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The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) commenced its now 94-year history of industry leadership modestly when 39 city of Los Angeles plumbing inspectors recognized two needs: uniformity in plumbing practices and a means to bring together all sectors of the industry to achieve it. What began locally in 1926 has since expanded across continents and oceans, while never abandoning the original, ambitious idea to provide industry leadership for the betterment of society.
With the 1928 creation of the first incarnation of IAPMO’s flagship document, officially adopted as the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) in 1945, the association produced a viable tool to eliminate conflict between various municipal ordinances and establish universal baselines for plumbing systems. Use of this model code spread across the United States. A pivotal and defining decision in 2000 lifted the UPC and its accompanying Uniform Codes to international prominence when IAPMO adapted the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited consensus code development procedures employed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for the development of their preeminent codes, in order for IAPMO to develop the Uniform Codes as American National Standards with its own ANSI-accredited set of development procedures. From 2000 on these development procedures distinguish the UPC from other industry codes as they provide a means for all materially affected interests to provide a voice and a vote in their development, from the start to finish of each three-year cycle.
In 2011, IAPMO was granted Audited Designator Status by ANSI, becoming one of just six standards development organizations worldwide that can designate each subsequent revised edition of its codes — the four Uniform Codes and the Water Efficiency and Sanitation Standard (WE•Stand) — as American National Standards immediately upon their issuance without application to the ANSI Board of Standards Review. Over the past two decades, the UPC has been used as the base document for the creation of national plumbing codes in such nations as the Kingdom of Jordan, Kuwait, Vietnam, Philippines, India and Indonesia.
Product Testing And Certification
To enhance uniformity and generate non-dues related revenue for the association, IAPMO in the 1930s began evaluating plumbing products to applicable standards. This remained a significant and successful, but relatively small, operation until roughly 25 years ago. In 1995, IAPMO began recruiting top engineers to revitalize and expand its certification business. Subsequently, the small testing lab it operated, with a combined testing and certification staff of seven people, was reconstituted to create a new customer-oriented testing and continuous compliance certification business unit: IAPMO Research and Testing, Inc. (IAPMO R&T).
By 2005, IAPMO R&T had established itself as the leading provider of plumbing product testing and certification services in North America and has since expanded its reach with additional offices and laboratories in China, Australia, India and Indonesia. IAPMO R&T is the only certification body accredited by ANSI (USA), the Standards Council of Canada and Entidad Mexicana de Acreditacion, A.C., for testing and certification of a wide menu of plumbing products for the entirety of the North American market.
IAPMO has similarly expanded into other areas of the construction industry with the creation of IAPMO EGS (electrical, gas and solar lab), Uniform ES (evaluation services for building products), Water Systems, and the IAPMO Institute of Building Technology (IBT, independent third-party testing of construction products).
Already a recognized leader in the field of plumbing and mechanical systems, in 2005 IAPMO sought to utilize its capabilities and strong industry relationships to advance research and public policy initiatives that could improve plumbing practices, promote conservation, encourage education and skill building, and establish the plumbing industry as a subject matter expert on human health and safety.
In 2008, IAPMO organized the Plumbing Efficiency Research Coalition (PERC), a gathering of like-minded industry stakeholders led by IAPMO’s Pete DeMarco, to fund and perform a study on the effect of low-flow fixtures on the removal of waste in plumbing systems. Joined by the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), the International Code Council (ICC), the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC), Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), IAPMO and PERC produced two reports detailing the potential challenges presented by low-flow fixtures and the changes necessary to mitigate them.
Other notable research initiatives include:
IAPMO joined the World Plumbing Council (WPC) in 1995, recognizing it as an excellent venue for building relationships and expanding capabilities. Various IAPMO staff members have served in administrative roles over the past 25 years, including CEO GP Russ Chaney as chairman from 2011-13, and COO Dave Viola, who currently serves as deputy chairman.
In the midst of the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, Chaney represented IAPMO in Rome as the sole plumbing industry subject matter expert at a three-day meeting of world health professionals seeking to determine the cause of the outbreak. The 11-member panel determined a significant factor was the use of inferior plumbing components that allowed the infectious coronavirus to spread throughout a Hong Kong condominium complex. The findings furthered the recognition of plumbing as a major contributor to public health and safety.
IAPMO was tapped by the WPC to approach the World Health Organization (WHO) about updating its 1986 publication, “Guidelines on Health Aspects of Plumbing.” WHO approved the initiative and IAPMO coordinated the update of what is now known as the “Health Aspects of Plumbing.” In 2006, WHO and WPC released the modernized version, examining the microbiological, chemical, physical and financial risks associated with plumbing and emphasizing the importance of conserving safe drinking water.
In 2011, IAPMO, PMI and ASPE founded the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition (PILC) to establish one, cohesive voice for the entire plumbing industry. Meeting biennially, PILC now counts amongst its participants 20 organizations, including representatives from manufacturing, labor, contractors, engineers and independent third-party certification organizations, addressing such issues as aging infrastructure, water efficiency and workforce challenges. A pressing issue for the coalition has been preservation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense consumer product labeling program, a highly successful and inexpensive conservation initiative embraced by the industry but annually underappreciated by the current administration come budget season. PILC’s work in Washington, D.C., has twice saved the program from being defunded.
IAPMO and the WPC co-founded the biennial Emerging Water Technology Symposium (EWTS), which provides an opportunity for experts to present new ideas and approaches, emerging technologies coming to market, and innovative green plumbing and mechanical concepts. Professionals from the manufacturing, engineering, plumbing and mechanical contractors and labor, and water utility industries, along with individuals from government and academia, convene to learn and share cutting-edge practices.
As a member of the WorldSkills Foundation Board of Trustees, IAPMO is an enthusiastic sponsor of the biennial WorldSkills competition, which has developed into an excellent demonstration of the skills necessary to be a plumber. The WPC entered into an MoU with WorldSkills in the early 2000s, culminating in the awarding of WPC medals to the winners of the plumbing competition. At the most recent competition in Kazan, Russia, in 2019, IAPMO and the WPC expanded their role, facilitating a collaborative, non-assessed Team Project on the final day. All plumbing and heating competitors worked side by side to repurpose equipment and materials used in the main test project, assembling three new toilet and washroom pre-fabricated plumbing systems that were donated to and installed at a local orphanage.
At the suggestion of a former Board of Directors member, who had witnessed firsthand in Nepal the crippling effect upon a community lacking access to clean water and safe sanitation systems, IAPMO in 2016 founded a philanthropic initiative, the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH). IWSH, with help from partners including the UA, PHCC and MCAA, harnesses the skills and expertise of water industry professionals, organizations and manufacturers to support critical water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives worldwide. Beginning with a 2014 test project in Singapore — the Water Innovation Challenge — IWSH has since organized and facilitated multiple Community Plumbing Challenges, bringing clean water and safe sanitation to people who lack access to these basic human rights, in Nepal, India, South Africa, Indonesia, and in Navajo Nation in the United States, simultaneously ensuring the projects’ lasting effect through education, training and strong community involvement.
Though it was a venerable association managing a highly respected group of codes adopted across the United States and abroad, IAPMO in the mid-1990s was on the verge of collapse. Bold leadership and decisive action, however, reversed the tide and placed the organization on the trailblazing path it ably navigates today. The past 25 years have witnessed unprecedented growth and expanding influence, placing The IAPMO Group at the forefront of the plumbing industry’s effort to assess and implement industry leading research on emerging technologies in an environmentally thoughtful way for the betterment of society.