CHICAGO — As the industry nears the precipice of one of the most significant changes in the plumbing industry in quite some time, the attitude of most contractors is a “wait-and-see” approach. As you probably know by now, the lead reduction law is a mere few weeks away and it begs the question: where are we as an industry?

On Jan. 4, 2014, Federal Law mandates the average wetted surface of every pipe, fixture, and fitting sold for or installed in potable water applications not contain more than 0.25% lead by weight. Are contractors prepared for the January 4 transition date? It’s time for contractors to start taking the reins on this issue.

“Contractors should discuss upcoming lead-free requirements with their wholesalers, as well as inspection authorities in order to fully understand what is expected of them,” said Derek Bower, product director at Viega. “If necessary, they should feel free to contact manufacturers if they need product-specific information or documentation.”

PHCC— National Association vice president of Technical Codes and Services Chuck White said the plumbing industry has been working diligently to inform contractors and wholesalers of the coming Jan. 4, 2014, implementation date of the changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

While the message may not have registered with every contractor, the majority of contractors have been exposed to the information. Advertisements, fact sheets, videos, webinars and other outreach have occurred steadily over the past 12 to 18 months. 

According to a recent lead free survey conducted by BrassCraft Manufacturing, the findings revealed 67% of plumbers are familiar with the law, while more than 51% believe the new law will not impact business.

The survey also revealed 78% will work through 2013 non-compliant products to avoid obsolete inventory in 2014, up from 61%.

“Plumbers should look at their current inventory and business needs to evaluate usage and ensure they have very little non-compliant inventory by December,” said Jeff Jolley, marketing and product development vice president at BrassCraft. “As of Jan. 4, 2014, remaining inventory will be obsolete. Plumbers cannot buy, sell or install non-compliant products.”

BrassCraft has taken a proactive stance with the development of a “Compliant Roll-out Plan” to assist its wholesale customers with balancing their inventory levels. 

Enforcement

While the industry readies for the new law, questions remain, as enforcement policies are still a bit nebulous. Questions surface as to how inspectors and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) will deal with this new requirement.

“With the building slowdown over the past few years it seems many inspections and inspectors have been cut back, and they struggle to keep current with basic inspections,” said Bob Rohr, training and education manager, Caleffi North America, one of the first-to-market leaders with low lead products. “Also, inspectors need the tools to test the product, the time and training to do so. It is also unclear which components must meet the low lead, and which are not, such as backflow or boiler feed valves, for example.”

Since the changes in the Safe Drinking Water Act have not taken effect as of yet, implementation guidance has not been finalized.

There are many questions from the industry about this implementation, and enforcement is one of them.

“While the final enforcement will be at the local level, either through the AHJ or water purveyor, the plumbing professionals will want to install compliant products and continue the long tradition of protecting the health of the nation,” said White.

Others feel a sense of ambivalence in regard to the new law. “Contractors I’ve spoken with either are aware and don’t care or not aware and don’t care. Why? Because there’s no enforcement and they have inventory to use. In addition, some took advantage of deep discounted sales when wholesalers unloaded leaded products,” said Dave Yates, owner, F.W. Behler, York, Pa., and Contractor magazine columnist.

Let’s hope this is not the case, but does this mean that some contractors will try to circumvent the new law and install what’s left in their current inventory?

“Guaranteed,” said Yates. “We will lose bids as a result. One example that comes to mind: testable backflow prevention devices. There is a fairly substantial increase in the cost — more than enough to sway an unsuspecting customer.”

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how enforcement of this new legislation shakes out.

“It’s currently up to local inspectors to enforce legislative requirements,” said Bower. “Some states are relying on manufacturers and wholesalers to naturally transition their inventories while others have been enforcing state lead-free requirements since 2010.” 

Better understanding

There are numerous resources for contractors provided from the industry. For example, PHCC and many member companies formed the Get the Lead Out Plumbing Consortium, www.gettheleadoutplumbing.com, which has been working diligently over the last several months to help contractors prepare for the transition.

The Training and Education Committee members of the Consortium include:

  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE)
  • American Supply Association (ASA)
  • International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO)
  • International Code Council
  • Legend
  • Milwaukee Valve
  • NIBCO INC.
  • PHCC Educational Foundation
  • Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC)
  • Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI)
  • Reliance Worldwide/Cash Acme
  • Viega, LLC
  • Watts Water Technologies

“The mission of the Consortium has been to provide unbiased widespread education about the manufacture, distribution and installation of lead free plumbing products and has trained more than 3,200 associates through 51 industry events,” said Aaron Edds, product manager, valves, NIBCO Inc., which partnered with the PHCC Education Foundation and became a founding member of the Get the Lead Out Plumbing Consortium.

In fact, NIBCO has also participated in many local and national PHCC, ASPE, and ASA industry events among many others to continue awareness and education.

“Contractors that have chosen to be proactive and informed have utilized the many tools and outlets that have been available to the industry,” said Edds.

Another great resource that has been championing the effort in education of lead free is Watts Water Technologies’ website, www.weareleadfree.net. From contractor readiness, testimonials and supplier profiles, weareleadfree.net has the industry covered.

The EPA has also published a document, http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/P100GRDZ.pdf, regarding what to look for in terms of markings, listings, certifications and approvals and this may be used to facilitate enforcement.