Plumbing Code Serves Vital Health and Safety Need

As a residential plumber, your life and that of your customers depend on it
Plumbing Code Serves Vital Health and Safety Need
Dan Rademacher

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Plumbing codes help ensure our health and safety. On a national level, the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), developed and published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), governs the installation and inspection of plumbing systems.

Some jurisdictions that adopt the code and then amend it also amend the name of the code correspondingly. Many jurisdictions amend certain sections of the plumbing code for local conditions or area specific plumbing requirements as required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

The requirements of the code apply to all installations of plumbing within the jurisdiction having adopted the code, whether they are existing installations or under construction. They also apply to repairs, renovations or the maintenance of plumbing systems, whether completed by a homeowner or a licensed contractor.

The requirements contained in the plumbing code are minimum requirements. Any installation of plumbing that does not meet these minimum requirements could result in an unsanitary condition that can result in serious health problems leading to sickness and, in some cases, death. Therefore, the UPC clearly defines its purpose at the outset as “providing minimum requirements and standards for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.”

Let’s take a look at the definition of a plumbing system and how it would pertain to the daily life of a residential plumber.

The plumbing system

The plumbing system includes all potable water, building supply and distribution pipes; all plumbing fixtures and traps; all drainage and vent pipes; and all building drains and building sewers, including their respective joints and connections, devices, receptors and appurtenances within the property lines of the premises and shall include potable water piping, potable water treating or using equipment, medical gas and medical vacuum systems, liquid and fuel gas piping, and water heaters and vents for same.

The plumbing system definition is the vast majority of the plumbing code in one paragraph. In taking a closer look at each word and sentence we can then see how the plumbing code is important to the residential plumber and the plumbing industry.

Includes all potable water, building, supply and distribution pipes; Chapter 6, Water Supply and Distribution sets the minimum requirements for hot and cold water distribution systems in a building. The residential plumber must know the code-approved water piping materials allowed in a residence, the installation standards for those potable water piping materials and that they are installed correctly without cross connections.

2012 UPC Sections

601.0 Hot and Cold Water required.

601.1 General. Except where not deemed necessary for safety or sanitation by the Authority Having Jurisdiction, each plumbing fixture shall be provided with an adequate supply of potable running water piped thereto in an approved manner, so arranged as to flush and keep it in a clean and sanitary condition without danger of backflow or cross-connection. Water closets and urinals shall be flushed by means of an approved flush tank or flushometer valve.

Exception: Listed fixtures that do not require water for their operation and are not connected to the water supply.

In occupancies where plumbing fixtures are installed for private use, hot water shall be required for bathing, washing, laundry, cooking purposes, dishwashing or maintenance. In occupancies where plumbing fixtures are installed for public use, hot water shall be required for bathing and washing purposes. This requirement shall not supersede the requirements for individual temperature control limitations for public lavatories, bidets, bathtubs, whirlpool bathtubs and shower control valves.

It is imperative the residential plumber be able to install the water piping in the plumbing systems for the homeowner in the requirements detailed in the above sections.

Fixtures and traps

All plumbing fixtures and traps must meet the minimum requirements of Chapter 4 Plumbing Fixtures and Fixture Fittings and Chapter 10 Trap. The requirement for fixtures within the building to be trapped by a water seal has been in plumbing codes for almost 100 years. The trap’s main purpose is to eliminate the possibility of sewer gas from entering the confines of the room or building. The waterseal, or trap seal, effectively accomplishes this by creating a barrier of 2 to 4 inches of water that prevents sewer gas from entering the room. A secondary benefit is that it prevents access of pests or vermin to drains, as well as access to the building through the fixture by way of the sewer system. The residential plumber is responsible for the plumbing principle, every fixture has a trap and every trap has a vent.

Drainage systems

Residential plumbers must know how to properly install the drainage, waste and vent system for customers, including their respective joints and connections, devices, receptors and appurtenances within the property lines of the premises as required by Chapter 7 Drainage Sanitary Drainage and Chapter 9 Vents. The UPC requires that the fixture trap connected to the drainage system and be protected against siphonage and backpressure by means of a vent system. The principle of ventilating the drainage system to retain trap seals has been the basis of modern plumbing systems since the end of the 19th century.

The last sentence in the definition of a plumbing system according to the UPC, discusses water treating units. Residential plumbers must know how to safely install as per the code. Medical Gas and Vacuum Systems are Chapter 13 for installers of those systems in hospitals and generally would not pertain to the residential plumber. Liquid and fuel gas piping is covered in Chapter 12 and is of importance to the residential plumber installing fuel gas piping systems for customers.

Water heaters and vents

Last but not least are water heaters and their vents, these installation requirements are covered in Chapter 5 of the UPC. The residential plumber is entrusted with installing a potentially explosive vessel in a home and making it safe without the possibility of the fuel burning appliance going into back drafting condition and creating a carbon monoxide situation for the home owner.

The residential plumber must have an intricate knowledge of the use and implementation of the plumbing code adopted in the jurisdiction he or she is installing the plumbing system for their residential customer, to ensure the plumbing system is working properly and does not pose a potential health hazard for their customers. 

About the Author: Daniel Rademacher is the principal/owner of Plumbing Code & Design Consulting. Has been a licensed plumber since 1995, serves on the American Society of Sanitary Engineers, ASSE International Product Standards Committee and Professional Qualifications Standards Committee. A member of IAPMO and a 12-year member of the IAPMO Education and Training Committee, Rademacher serves as a national seminar instructor providing training on all editions of the Uniform Plumbing Code, Uniform Mechanical Code and other model codes. You can contact him at or 406/498-0493.


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