Debate over plumbing codes leads to concern about sewer gas leaks

Published: Oct. 3, 2016 at 10:53 PM CDT
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A debate over plumbing codes in Sedgwick County has some worried about the possibility of sewer gas leaking into their homes. Sedgwick County commissioners will discuss the issue Wednesday and could adopt a new duel-code system.

Some industry experts are worried about the safety of the newer code, but some commissioners said the new code gives consumers more options and saves them some money.

For years, Sedgwick County has operated under UPC, or Uniform Plumbing Code. Wednesday, commissioners will vote on adding an additional code called IPC, or International Plumbing Code.

Some experts in the plumbing industry worry IPC is inferior and worry if it's safe.

"A new plumbing code has come up where it's less restrictive," said Lonny Wright, a retired plumber in Sedgwick County.

When talking about changes in rules under IPC, Wright specifically referenced a vent that the new code allows that the old code, UPC, doesn't.

"It's a mechanical device, it can fail, it can allow that sewer gas to come into the structure and it's hard for medical people to pin what the diseases are," Wright said.

But Sedgwick County commissioner Jim Howell said this fear is being blown out of proportion.

"It's not going to kill somebody which is what they're saying, it's a heath and safety issue, is it really?" Howell said. "I think it's an economic development issue."

He said the old code and old vents aren't friendly to builders or home remodelers.

"The vent actually goes under the floor and then all the way out the roof, so if you're installing an island on a main level and you have a second story, you have to tear the walls out all the way out the roof and out the attic," Howell explained.

Under the IPC code, with the auto vent it allows, all that work wouldn't be required. Howell said the main reason some plumbers don't want it is because they might lost money.

"The reality is UPC is more complex, it's more laborsome, it takes more parts, it takes more time and therefore the jobs big out higher in cost," Howell said.

The vote Wednesday doesn't eliminate the old code, but instead would establish a duel-code system. That means plumbers or companies won't have to specifically use one or the other but will be able to choose which one they go by based on their own preferences.

Commissioner Howell also said most of Kansas is already operating under IPC codes including cities like Derby and Mulvane. He also said all of Wichita State's buildings were built under IPC codes.

The commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. on the third floor of the Sedgwick County Courthouse.