Why Not Just Draft One Universal Plumbing Code?

Trying to figure out the plumbing codes and why there isn’t a universal code.

Why Not Just Draft One Universal Plumbing Code?

Randy Lorge

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At the end of the day, it’s all about “Protecting the Health and Safety of the Public, and the Waters of the State.”

I’m a master plumber from Wisconsin. Our state writes its own code. It is not a national code like the Uniform Plumbing Code or International Plumbing Code.

382.10(1) reads: “INTENT. (a) Plumbing in connection with all buildings, public and private, intended for human occupancy, shall be installed and maintained in such a manner so as to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public or occupants and the waters of the state.”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m expert on both the UPC and the IPC, both highly respected national plumbing codes, but what I am going to tell you is that I’m willing to bet the intent of those codes is very much the same as Wisconsin’s.

With that being the case, this plumber has been asking himself as of late: “Why are there so many different plumbing codes, and why can’t there be one plumbing code used across the nation that is written in a way that’s adaptable to all 50 states?” In other words, we could draft it so as to include climate conditions from North to South and East to West and account for detrimental conditions such as earthquakes or floods, which occur more often, if not exclusively, in some states rather than others.

Let me guess, you just thought to yourself: “Well of course there should be one code, and it should be the one I use. My code makes the most sense. All those other codes are wacked.” How far off was I on my guess?


Plumbing codes can gather a lot of emotion when one is asked which one is best. I have the unique opportunity of sitting on a committee with my peers who have a plumbing code other than the one I use in my state. I will be first to say that it’s extremely interesting to me to see the differences in these codes as I help develop training materials for plumbers and inspectors from around the world.

Something as simple as the size of a drain for a kitchen sink, to the extreme differences in which we protect trap seals with our code-specific venting systems, completely took me back a bit when I first learned them. And of course, as you can just about imagine, my first knee-jerk reaction to that code was, “This code is wacked!”

But the thing that truly stands out to me is the passion each of us have for the plumbing industry and how we strive to deliver the same “intent” regardless of the plumbing code you pick up.


I did some brief research into the history of plumbing codes to see if there had ever been a movement toward developing a national plumbing code. I found that in 1921, the U.S. Department of Commerce started a comprehensive effort toward the standardization of plumbing codes. A committee was put together, and the National Bureau of Standards conducted scientific experiments. Over the following years, changes were made based on the outcomes of the installations. In 1941, a committee was put together to develop what was to be known as the American Standard plumbing code. By 1949, the American Standard Code A40.7-1949 was adopted. From what I can tell, this was the first attempt to create a nationally accepted plumbing code. Yet by 1956, there were 26 states that had their own codes to regulate plumbing systems.

However, in 1972, the National Standard Plumbing Code A40.8-1955 was withdrawn as an American National Standard. It should be noted that for a number of years there were three model plumbing codes available to states and municipalities for adoption. These model codes could be adopted with, or without, modifications made by local authority. The three were the BOCA Basic/National Plumbing Code (1968), the Standard Plumbing Code (1955) and the Uniform Plumbing Code (1945). It wasn’t until 1994 that the International Plumbing Code arrived on the scene for adoption.

A tremendous amount of research and study in the fields of plumbing hydraulics and pneumatics has been done in the development of plumbing regulations in this country. The documented results of these studies have been incorporated in one form or another into the plumbing codes we use today. As our country continues to move forward toward being environmentally responsible for our most valuable resource, water, research across the country will continue and will dictate changes that our codes will need to adjust to.

So why isn’t there only one plumbing code? I wish I could tell you the answer to that question, but I can’t. What I can tell you, though, is that at the end of the day, all plumbing codes are about protecting the health and safety of the public, and the waters of the state. 


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