Ask the contractor: Building codes are in place for public safety

Q: I am aware that Yavapai County is considering changes in the building code, and one change will require a permit and inspections for water heater installations. Why is Yavapai County attempting to tie the hands of the do-it-yourself homeowners and adding another layer of government? A water heater installation is a water heater installation.-Ed, Williamson Valley

A: The current code policy for Yavapai County does not require a permit for replacement of a water heater with "like for like," and replacement and installation leaves the quality up to the integrity and competence of the person or company doing the work. (If a water heater installation converts the unit from gas to electric or electric to gas, a permit is required.)

Yes, the do-it-yourself guy or the handyman that you hire can certainly purchase a water heater and install it themselves for less money than hiring a licensed plumber who is familiar with building codes and permit requirements. Permits are required for water heater installations in several of our jurisdictions currently because there are several safety-related issues that the inspectors check for. In talking with Yavapai County officials, they have seen a 40 percent failure rate in water heater installations from the licensed contractor down to the homeowner who pulls a permit and installs it themselves. Some of the more serious issues encountered during inspections are:

• Lack of adequate upper and lower combustion air for gas water heaters in the water heater compartment

• Gas water heaters installed in unapproved locations such as closets and bedrooms

• Temperature and pressure relief valve discharge piping not run to an approved location

• Temperature and pressure relief piping not properly sized

• No required pan under water heater to prevent interior damage to finishes

• Water heater pan drain does no terminate in an approved location

• No expansion tank installed on the cold water intake size of the water piping

• Disconnect for water heater not installed at the water heater location or is located in an inaccessible location

• Water heater installed in a compartment with other equipment that does not allow for removal of the water heater without dismantling the other equipment

• Water heater installed in the original compartment and floor supporting the water heater is not structurally sound

• Inappropriate and unsafe venting.

Inspections are not bad things and inspectors are not bad people. Our permitting jurisdictions want you to be safe, and that is the reason why permits for water heaters are addressed in the International Residential Code. Work done without permits can result in legal and financial consequences, and even more so if the work was not done by a licensed contractor. Water heaters are under the purview of the plumbing and gas codes requiring permits and inspections to ensure a safe installation.

In a 10-day window recently, there were 18 calls to Unisource from homeowners that called with gas leak smells and/or appliance issues. When Unisource goes on a call, they are required to inspect all of the home's gas appliances. Of these 18 calls, 12 resulted in a "red tag" of the water heater due to one or more of the above listed conditions being present, requiring a shut-down for safety. With all 18 of these calls, work was done without a permit and/or by the do-it-yourselfer or a handyman.

The objective of building codes is to establish and implement an enforcement program to protect the public's life, health and welfare in the built environment. This protection shall be provided through our jurisdiction's implementation of their building codes and the application of the performance-based standards contained within it.

So let's learn to love building codes, love our building departments and our inspectors. The common goal is to keep everyone safe.

Remember to tune in to YCCA's Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy to Mike talk about the construction industry and meet your local community partners.