Philadelphia now has been grouped with Chicago and New York in what some officials call ``home-grown'' plumbing codes influenced by political interests.
In the City of Brotherly Love, the plumbing code carries restrictions on plastic pipe that do not quite make sense, according to plastics industry and code officials. The discrepancy was exposed recently when the city's Department of Labor and Inspections opted to change all codes but plumbing under the state's switch to the Uniform Construction Code.
``Those cities have viewed themselves, in the code world, as their own country,'' said Gregg Gress, who works in codes and standards development with Building Officials and Code Administrators International in Country Club Hills, Ill.
``Pipe performs no matter where it is,'' he said by telephone. ``The pipe doesn't know whether it's in commercial or residential. If it meets those product standards and the materials have proven themselves, there's no reason to limit that. Chicago and Philadelphia, neither has documentation that shows [plastic pipe is] not performing, that I'm aware of. They've always kind of done their own thing.''
According to the current Philadelphia plumbing code, ABS and PVC are limited to installation in buildings containing residential units only, and those buildings cannot be higher than three stories. Commercial areas are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, officials said. Plastic pipe is not used in any situation where a chemical reaction might occur.
Philadelphia city officials said they will not get into a philosophical debate over code nuances, nor will they address assertions that labor has influenced the restrictions. Officials from the city's Department of Labor and Inspections blame chemistry for their decision. The code, they say, permits plastic.
``Once you're 10 feet from the foundation, plastic is allowed by our code [in residential cases],'' said George Miller, plumbing code compliance specialist with the city.
But that does not meet the two model plumbing codes in the United States. The International Plumbing Code allows plastic pipe 5 feet inside a building and the Uniform Plumbing Code allows plastic pipe to the building line.
``This is all part of the plumbers' union using their political connections to restrict the use of plastic pipe on a national basis and to override what the two model plumbing codes in the U.S. say,'' said Bob Friedlander, owner of Construction Code Consultants in Dallas.
``There is no technical reason given by the city administration to justify excluding plastic pipe and ultimately denying Philadelphia residents the significant cost savings that would accrue,'' said Shari Jackson, mid-Atlantic regional director for the Arlington, Va.-based American Plastics Council.