Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
In fairness to all, we don't discuss pricing on the Wall. Thanks for your cooperation.
Need to contact us? Visit

Duty of the HVAC technician according to law?

Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
The HVAC technician is burdened with so many layers of laws, standards, regulations, and instructions it is bewildering. I figured I'd start a thread just to get some dialogue going:

In a State where you have building codes, those codes are the LAW. They are not suggestions or Best Practices. They are what you will be held to in a court of law should there be a loss with damages/ injuries. Now, a municipal building official is a Code Enforcer--not a Code Legislator (I'll wait for the laughter to subside). There is a legal mechanism to change local codes. Once the State has adopted a code, the local municipalities may or may not be allowed to accept it depending upon your State laws. For instance, the Statutes in Pa. allow municipalities to "opt out" of the Pa Uniform Building Code, which is essentially the 2009 ICC code suite. Therefore, when you work in each of the various 1,347 or so jurisdictions within the Commonwealth, you need to know if they adopted the Pa UBC/ IRC or kept the old BOCA codes. Regardless of what an inspector tells you, you are held to that code that was voted into law. He legally does not have the power to willy nilly change the code to suite his purposes. In order to change a local code (ordinance), you must submit the request to the governing body with substantial documentation on why this change is relevant and necessary, what the drawbacks are, economic burden, inspection and enforcement ramifications, etc. Once the Council has voted to proceed, you need three public hearings so stakeholders and the public can comment. If adopted, then and only then does it become an enforceable law.

Now, within that code are references to various other codes, standards, regulations, etc. By Statute, you are held to those standards the same and the full body of the code. For example: You go to replace an oil fired boiler with a gas fired one. Do you have any obligation to inspect or reline the chimney and if so by what authority? The IRC says for gas appliances, refer to NFPA 211 for what constitutes an acceptable masonry chimney. Now, the IRC details in Ch 10 how to build a masonry chimney and fireplace and that is not as restrictive as 211. So, which do you refer to? 211. It is specified in G2427.5.2 specifically. Moreover, it is also almost universally referred to in all installation manuals. So, what does 211 say? Well, that's a whole week long inspection cert. course but suffice it to say no existing masonry heater flue can pass a Level II inspection per Ch14 of NFPA 211 without a listed liner. So, you will have to reline.

 What about  an oil fired boiler installation? Well, the IRC refers you to NFPA 211 for the chimney, NFPA 31 for the general oil burner requirements and ASME CSD-1 for the boiler installation.

What about using listed factory built chimney or venting? The IRC simply states to refer to the listed instructions of that vent mfr. What if the listing calls for a clearances less than that typically stated in the code? Those clearances in the code are intended for unlisted appliances or when the listed instructions cannot be located. However, if a mfr. has tested and listed their product at a reduced clearance, then you may go with the listed spec.. Listings trump codes. Codes are general rules for the absence of engineered, tested, listed appliances and products.

That ought to stir some discussion. Enjoy!


  • HenryHenry Member Posts: 703

    Codes are guidelines to be used by installers and are then transformed to laws by the AHJ. When we write code, it is for the protection of the user and for information of the installer. Recently, code has made many more refreshes to standards which installers do not have access to. I feel that this is a problem as before we specified what was to be used and done. An HVAC or in our case a heating carded with gas and oil certificate, must know all codes and standards.  If it is not up to spec, it is disconnected. I had one this afternoon when it was an unlined chimney that needed an emergency replacement. We will replace the unit but will install a liner once we get it . Otherwise, it is  a no go!
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Member Posts: 3,897
    Many times

    the tech does not have access to all the standards, codes and local requirements. Working here in RI/Mass they use CMR248 in Mass in conjunction with NFPA I believe they are up to 2006. RI uses the International Fuel Gas Code which in order to fully use that code you also need several other International Codes as they are referenced throughout the Fuel Gas Code. Then there are ANSI Standards just as an example Z21.8 Installation Of Gas Conversion Burners about a 70 page booklet is $700 to purchase and many other standards are the same.

    As one who teaches code and has to deal with rewriting my instructions every two or three years as the codes change it ain't easy.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,655
    Good thread...

    as one who once was -- many long years ago -- a "building code enforcer" (nicely put!) may I add one thing?  You are quite right that they aren't legislators, and they aren't legally able to change, modify, etc. etc. the code.  However, codes are usually somewhat subject to interpretation and often, sadly, somewhat contradictory.  While some building officials are, I'll admit, frustrated TSA enforcers, most of them are pretty hard working ordinary guys.  From my own experience, I never liked busting somebody -- provided he or she didn't try to bust me first.  And I distinctly recall informing an architect once, who was being somewhat less than cooperative (to put it charitably), that there were enough contradictions in the code that I could always find something to hold him up on, no matter what he did, so can't we all just get along?

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582
    Great thread Bob...

    We, as contractors, are exposed to, and have the possibility to expose our clients to many deadly, disasterous elements on a day to day basis. We deal with water (largest annual insurance company loss claim reason) gas, carbon monoxide and electricity. Rightfully, we are regulated by many codes and standards.

    The intent of the new RPA/IAPMO Hydronics Code will be to echo the efforts of our neighbors to the North, and modify it to meet our industry needs. It is not our intent to force contractors to do things OUR way, but rather give them, and the consumer a menu, if you will, of applicable system designs that would be appropriate for their situation. Much of the existing standards (i.e. Uniform Mechanical Code) already address some of the minimum standards, but do not address the methodology of delivering radiant heat. And a large part of our job is teaching the AHJ's because they are going to be tasked with inspections to make certain that what as proposed, got installed, and no corners were cut.

    The bottom line goal is to enhance and increase the consumer and AHJ's confidence in their radiant system, and increase the number of radiant installations performed. It will also give guidance to errant DIYers and handymen who think they know what they are doing, but in reality don't.

    The IAPMO code process uses an ANSI guideline, which gives ALL affected people the opportunity to express their concerns, good or bad. If you want to have a say so in what happens, I'd suggest you consider joining the RPA so that we can notify you when we have a roughed out code for review and comment.

    Once the RPA is done with it, we turn it over to the IAPMO/ANSI standards code adoption/approval process, and from there it goes through their evaluation and comment period, and eventually becomes an actual code.

    If any one is interested in commenting, let me know and I will tell you how it works.


    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    biggest stumbling block

    Tim hit on what I think is the biggest stumbling block which is the aggregate cost of all the codes, stds. and regs we are held accountbable to by law. Most UL and ANSI stds. run btw $700-900 each. Most codes and stds .get revised every 3 yrs. Now, add to that the ASHRAE Handbooks, ACCA manuals, etc. and it really adds up. Want more fun? Throw in the National Roofing Contractors Assn. Manual set of 4 at $650 just in case you have to mess with roofing systems;

    There was a lawsuit about 10 yrs ago where the Southern Bldg. Code Congress sued over someone publishing their entire code online for free. They prevailed over the SBCCCI because the court found the public and contractors must have "reasonable" access to the rules they are held to. Not sure why this hasn't spilled over to all the codes. I don't have a problem paying for printing cost plus a reasonable profit but most of these are out of touch for the average guy.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Member Posts: 3,897
    Since I have been out here

    on  my own (1994) I have been required to spend over $9,000 on codes and standards in order to continue to be able to teach. Now I am not Harvard by the way so that is a big dent in my pocket book. That does not even take into account having to have codes for Mass, RI CT, Maine, NH, Vermont and New York as folks come to me from all those places. So let us gather together and make some more codes so NFPA, and all the others can make some more money.

    I will tell you as one who has been doing this for many years just getting codes established, then published can take years. Try submitting a proposal to change something. Henry and Bob and some others who perhaps sit on these code boards will tell you it is not simple.

    Interesting when I was with the gas utility we got the codes and standards for free, and no it was not because we joined their club, they just gave them away back then as they figured the gas company would be a good sales group for them to our many contractor customers.
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582
    Taking lemons and making lemonade...

    Tim and Bob,

    I see an opportunity for you to make some money, and not break everyones bank.

    Why not allow these affected contractors who have to make these large purchases a one time proposition, and then have someone like yourselves write an addendum to the base codes as changes come about.

    This would help keep the high costs of wrapping ourselves in red tape to a controllable measure...

    Just thinking out loud here...


    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Member Posts: 3,897
    Sounds great

    just one problem the PHCC here tried that and NFPA and the International Fuel Gas Code folks went after them for copyright infringement.

    I have a manual I wrote called Fundamentals of Gas Volume II which covers Air for Combustion and Venting of Category I equipment. In order for me to use that manual I have to pay a fee to NFPA and International Fuel Gas Code people. The reason is I include a lot of the code in the manual but with my explanation of the code.

    The obvious thing is you have to quote the code in order to teach the code but you can't change the wording of the code as you do not have the authority. I solve the problem now by buying code books for all my students and then they reimburse me. Keep in mind some folks who must use these codes are not lawyers and might I say perhaps not real good readers. So I have to put the code into language they understand and make it as simple as I can so they do not get into trouble.

    I was doing training on code for gas fitters in a particular state and getting paid to do it. The code group (I will not name names) came in and took that away from me and several others because "we were not directly involved with the writing of the code". That I have since found out has been a very lucrative business for that code group.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    one small help from NFPA

    Here is an example of how NFPA tries to help a little bit. You can read their stds. online for free but they have done an excellent job of protecting them so you cannot print or save them. At least it gives you access to the current version online. Then you can decide if you need to purchase it or not. Good for the occasional peek.

    One way to get the I-codes for residential is to join the ICC then choose the  IRC for your choice of one free code book. You can become a voting member and get a code book for $20 less than the code book alone. Note that many codes such as NFPA and ICC are now including notations on sections that changed from the previous edition. That gives you 6 yrs. of coverage: 3 fwd and 3 looking back. One valuable benefit of joining the NFPA and ICC is access for technical support and opinions. This has easily paid for the membership a number of times. Nothing like a letter from Ted Lemoff on a gas code issue to quiet the most arrogant AHJ.
  • HenryHenry Member Posts: 703

    Both NFPA and CSA fund themselves with selling codes. None will offer you a free-bee! I had a one in my laptop that crashed. Even as a voting member, I could not get a new venting program or code. I had to wait until we had a new code. I personally do not like to change the natural gas code or 76 other gas codes. The AHJ needs to enforce the existing and not want to make additional changes to make things easier for them! But something as simple of preventing an installer of using the space around a Cat IV vent to vent a Cat I appliance, takes 3 years! Then one has the local AHJ that allows non licensed people do venting because there needed to do something!
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,920
    Mass requires the code book

    to be on the truck at all times. If a tech does not know the code do you want them working on your system? I am a Master plumber and sheet metal fitter in Mass, I am also a Licensed burner technician and a Master license in CT. I am licensed because I learned the codes and I keep the licenses because I keep up on the code. Codes are there to try and save people from dumb people doing dumb things.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Paul FredricksPaul Fredricks Member Posts: 1,542
    It seems

    that code keeps changing for the sake of change. Doesn't it make sense that at some point the code will be as complete as it needs to be?

    For example (I'm in CT), we've always used 26 gauge flue pipe in residential applications, 6" to 10". Recently, the AHJ failed the inspection of a new boiler because we used 7" flue pipe that wasn't 24 ga. We called the AHJ for clarification and he said it's in the code book. In CT we use the international residential code. We looked through the book and, sure enough, 7" to 10" pipe has to be 24 ga. We explained to him that no one carries 24 ga flue pipe (calling around to the supply houses in that town confirmed this. In fact, they had no idea what I was talking about).

    The pipe had to be specially ordered for this job, and one or two others. I think at this point he stopped enforcing this code.

    Was there a problem with 26 ga pipe? It's always served me well. Or did someone just need to seel more books?
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,920
    lower stack temps

    of more modern boilers create more corrosion in the smoke pipe. 24 is what I have used for years. You need a better supply house.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,655
    Paul brings up

    an interesting question about codes with the comment that "doesn't it make sense that at some point the code will be as complete as it needs to be".  Sadly, probably not.  There are two reasons: first, sometimes hazardous or dangerous conditions will come to be appreciated that simply weren't at an earlier stage; then the code would need to be changed to account for that.  Second, sometimes newer technologies or materials will come along which necessitate a change in the code to accomodate them -- sometimes because they simply are so much better or safer, or sometimes because -- in the example cited -- a change in one place (to modcons with low stack temperatures) creates a problem someplace else (to thinner sheet metal corroding too fast).  So something has to be done...

    Where it gets interesting (well, just flat out difficult) for all concerned is when one is dealing with historic structure restoration.  It is very likely that the structure met all the applicable codes (there may not have been all that many!) when it was built, and subsequent work may also have met all the applicable codes at the time.  But what happens when one starts to do work on one of these structures?  At what point does one have to rip out all the old work -- which met code at the time -- and install all new work, because the code has changed?  This is not a trivial question, and can sometimes make the difference between updating something which really needs it and not doing anything at all, which can be counterproductive to say the least.

    Some progress is being made in this area, but it is slow -- and many AHJs have a real problem embracing the notion that if old work which met code at the time isn't being disturbed it should be left alone.

    Something to think about...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    rehabilitation of historic structures

    really is a sticky wicket.  I know of quite a few historic commercial buildings whose owners are so afraid of the cost of installing fire sprinklers that they refuse to pull permits for much of anything and are in effect allowing the buildings to rot.  I've had my share of challenges with this and have come to the conclusion that once a project reaches a certain scope, it's really best to involve a preservation architect to run interference between the SHPO and the various state and federal regulators.
  • Paul FredricksPaul Fredricks Member Posts: 1,542

    All the supply houses around here are stocking the same pipe. There needs to be a way to let everyone know when code changes...and what has changed, so supply houses and contractors can prepare before they do the installation. Updates always seem to be a suprise.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    22 Gauge Vs 26 Gauge:

    Back 35+ years, 18 and 22 gauge was normal for oil, the only thing I ever saw where I work. 26 Gauge was used on Scorched Air. Somewhere along the way, the suppliers started stocking 26 gauge only to keep inventory under control. With cold start oil boilers, the 26 gauge rots out in a very short amount of time.

    Its just like tubular drainage brass The plumbing code in Massachusetts calls for 18 gauge. All the tail pieces on new faucets come with 18 gauge. The only tubular brass available is 22 to 26 gauge brass. 26 gauge is like tissue paper. I once brought it up and I was looked at like a troublemaker. The inspector doesn't care, nor does the board.

    I read somewhere once that commercial applications over a certain size require something like 16 gauge and need to be fabricated. I've seen that stuff on a couple of jobs. I've seen an application where it isn't thicker than 22 gauge.

    Go figure.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,920
    16 gauge

    is required for 14" and larger I believe. This is why I agree with continuing education. I also think we need a more uniform set of codes. Physics does not change from state to state why should codes.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    steel pipe connector thicknesses

    Per NFPA 211, 2010 ed., Table for oil, solid fuel-burning appliances, domestic-type incinerators, and gas appliances other than Cat. I appliances.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    16 Gauge:

    I thought it was 16 gauge but I wasn't 100% sure. I know that it isn't 24 gauge thouth for over 14". Thanks for the clarification.
  • Jim DavisJim Davis Member Posts: 578

    Bob, are you starting trouble?  Good!  I laugh when I read Codes are for the protection of the user.  Hope that not the end user because there is nothing in the Code that requires verification of safety or function.  Just has to look good for the inspector.

    It is funny how many ASHRAE studies have been done in the last 13 years that have shown many of the things required by Code are not so good, but nothing has changed.  When new Codes are proposed that might add additional safety they disappear because it might cost someone more money and less profit.

    We are required to follow them but be assured there are no consumers protected because we do.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    sad but true

    I know we've chatted on this subject a number of times but that recent chase on another site is a good example.

    An "inspector" disagreed with my assessment that a gas water heater should have a level II inspection. The WH in question was in a home up for sale. They had foam insulation on both water pipes all the way down and the bottoms were melted from the heat of spillage. He was defending sustained spillage to 15minutes citing ANSI, NFPA and mfrs. instructions.

    I cited the NCI course and two studies done by the CPSC on CO incidents involving CAT I gas appliances: see attachments. In them, I note several things they did not. First, there is no uniform reporting mechanism of CO incidents. There are thousands of CO events going unreported all the time. Died of "natural causes"? Yes, CO is natural I guess. How about all the vague illnesses and misdiagnoses? Note that in most cases, a listed CO alarm sounded. Yet there were still CO deaths and all had COHb levels above 10%. The final comments in the second study make my case but it basically says current appliances do not have adequate safeguards against CO spillage and more work needs to be done. Ya' think?

    There are a lot of useless tests for draft at drafthoods such as using mirrors, open flames or smoke. None of these can quantify the draft pressure, none of these can quantify the levels of CO spilling and none can verify the actual flow of combustion gases up the vent. Yet they are referenced by the NFGC , ANSI and mfrs. Ridiculous!

    We have standards written for technology over 50 yrs old installed into buildings that do not resemble those of that period in terms of house physics and performance and expect a similar outcome? We install appliances that cannot fire and vent without mechanical assistance, put them into cold high mass wet chimneys attached to weatherized buildings with significant negative pressure in the CAZ then wonder why they fail and why the world is going crazy as we live in terrariums.

    Unfortunately, the technician is forced to choose between obeying the law vs. doing what he knows works and proves it works through testing.
This discussion has been closed.


It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!