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Navigating new codes for water-efficient fixtures

By KJ Fields

In 2012, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) released its second publication of the Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement (GPMCS), an overlay code municipalities can utilize in addition to their existing code. While the Uniform Codes publish every three years, the GPMCS is more nimble, allowing it to track industry changes.

For example, a number of high-efficiency plumbing fixtures have appeared on the market. The GPMCS tracks these individually, highlighting applicable standards for the fixture, and then takes it a step further by adding specifications from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program for the particular water-conserving fixtures it covers. In this way, the supplement guides engineers to plumbing fixtures that meet standards for both performance and water conservation.

Dan Cole, Technical Services Supervisor at IAPMO’s Chicago Regional Office, says the code benchmarks best practices in green performance requirements from WaterSense, the Irrigation Association, EPA Energy Star, ASHRAE and the State of California — the latter because it’s a fast-paced industry mover.

“The Green Technical Committee meets twice a year to discuss new methods and standards to stay abreast of state-of the-art technologies,” Cole explains. “The supplement has broad industry support where hundreds of industry stakeholders greatly influence the code — as long as they provide scientific data to support their findings.”

Cole notes that rating systems like LEED don’t have a targeted focus only on water conservation and efficiency, and the GPMCS’s more detailed and assertive approach helps standardize what it means to be green. For example, once a jurisdiction adopts the GPMCS, engineers and plumbers will need to meet both the number of fixtures for occupancy established by the main plumbing code and achieve the provisions of the green code for performance criteria and, where applicable, specific installation requirements.

In non-residential buildings such as schools and hospitals, for instance, the GPMCS reduces the maximum flush volume for toilets from 1.6 gpf to 1.28 gpf. One exception is that 1.6-gpf toilets are still permitted in remote locations that do not have supplemental drain flows to assist drainline carry. And in applications such as cafeteria food prep areas, the maximum flow rate for pre-rinse spray valves is reduced from 1.6 gpm to 1.3 gpm.

The code overlay covers a variety of topics, but to facilitate access to best practices, municipalities or states may adopt just certain sections of the GPMCS. “This is particularly important in moving the industry forward as many municipalities implement the supplement as an adjunct to their existing plumbing and mechanical codes,” Cole says.

Regardless of whether or not a jurisdiction has the overlay in place, GPMCS committee member Jim Kendzel, executive director/CEO of Rosemont, Ill.–based American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) believes engineers need to be educated on GPMCS provisions. “Plumbing engineers are on the forefront of being asked to design water-efficient systems,” Kendzel says, whether for residential homes or water recycling or rainwater catchment systems used in commercial buildings. “The GPMCS helps them become well-informed, so they can bring this progressive engineering knowledge to the table to assist architects with design and contractors with equipment installation.”

ASPE’s Technical Symposium is another way for plumbing engineers to learn what changes are happening in the industry. This year’s event has an entire track on green initiatives and a session dedicated to updates on various green codes and standards.

The next GPMCS version is tentatively scheduled for 2015, provided enough significant changes in technology take place to merit a new publication.