RPA Executive Director Discusses Impact of 2015 USEHC

Code addresses design, installation of solar, geothermal, hydronic and radiant heating and cooling systems
RPA Executive Director Discusses Impact of 2015 USEHC

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The 2015 Uniform Solar Energy and Hydronics Code (USEHC), developed by International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and released in August, governs the installation and inspection of solar, hydronic and geothermal energy systems.

Previously published as the Uniform Solar Energy Code, the 2015 edition adds significant provisions concerning hydronic and geothermal systems as a way of promoting public health and safety.

Mark Eatherton, executive director for the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA), discusses the importance of the code with Plumber and its impact.

Q: Mark, what does the 2015 code mean for the plumbing industry?

A: No other model code is published today that specifically addresses the design and installation of solar, geothermal, hydronic and radiant heating and cooling systems. The availability of this code means that in jurisdictions where it is adopted, a single source for many provisions affecting the installation of these systems will be available to contractors and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Q: What are some key provisions of the code?

A: A new hydronics chapter, new condensates waste and control provisions, new alternative engineering design provisions, new provisions for accessibility (attic and underfloor installation and roof installation of appliances and equipment used in solar energy, hydronic and geothermal energy systems) and new solar thermal provisions. The new geothermal energy systems chapter provides minimum requirements for groundwater systems, ground-heat exchanger design, heat exchangers, heat pumps, distributions design and the installation of geothermal energy systems. The new duct systems chapter provides minimum requirements for ducts used for conveying air for heating and cooling.

Q: Does the code dictate how to install these systems?

A: No. The code establishes a minimum standard, and in most cases where the contractors have been receiving training, guidance and direction from competent manufacturers, they are already installing systems that exceed the minimum standards. It is those jobs that are being performed by unqualified, untrained personnel that will be required to change their ways. Our bottom line goal is to increase the consumers’ confidence about the safety, reliability, efficiency and comfort associated with the proper design and installation of these systems, and to make the installing contractor’s job of meeting the AHJ’s requirements quicker, smoother and easier.

Q: What should the designers/contractors/installers know about the code?

A: Designers and contractors should know that subject matter experts specializing in each of the technologies addressed in the USEHC invested significant personal time in the development of the code in an effort to include accurate and complete provisions. It will provide experienced installation contractors with verification that what was taught to them by competent manufacturers and the RPA are appropriate recommendations to follow, and that their work will exceed the code’s minimum requirements.

Q: How does the code impact consumers?

A: It will provide residential and commercial consumers the assurances and protections of a viable, quality installation in an understandable format. Inspectors and AHJs receive the guidance and protections of a model code developed in a consensus process from the industry.

Q: How does it impact manufacturers?

A: This comprehensive, consensus IAPMO/ANSI code provides a single-source reference for the installation, use or maintenance of radiant, hydronic, geothermal and solar systems. It can have a significant positive impact by leading to the increased utilization of these high-efficiency and renewable energy systems. It also raises the bar for the industry, much of which has been unregulated for many years. Uniformity will be a significant benefit, as will the opportunity for fewer callbacks on problem installations and satisfied consumers.

Q: What impact will this program have on the Authority Having Jurisdiction?

A: A code is only as good is the enforcement in the field. RPA and IAPMO have begun teaching and working with code enforcement officials in an effort to bring their knowledge base of these wonderful mechanical marvels up to speed so that they are much more comfortable performing their job in the field.

Q: What went into the development of the code?

A: Each triannual edition of the USEHC requires two rounds of two-day, in-person technical committee meetings, followed near the end by another one-day, face-to-face meeting of all interested parties as well as extensive email communications regarding disposition of proposed new language additions submitted during each code cycle. In addition, one or more meetings of IAPMO’s Technical Correlating Committee may be required to address potential differences between a new edition of the USEHC and other IAPMO model codes. This extensive interaction is needed to ensure that consensus on each new edition of the code is achieved.

It has taken years of diligent effort by RPA and the collective best minds in the industry. When the decision was made to create a Hydronics Code, RPA was successful in creating a code committee representing all facets of the industry: manufacturers, suppliers/distributors, contractors, installers, and government officials/inspectors. The RPA Code Committee spent well over a year compiling relevant information, even from foreign countries, and molding it into a working document.

When the possibility arose that the RPA Code document could become an accredited American National Standard recognized by ANSI, the document was submitted into the process, a balanced ANSI Committee was created, and the document was further refined over an additional three years, with experts from every facet of the industry contributing countless hours, worth literally millions of dollars, to the effort.

Q: What was the Radiant Professionals Alliance's (RPA) involvement in these code additions?

A: Although RPA did offer voluntary guidelines in the past, there was very little information available to the industry or the consumer in a meaningful, useable format regarding design criteria and best practices. Much of the content of the RPA guidelines was in more of a “should” configuration, as opposed to mandatory code required language, using words like “shall.” The RPA is committed to contributing professionalism to the entire hydronics/radiant industry and promoting such systems as the most viable path to energy savings and comfort for the end-user.

Many provisions of the 2015 USEHC concerning radiant heating and cooling applications have not appeared in model codes before; RPA’s involvement in the development of relevant language ensures that state-of-the-art design and construction principles are considered.

Q: What is RPA doing to promote the benefits of this code?

A: RPA has formulated a “Marketing Plan for RPA Stakeholders” focused on the following key stakeholder groups that stand to benefit from the implementation and use of the code:

  • End users
  • Contractors
  • Manufacturers
  • Engineers
  • Architects

Each stakeholder group will be addressed through outreach via print media, social media, membership publications and electronic mail. RPA manufacturer members will publicize the USEHC to their customers and other corporate contacts. Education curricula will be developed to ensure understanding of code provisions.

Q: How will the code enhance professionalism?

A: To increase customer awareness and confidence, ASSE International is developing a Hydronic System Installer and Hydronic System Designer National Standard and certification program. It is our intent that the Authority Having Jurisdiction will recognize this certification and require it as minimum criteria to allow contractors and designers to perform work in their jurisdiction. This program is expected to be released in 2016.

Q: What’s next?

A: We are developing an Instructive Training Manual and a Best Practices Manual. These two items will be used going forward to ensure that we have provided the contractors and designers with the tools necessary to ensure proper and appropriate applications of these mechanical systems. It will take the designers and installers through the steps necessary to ensure that the delivery method correlates with the energy source. Using staple-up tubing with a ground source heat pump has its limitations, and we must make certain that everyone with skin in the game understands the limitations and appropriate application of these and all hydronic heating and cooling systems.

The digital version of the 2015 code can be purchased and downloaded via the IAPMO web store at www.iapmo.org.



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