-Tech Design and Consulting Services LLC. He has served as chairman of the International Residential Plumbing & Mechanical Code Committee. Visit www.Plumb-TechLLC.com, e-mail Ron@Plumb-TechLLC.com or phone 734/755-1908.