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Typical Plumbing Building Codes:

General Plumbing Requirements for Remodeling or New Construction

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A maze of copper pipes

Depending on which trade is involved building codes may or may not require building permits, inspections, and licensed tradesmen completing or overseeing the work. Other than minor repairs, plumbing work requires these things. Code requirements may vary by location but they are becoming more standardized all the time.

The National Plumbing Code

This code applies in a general fashion across the entire country. Beyond that and at a more granular level are the local codes, which have a tendency to be more stringent. A few things that are commonly addressed are:

  • Use of a full-bore ball or gate valve. On remodels this may mean replacing an existing globe shutoff valve to make sure you have adequate water pressure.

  • Specified distance between plumbing fixtures. This may require some creative planning is small bathrooms.

  • Plumbing installation shall not weaken the structure of the building. Occasionally a plumber may cut into a wall stud or a ceiling joist. The inspector will call for a do-over for this violation.

  • The proper pipe sizes must be used. This applies to drains, vents, and supply lines.

  • The proper pipe materials must be used. Depending on application this may be copper, PVC, PEX tubing, etc.

The International Plumbing Code (IPC)

The IPC is a subset of the ICC’s family of building codes (I-Codes). It is not designed to be comprehensive but to outline the minimum regulations required for plumbing systems and components in order to protect human life, the health and safety of the building’s occupants and the general public. Some of the key topics covered are:

  • Traps, grease interceptors and separators. As you might expect, these have mostly commercial applications (restaurants, etc).

  • Water supply and distribution piping. These are likely to apply to municipal, commercial and residential applications.

  • Backflow prevention. This is simply an in-line device that is employed to isolate the potable (drinkable) water supply from contaminates and pollution due to backflow.

  • Water heaters.

  • Non-potable water systems. These include reclaimed water, gray water and rainwater. One popular application today involving rainwater rainwater harvesting for irrigation.

  • Fittings and fixtures. More and more emphasis is being put on water conservation; think low-flow toilets.

  • Storm drainage. This is largely a municipal responsibility.

  • Sanitary drainage and venting. Venting usually refers to “stink pipes” that exit the roof of a structure.

Who Follows the IPC Guidelines and Why?

As these guidelines become more and more standardized, they are attracting more and more followers. Currently it has been adopted on both the state and/or local level in 35 U.S. states. In addition to these states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico and Guam are onboard. Why are the guidelines so attractive?

  • They are easy to use. All the I-Codes follow the same format. Learn one and you can follow them all which reduces training, improves productivity, etc..

  • An efficient code development process. The IPC is reviewed and revised on a 3-year cycle by a diverse panel of experts.

  • It stays at the forefront of new technology. Being an often-revised code it stays abreast of emerging technology focused on protecting health and safety while at the same time addressing environmental concerns.

  • It maintains a focus on safety and sanitation. Safe and sanitary plumbing installations are more reliable and dependable.

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