Plumbing codes are not something you likely spend much time thinking about. Despite this out-of-sight and out-of-mind status, being knowledgeable about common plumbing code issues is important. If you are thinking about purchasing a house, knowing what to look for can save you time, money, and frustration. Furthermore, if you are considering selling a house or property, making sure the plumbing is up to code can help prevent a painful and expensive surprise at the closing table. Finally, even if you are planning to stay put, ensuring your property is free from plumbing violations is an important step in keeping you and your structure safe from harm.
Thankfully, many plumbing code violations are also very easy to identify. Here are the most common issues you will come across, and how to solve them.
Insufficient Toilet Perimeter Space
Making sure that there is enough space around a toilet may seem like a matter that only involves comfort or aesthetics. However, this is one of the most common code violations that you will come across. While the specific codes may vary by region, the most common measurement is that there must be at least 15 inches between the sides of a toilet and any finished wall.
Similarly, the requirement for the frontal clearance varies depending on the applicable codes and standards. However, the minimum front clearance for a residential toilet is generally between 24 and 32 inches. This is a very simple measurement to check. Simply measure from the finished edge of a wall to the farthest portion of the toilet to see if it complies.
How do you solve a non-complying toilet? Getting more clearance around a toilet will vary in difficulty depending on the size of the bathroom, the layout of the room, and the way the floor is constructed. Often, a toilet can simply be removed, and the drain can be re-routed to one side to provide adequate clearance. However, in smaller spaces, it is not uncommon for other components, such as a sink, to need to be moved or modified to provide enough clearance.
The other factor to consider when thinking about the cost and complexity of moving a toilet is the flooring surface. Often, the flooring material will continue beneath the toilet and any existing holes can be covered by the base of the toilet. However, some relocations may require patching or replacing the floor.
Improper Bathroom Venting
An extremely common issue for non-compliant bathrooms is insufficient or nonexistent venting. Most modern bathrooms include a fan that draws out moisture and odor from the room. However, many older bathrooms lack this ventilation. Almost all regions require a bathroom to include a powered vent fan to comply with code.
Failure to have a vent can lead to several issues. The most significant issue is mold. If a bathroom lacks a vent, the humidity of showering and bathing can become trapped in the small space. Eventually, this moisture can damage the walls and ceiling and lead to mold growth. This is not only unsightly but also dangerous. Beyond this, having a vent is a matter of comfort. Without a vent, the air can become extremely humid and unpleasant. There’s also the simple matter of odors. Without proper air circulation, the smells inherent to a bathroom can become trapped, lessening the enjoyment of the space.
As with most construction issues, mitigating this issue will depend on the building in question. Often, a vent can be installed easily by simply drilling a hole into the ceiling or wall and placing a self-contained vent in. That said, this procedure does involve modifying wiring. Thus, at minimum, a certified electrician will be required. Furthermore, different construction techniques and surfaces can make this a more complex job to complete.
Not Enough Drain Pipe Slope
One of the most frustrating plumbing issues is also a common code violation. Not having enough slope in the drain of a plumbing system will cause the liquid to drain slowly, which greatly increases the chances of clogging. This can impact the main drain of a home or localized drains within a specific room. In extreme circumstances, an improperly sloped drain can cause a condition known as “backflow.” This results in waste or sewage water flowing back into the home.
But how do you check for code-compliant drainage? For a 3” or larger pipe, such as a primary drain for a typical home, compliance requires that the drain drop at least 1/8th of an inch for every foot of pipe. Thus, to check compliance, locate the drain pipe in question and measure the entire length of it in feet. Then, multiply that number by 0.125. If the pipe does not drop that number of inches over the length of its path, then the drain slope may be insufficient.
This is a common problem that’s often fairly easy to solve. However, adding additional drain slope will require relocating plumbing fittings. Thus, it is a job best left to a professional plumber.
Broken or Missing Water Heater Relief Valves
A non-compliant water heater valve is not merely an issue of code compliance. It’s also a matter of safety. Modern water heaters have numerous safety devices included in their design to prevent a catastrophe in the event of a failure. The most important of these fail-safes is a pressure relief valve. This is a valve that’s designed to automatically open and vent the pressure if the water heater becomes stuck on or clogged.
These valves tend to leak with old age. Amateur repair-people often attempt to replace or patch these valves to abate the leak and in doing so stop the valve from working. This is an extremely dangerous situation. An improper water heater relief valve can lead to a buildup of pressure and an eventual explosion. This not only leads to damage to the building but injury or death as well.
Checking these valves visually can prove difficult. Of course, you can ensure the presence of the relief valve. However, testing its function will require professional help. Luckily, repairing a relief valve does not require replacing the water heater itself. Rather, it’s an inexpensive part that can be replaced easily by a qualified plumber.
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Although it’s a topic that does not often come up in conversation, plumbing codes are designed to keep your home safe and your plumbing functioning properly. Thus, knowing the basics of plumbing codes, and how to check for violations, is a valuable and important skill. Of course, it’s impossible to know everything. You should never hesitate to consult with an expert if you have any questions or concerns.
The experts at Beyer Plumbing in San Antonio have years of experience in every aspect of plumbing codes. We have the skills and expertise to make sure your plumbing is up to the right standard. Whether you are looking to check for code compliance or to upgrade your home, Beyer Plumbing is a fantastic resource for residential and commercial properties alike.