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Have you ever noticed the manufacturer's name on a toilet or a sink? Did you know it's not just for marketing purposes? It's also there because the governing specification requires this labeling as a part of the certification.
And that's not all. Plumbing fixtures such as toilets and sinks must also undergo a rigorous testing regime to prove durability, performance and suitability for use. Accredited test labs ensure that products will perform as intended. Specified requirements, certification, testing, accreditation — what does it all mean?
To start, specified requirements can be stated in normative documents such as regulations, standards and technical specifications. The specified requirements apply to a particular product and its intended end-use. They address many elements such as materials used in the product's manufacture, dimensions, installation details and the like.
Specified requirements are an essential part of the conformity assessment process; they provide a level playing field for all stakeholders. Manufacturers follow these requirements to demonstrate that their products comply with such requirements.
In the world of plumbing fixtures, one of the most common standards is for plastic plumbing fixtures. Plumbing fixtures may include lavatories and sinks, bathtubs and shower bases, water closets, toilets and urinals.
Certification is conducted by third-party organizations accredited to ISO/IEC 17065, such as the ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), to evaluate whether the product meets all the applicable requirements of the specification. The result is a publicly available report, or certificate, indicating that a product has met an applicable standard.
Then, on an ongoing basis and for the life of the certification, the certification agency conducts periodic inspections at the manufacturing facility. This is to make certain that the product being produced today is the same as when it was originally tested and certified.
But before you can get to the certification, there are several testing requirements to address. Testing is conducted by third-party organizations accredited to ISO/IEC 17025, such as ICC NTA. Plumbing fixtures that are representative of normal production are tested to ensure they meet the requirements of applicable standards. The testing can generally be broken down into two main parts: structural and material/durability. Let's take a closer look at these categories.
• Structural tests. A full-size plumbing fixture (tub, tub/shower surround, etc.) is installed into a test frame simulating real-world installation for structural testing. The fixture is then subjected to several checks and tests to ensure it is up to the task. One of the first checks is to examine the surface of the unit for quality of craftsmanship, ensuring there are no defects.
Another check confirms that no significant warping occurred that would allow large, unsightly gaps between the fixture and the wall or floor.
Other structural tests ensure the fixture is suitable for use. Consider a tub or shower surround. What happens when someone sits on the edge of the tub or falls into the shower wall? Is the fixture able to withstand those loads?
In the first case, a 300-pound (136-kilogram) weight is applied to the interior portion of the bathtub and its rim. In the second case, a 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) sandbag is suspended from a cable, pulled back and released so it impacts the wall of the tub surround. After these tests, the tub/shower is inspected to confirm no cracks have developed.
What about serviceability? Yes, that is checked, too. Consider a situation where you hire a plumber to do some work in your basement, and she loses her balance while she's working. Naturally, she will reach out and grab onto something for stability. What if it was a drain pipe connected to the bathtub? Does the pipe stay connected to the tub?
One test simulates this condition by hanging a weight from a drainpipe connected to the tub to ensure the connection is unaffected.
• Material/durability tests. Colorfastness testing involves exposing a section of material to an accelerated weathering test. The color is quantified using equipment called a spectrophotometer (similar to what your local hardware store uses to color-match a sample of paint). The material’s color is checked before and after exposure, and the difference speaks to the material's fade resistance.
Some tests involve exposing a section of material to various household chemicals to see if they stain or remove the fixture's finish. In one test, several chemicals are applied directly to the material for a prolonged period: ink, lipstick, hair dye, iodine, Clorox, Drano, nail polish remover, grape juice, and even a wet tea bag, among
In another test, an abrasive cleaning solution is continuously applied to a brush as it rubs back and forth over a section of material, simulating someone cleaning the plumbing fixture. The back-and-forth motion can go anywhere from 7,600 to 20,000 cycles, ensuring that the coating on the material will resist wear.
And then, test lab personnel get to play in the dirt! Lab-created dirt, that is. The specification provides a list of chemicals to combine in order to create "standard dirt," which is then rubbed onto the material. After an hour of drying, the dirt is removed with detergent, and then the material is checked for staining and color fade.
Other tests check the material's resistance to burning. In the ignitability test, a flame is applied directly to the material to see if it self-extinguishes. In another test, three different brands of cigarettes are lit and then applied to the material to determine whether or not a visible stain remains afterward.
Plumbing fixtures will come in contact with water of varying temperatures, so the durability of materials must be assessed.
For the thermal shock resistance test, a section of material is exposed to a cycle of extreme water temperatures. For up to 33 hours, the material is exposed to flowing water cycling between temperatures as low as 50 F (10 C) for a couple of minutes to temperatures as high as 190 F (88 C) for another couple of minutes. The continuous cycle between cold and hot water is intended to check the material's resistance to breaking down, cracking or delaminating.
In another test, the material is directly exposed to 150 F (65 C) water for 100 hours. This is to ensure the material does not crack or otherwise degrade and that the color does not fade too much (such as the colorfastness test).
Sinks have a few additional tests. Consider the kitchen sink, which could be subject to impacts from dropping an iron skillet or knife. Yes, these situations are replicated by dropping these common kitchen items onto a sink from 1 to 2 feet (300 to 600 mm), respectively. Or what about when you put a hot pan on the sink? Will the sink crack, delaminate or discolor after several minutes of exposure? The testing results will tell.
And for those times when you forget and drop a peach pit down the garbage disposal? You guessed it; there's a test for that, too. And it's a good thing because you don't want the vibration from the off-balance disposal to crack the sink and allow water to leak all over your kitchen!
Accreditation is third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body (testing, inspection and certification agency) conveying formal demonstration of its competence, impartiality and consistent operation in performing specific conformity assessment activities. Accreditation brings another element of oversight to the process, assuring that a conformity assessment body has demonstrated the required competence.
ICC NTA, for example, is an accredited test lab and inspection agency serving the plumbing products industry. As an accredited agency, it is subject to periodic assessments by the accreditation body to ensure ongoing compliance with the accreditation requirements of the international standards.
Many efforts take place behind the scenes to bring a new plumbing fixture to market. Rest assured, there are several sets of eyes looking at products before they become available for purchase. Conformity assessment provides specifiers the confidence that the products they approve are safe, meet specified requirements and deliver on their promise.
Justin M. Mann is currently the lab operations manager for ICC NTA. With 20 years of experience in the testing, inspection and certification industry, he is knowledgeable in various testing disciplines, product categories and certification schemes. Much of his experience is with comprehensive building product evaluations, including structural and material testing, review of manufacturers' quality systems, and conformity assessment activities to determine a product's compliance with codes and standards.