For most projects around the home, a do-it-yourself mentality is a great way to save money and spend a weekend. When a DIY layman or inexperienced plumber doesn’t have the “big picture” when it comes to the plumbing code, however, there is a very real risk of putting your home tagged with a violation.
Sometimes it seems like it makes sense that you could use different types of pipe fittings or materials, or place a fixture a few inches more to the left or right. In reality, though, these seemingly small and insignificant decisions can end up becoming big problems!
There may be some exceptions for variances and grandfathered properties, but most of the time, a plumbing code violation from a repair or installation will become an obstacle to selling your home or making certain renovations. Illegal plumbing will need to be remediated at the cost of the homeowner, and a fine may even be assessed at a daily rate for however long the violation remains.
All of this is to say that there are several common plumbing code violations you can avoid by having a licensed and experienced professional do all of the hard work for you.
1. Improper Drain Pipe Slope
A pipe’s slope refers to how much it changes in elevation across a horizontal distance. New York has adopted the International Plumbing Code (IPC), which provides minimum slope requirements for drain pipes of various sizes.
Because drain pipes are responsible for taking waste and wastewater away from a home, it’s important that they conform to the correct slope. If they don’t, waste may not make it to a sewer and will back up through the drain.
2. Unvented Traps
If you’ve never heard of a drain trap before, it will become your best friend by the time you’re done reading this. A drain trap is a curved length of pipe beneath a fixture that’s intended to always have some water in it, which acts as a barrier between your home and the sewer. Without it, stinky – and very flammable/explosive – sewer gas would be free to flow up through your pipes and into your home.
An unvented trap (S-Trap) is dangerous because it can create a vacuum in your drain pipe and suck water out of the trap, allowing sewer gas to flow up into your home. A vented trap (P-Trap) makes sure that water stays put by providing a vent in the sewer pipe up through the roof.
3. Inadequate Clean-Outs
A clean-out is an access port for a plumbing system used during maintenance. How many clean-outs a building will have depends upon the size of its plumbing system.
According to the IPC – again, the plumbing code by which New York abides – building sewers must be provided with clean-outs that are located no more than 100 feet apart, as measured from the upstream entrance of the clean-out. When a building sewer, drain, horizontal waste line or soil line changes direction by more than 45 degrees, a clean-out will need to be installed at each such change of direction.
4. Inaccessible Clean-Outs
Because clean-outs are such vital parts of any plumbing system, they must be easily accessible at all times. This means they can’t be covered or obstructed by cabinetry, machinery, or casements. They must also be placed in areas that aren’t vulnerable to floods or near electrical equipment, such as an electrical junction box.
5. Not Enough Space Surrounding a Toilet
We bet you didn’t think that the placement of your homely toilet could become a plumbing code violation. The ICP requires that toilets must be set no closer than 15 inches from their centers to any side wall, partition, vanity, or other obstruction. It must also not be closer than 30 inches (center-to-center) between adjacent fixtures, like sinks, tubs, and showers.
6. Inappropriate Fittings & Materials
When it comes to plumbing, the MacGyver approach is ill-advised. Using the wrong kinds of fittings can obstruct flow in a plumbing system, leading to clogs, backflow, and a system that simply doesn’t work as it should.
It’s also important to know when to use certain materials. PVC pipes are appropriate in some circumstances, while copper and steel pipes are required for others. The same is true when it comes to the materials used in O-rings, flanges, and other crucial plumbing components.