I'm with Kevin Tindall on this one.

At the recent meeting of the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee, the panel debated, without reaching a firm conclusion, whether contractors who perform green plumbing and mechanical work should have qualifications or certifications above the norm.

Some panel members opined that including qualifications would discourage homeowners from improving their properties; others said that Authorities Having Jurisdiction would ignore contractor qualification requirements.

“This degrades our profession if you don't need a unique set of skills,” countered Kevin Tindall, Tindall & Ranson Plumbing, Heating & A/C, Princeton, N.J. “It always comes down to the contractor doesn't have any value in this.”

Tindall is on the committee as the representative of the IAPMO Committee for the Awareness and Understanding of a Sustainable Environment. He is also chairman of the Green Construction and Water Conservation Task Force for Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association. He's testified before Congress on the contractor's role in green building.

So here is the latest draft version of IAPMO's Chapter 9, Installer Qualifications:

  • 901.0 General.

  • 901.1 Scope. The provisions of this chapter address minimum qualifications of installers of plumbing and mechanical systems covered within the scope of this supplement.

  • 902.0 Qualifications.

  • 902.1 General. Where permits are required, the Authority Having Jurisdiction shall have the authority to require contractors, installers, or service technicians to demonstrate competency. Where determined by the Authority Having Jurisdiction, the contractor, installer or service technician shall be licensed to perform such work.

That's it. That's Chapter 9 in its entirety.

The Green Supplement is out for public comment now and we hope the qualifications section gets considerably beefed up.

“As time goes on, there needs to be additional training,” Tindall told us. “There's new technology out there. It's shortsighted to think that a contractor doesn't need to keep up with his trade. The only way to make sure of that is through a certification program.

“Without having it under the jurisdiction of some kind of code, at some point we'll have people installing water heaters with the thermostat set too low and that don't protect against Legionella, or such low flow from a showerhead that you have scalding issues,” Tindall said. “The things people said around the table are all legitimate concerns and contractors need to be aware of them. How many contractors who are not doing this kind of work would know about low flow on a showerhead being a scalding problem? Probably not many … Or graywater systems. Should a homeowner put in a graywater system? A rain catchment system, maybe, but not one that puts water back into a home.”

If qualifications are required, local enforcement is not enough. Standards would be set high in places such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois or California. There are, however, some jurisdictions that won't even enforce a plumbing code. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have plumbing codes.

There are already plenty of existing certifications out there, starting with LEED-AP.

The Green Mechanical Council has a host of courses, including Green Awareness Training and the similar United Association-run Green Systems Awareness. GreenMech also offers combustion analysis, handling R-410A, heat pump systems, energy auditing and more. All of the GreenMech courses include an exam and a certification for those who pass.

There's GreenPlumbersUSA, which is also partners with GreenMech and the UA. The GreenPlumbers certification is also available to any member of PHCC. On the HVAC side, there's North American Technician Excellence.

If the certifications are there, then they must be in the code — IAPMO's, the International Code Council's under-development Green Building Code and the National Standard Plumbing Code. Putting enforcement into the hands of the 85,000 jurisdictions across the U.S. is bad for contractors. A lot of inspectors are good. We know some of them. Others are ignorant, stupid, corrupt, only interested in collecting a check or performing drive-by inspections. We urge model codes to include qualifications in their green codes.