Every four years, the city’s Development Services and Austin Code departments go through a process of updating their technical codes related to the design, installation, and inspection of plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems. And with these updates comes a renewal of the struggle between proponents of two different codes in each area – the International Plumbing Code versus the Uniform Plumbing Code and the International Mechanical Code versus the Uniform Mechanical Code.
The city’s Mechanical and Plumbing Board will hold a hearing on Friday at 9:00 a.m. to consider comments on adopting changes proposed by city officials to the applicable regulations. Some time later, the city council will hold a hearing and decide on changes.
According to plumber Robert “Chap” Thornton, executive director of Local 286 of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, the city passed the Uniform Plumbing Code back in the mid-1970s. Thornton, who serves as vice chairman of the Mechanical and Plumbing Board, told the Austin Monitor that local plumbers prefer the unified code. He described it as “more prescriptive” and therefore easier to use than the international code. “I can put a real system together from this one book,” he said.
When DSD sought input on proposed changes to the two codes, many of the responses were in rejecting the Uniform Plumbing Code and adopting the International Code. Andrew Boyer, spokesman for the International Code Council, told the Monitor via email, “While it has been recommended by several industry stakeholders, including staff from the City of Austin Development Department and third-party consultants, that the City Council approve the adoption of Austin itself adhered to the Uniform Plumbing Code of the International Code Council developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. “
Austin and Houston still adhere to the single code, but most cities in Texas have adopted the international code. Boyer argues that adopting the International Code will have a positive impact on the affordability of Austin housing. The Austin Real Estate Council and the Austin Chapter of Associated General Contractors issued written comments to DSD saying that they support adoption of the international codes and oppose continued use of the uniform codes.
RECA pointed out that Austin uses the other International Code Council codes. “The Uniform Plumbing Code and the Uniform Mechanical Code are inefficient and incompatible with other international codes used by the city of Austin,” argued the group. Furthermore, the use of the UPC “unnecessarily increases the costs” for repairs that Austinites had to carry out due to the winter storm Uri.
Roland Arrisola, President Emeritus of the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association, disagreed. He wrote to the council urging the city “to maintain the unified mechanical code”. He argued that the new Austin building already complies with the International Construction Code. However, he said that retrofitting existing equipment in an older home is governed by the unified mechanical code, which is cheaper, and that the cost of complying with the international code would outweigh the benefits.
“In view of the cost-effectiveness of the consumer, TACCA Greater Austin urges the City Council to uphold the current Code.” “TACCA Greater Austin says, ‘It ain’t broke.'”
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