It’s generally true that contractors are the type of people who like working with their hands. But into their lives, unfortunately, more than a little bit of paperwork consistently falls. That’s especially true where codes are concerned.

In order to keep up with all the changes that are made at the federal, state, county, and city levels, contractors must read all the latest bulletins, releases, and other associated materials.

Just think about what could happen should a contractor become remiss in keeping up with code changes. At best, he’s leaving himself open to having to rework a job, which can become expensive and time consuming for both the contractor and the building owner. At worst, he’s leaving himself open to a lawsuit.

Many code bodies do not regularly notify all contractors when a change is made; they leave it up to the contractors to discover the changes.

So what’s a contractor to do? Plant a staff member at every code agency and wait for changes to be made? No, nothing that drastic. But a great deal of awareness is necessary on the part of the contractor if he’s to remain informed.

Join A Group to Stay Current

Probably one of the best ways to keep up with code changes is to join a local chapter of a trade association, such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

Frank Menditch, a management consultant with ARS/ ServiceMaster, says that in the Washington, D.C. area, contractors have to work with three distinctive code jurisdictions, as well as a smattering of local, “go-it-alone” municipals.

“The responsibility lies with the contractor,” Menditch says. “Some jurisdictions are very good in communicating with newsletters and direct correspondence with the master, journeyman, and contractor. Others do nothing.

“Our local ACCA chapter will sometimes be informed of a significant change. This comes about by a periodic meeting with each of the authorities of the larger jurisdictions.”

Lou Jennings and Nick Ganem, partners in Metro Mechanical, Phoenix, AZ, agree that ACCA is an excellent vehicle that contractors should turn to in order to remain informed. (Ganem also represents SMACNA in the state of Arizona.)

“ACCA is very tuned in at multiple levels — national, local, all the way around,” notes Jennings. “Plus, they have the benefit of feedback from the members.”

Unfortunately, too many contractors do not keep current on code changes and are leaving themselves open to problems.

The Dangers of Not Keeping Up

Jay Peters, president of Construction Data, a mechanical education company in Las Lunas, NM, has been traveling the country teaching codes and contractor exam preparation for the last eight years.

He notes, “I have found that many inspectors, not to mention tradesmen, do not keep up with the changes. I can’t count how many times a contractor will come to a 2000 class carrying a 1988, 85, or even an 82 code book.”

His feeling is that those in the field are not informed about how important these codes are, because many inspectors are not code worthy enough to instruct them in the benefits.

The code is the basis for any installation, stresses Peters. “The code will not only save life and property, but will also save the contractor a lot of money. It is the minimum standard by which to install a system.

“Most contractors are more guilty of over-installing rather than violating code. Let the uninformed tradesman install with code overkill; I would rather bid and install as per the minimum standard knowing that I can rest at night because my customer has a safe installation and my bottom line is protected.”

Although it is not what most contractors want to hear, Peters believes the only way to ensure that a contractor is educated to the current code is to require mandatory continuing education for licensees.

“This elevates the status of a tradesman to the level he deserves, being treated as an equal [or better] in the world of construction trades.”

Too Many Codes?

If contractors just had to keep up with one code, it may make their jobs easier. But, unfortunately, most contractors have myriad codes to keep up with.

As a contractor in Phoenix, Jennings says he deals with OSHA at the federal level, Maricopa Association of Governments at the county level (and there’s a different association for every county), Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Industrial Commission, Corporation Commission, and then each and every municipality has its own code.

“My bogeyman is the plethora of regulatory agencies in this state. The overlapping regulatory agencies are confusing, and the perception in the contractor community is that these agencies don’t particularly like each other,” says Jennings.

“You’ve got a little bit of a turf war of jurisdiction between each, and they don’t communicate nearly as well as they should,” adds Ganem.

This often results in delays for the owner. In addition, it could mean reworking a job based on a stricter or simply a different interpretation of one regulatory code vs. another. Jennings says it all translates into an industry that really isn’t any safer and costs more money.

He speaks from experience. Jennings recently was involved with replacing gas pipe at a local school. Metro Mechanical took out the requisite municipal code permit, and the City of Phoenix inspector gave the project a green light. Subsequent to that, the Corporation Commission came out and said the installation did not meet their standards.

“It was a quality, top-notch, professional installation, but because of two separate regulatory bodies not talking, someone has to be inconvenienced, and there’s additional expense to change this pipe with absolutely no increase in life safety protection. It’s just an example of conflicting codes and poor communication.”

Jennings would like to see all the code bodies come together and form a sort of clearinghouse, where contractors could find out about code changes and jurisdiction. “Maybe I sound like a Pollyanna, but there should be a single central voice of communication in order to be better informed.”