Let us begin this section by saying the initial adoption of some sort of universal plumbing code was done to ensure the safe removal of human waste from a home/residence or commercial property and to ensure the safe delivery of potable water to the aforementioned. 1848 was the year Great Britain passed the National Public Health Act which acted as a guide line followed for some time. It was both a commercial and residential plumbing code. Twenty years passed before the U.S. got on board when the New York Metropolitan Board of Health was formed and its Metropolitan Health Law written a few years later was considered the most extensive health legislation in the world.
Even though progress was being made on plumbing codes most plumbing installers were uneducated in their implementation. Their lack of education on the basics of their trade hurt the very industry itself. The MCA or Mechanical Contractors Association of America, ASSE the American Society of Sanitary Engineers as well as a host of others soon followed. In 1889 the United Association of Journeymen Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam Fitters and Steam Helpers of the United States and Canada was formed. The UA was essentially the plumbers union of the United States and Canada and they handled labor negotiations but more importantly they were the voice of education around the country.
Early topics that original plumbing codes attempted to address were vent pipe sizing, plumbers knew that air needed to be introduced to the plumbing system but had no idea how big in diameter vents were needed. Most vents froze over during the first frost completely blocking off the air intake to the system. Another thing needing to be addressed at the time was water pipe sizing. Early plumbing engineers battled with pipe size diameter, incoming water pressure and velocity.
Let’s talk about plumbing codes in the last 30 or 40 years. Most current U.S. plumbing codes both commercial and residential have roots in BOCA or International Plumbing Code. The biggest variations in commercial plumbing codes nationwide are in the large municipalities or their surrounding areas. To be honest these variations by and large have nothing to do with proper plumbing installation they are all about labor. Labor you ask? Yes labor. With the advent of new installation technologies, new materials etc. it takes less time to install plumbing materials. For example PVC has been a safe and reliable alternative to cast iron waste piping for 25 years yet there are some major municipalities that do not allow PVC piping in buildings above three stories and that has only been allowed in the last 10 years. The piping trades will claim that sound is a factor for not letting PVC in high rise buildings but the fact of the matter is it’s lighter and easier to install. Another example is the product called Pro-Press by Veiga it’s a pipe and fitting joining system that uses copper fittings incorporated with a rubber gasket at both ends of the fitting or valve. A crimping tool is used at each fitting end sealing the fitting to the pipe. This product was pretty widely shunned by the major union municipalities because takes no skill to crimp pipe and fittings together, the unions believed that this technology would make it easier for less skilled labor to perform the same work. Most areas now support this technology because it is a labor saving installation and with owner’s and general contractors looking for any way to cut costs the pressure was too great not to approve these types of installs. These are just a few of the examples of the ways skilled labor dictates code approval in this country.