A New Plumbing Code?
(from Maine Townsman, May 2000)
By Renee’ Carter, President, Maine Building Officials & Inspectors Association

This article is written for informational purposes to keep municipal officials, businesses, and affiliates apprised of the adoption of a new plumbing code for Maine. Apparently the decision has been made that the Maine State Plumbing Code needs to be replaced with a nationally recognized code. The group that has the authority to select the replacement code is the Plumbers Examining Board, which is one of over 40 professional or trade licensing boards established within the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. It is apparently also the case that there are two contenders for the replacement code: the Uniform Plumbing Code and the International Plumbing Code. The Uniform Plumbing Code is in use in the western part of the United States and is not completely compatible with the BOCA building codes in use in Maine and throughout the Eastern part of this country. The International Plumbing Code is entirely compatible with the BOCA building codes and is in current use throughout the Northeast and New England.

In September 1999, the Plumbers Examining Board voted to take the first step toward adopting the Uniform Plumbing Code, much to the dismay of several organizations, businesses and associations, including the Maine Building Officials and Inspectors Association (MBOIA). The anxiety stems from the perceived lack of fact finding and research completed by the Plumbers Examining Board before making this significant decision. From MBOIA’s perspective, the Plumbing Board’s drive to adopt a incompatible and disruptive plumbing code seemed to hinge on misinformation about "what is New Hampshire doing". The Board was informed repeatedly by individuals representing the Uniform Plumbing Code and advocating for its adoption during the September 1999 hearings that New Hampshire was considering adoption of the Uniform Plumbing Code versus the International Plumbing Code. MBOIA discovered at a later date that New Hampshire was not in the process of adopting the UPC, but rather has been and is continuing to use the BOCA Plumbing Code, which is simply an earlier version of the International Plumbing Code that MBOIA would like to see adopted.

After writing many letters and meeting with the State Plumbing Inspector, Dana Tuttle, and Ann Head, the Director of the Office of Licensing and Registration, MBOIA was able to slow down the rulemaking process and a Plumbing Study Committee was assembled.

MBOIA has some very serious concerns about the adoption of the Uniform Plumbing Code instead of the International Plumbing Code. The issues that have been raised by MBOIA and other, private sector organizations such the National Home Builders Association and Manufactured Housing Association, are simple.

First, these interested parties would like to see the research that demonstrates that the Uniform Plumbing Code is better than the International Plumbing Code, and if so,
"better" from whose perspective? If the Uniform Code is so superior, why would Maine become the only state in the Northeast to adopt it, jeopardizing or eliminating the code reciprocity that currently works successfully between Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Representatives of the plumbers association in Vermont said they were aghast that Maine was adopting a code that would set Maine apart from the rest of New England.

Second, cost comparisons show that the Uniform Plumbing Code is more expensive for both labor and materials when building even the most modest new home, let alone a major renovation job or a major, multi-story construction project. What might otherwise be a minor bathroom renovation could turn into an expensive situation for a lot of our citizens and businesses with the adoption of the Uniform Plumbing Code. As far as health and safety goes, the State Plumbing Inspector has held that both codes are equal in regard to the health and welfare of Maine citizens. If both codes are effective then shouldn’t we be more concerned with our citizens and opt for a code that allows more affordable construction and renovation projects? The per capita income in Maine is low; we should not make owning a home more of a burden than it need be.

Third, the International Plumbing Code is completely compatible with the BOCA building codes currently in common use at both the state and local level, so the financial and administrative impacts of adopting the International Plumbing Code on the municipalities, in terms of training and the mechanics of code integration, are much less significant than would be the case if the Uniform Plumbing Code is adopted.

During a Plumbing Study Committee meeting, an argument presented was that the Uniform Plumbing Code should be adopted because it is easier for the plumbers to understand. At the same time, however, the Committee was told that the plumbers will not be obligated to be trained in any code that is adopted, will not be responsible for purchasing the new code book, and will not be forced to have continuing education. The towns, though, will be required to purchase all of the books, train their employees, and be otherwise expected to pick up the tab. Whether the adoption of an incompatible code is legally an "unfunded state mandate" is a question for the lawyers to decide, but the bottom line is that if the state decides to adopt an incompatible plumbing code, it will be the property taxpayers that will be negatively impacted by that state decision, which the unfunded mandate law was supposed to correct.

These are a few of the basic questions that need to be addressed before any new plumbing code is adopted in Maine. MBOIA feels strongly that we are stepping backwards by adopting a code that doesn’t offer reciprocity, training, and continuing education for plumbers, but otherwise adds another financial burden to our citizens. And these are not all the issues that need to be addressed. MBOIA believes that the adoption of the Uniform Plumbing Code will directly increase the expense of building new schools, hotels, and office buildings. Who will absorb the burden of that extra cost?

MBOIA will continue to provide information about this issue as the final report of the Plumbing Study Committee is developed and transmitted to the Plumbers Examining Board, and that Board begins the rule-making process to adopt a new code. MBOIA’s goal is to establish an effective code that can be efficiently administered and is fair to all Maine citizens.