BIG RAPIDS, Mich. - HVACR instructors got a peek into the world of mechanical codes, thanks to a seminar by Tennison Barry, chief of the Mechanical Division for the state of Michigan. Barry spoke with instructors at the recent Air-Conditioning Refrigeration Institute (ARI) Instructor Workshop at Ferris State University.

He told seminar attendees, "Codes play an important part of what you do."

For that reason, Barry recommended that instructors invite inspectors into their classrooms to talk with students, because it may be in the best interest of each student to know what his or her local inspector is looking at when the person inspects various HVACR equipment installations.

"At some point, a tech will install equipment the way he or she was taught and it may be different from the local code requirement," he said.

Tennison Barry (left), chief of the Mechanical Division for the state of Michigan, spoke at the ARI workshop. Jill Trinklein, Ferris State University public relations, marketing, and distance learning coordinator, arranged the program.

Getting Involved With The Process

Barry made it a point to tell instructors that inspectors do not know everything about mechanical systems. They often interpret codes in different ways and sometimes don't have knowledge of how everything operates. The main concern for all inspectors is that equipment is installed so that it can be operated safely and does not present a safety risk to people or the environment in which it is installed.

"No inspector can know everything about mechanical systems," Barry noted. "There are so many of them. Some inspectors think they know everything, but may misapply the code. I've always said to inspectors, ‘If you can't write it, you can't cite it.' Inspectors must be able to use the written code to cite a violation."

But what if the written code is unclear or may not apply to a certain installation? Barry said there are ways to clear up the confusion - processes that involve all HVACR professionals, including instructors.

"Instructors should be involved in the code process," he said. "You can make code changes by following certain procedures. You can actually write the code itself - you don't have to be a member of the mechanical inspectors."

Trust Your Instincts

Barry said there are times when contractors need to stand up for what they believe is the right way to install equipment, despite being contrary to written codes. He suggested that contractors not do what inspectors tell them to do if they know it is wrong. But he also knows that many contractors will follow the code because they don't have time to go through an appeal process.

"If you don't have time to go through the process, you can perform the job under protest," he said. "Then there is a record of it and an appeal can be made later."

There are also alternative means and methods to meet the intent of the code, Barry noted.

If contractors cannot physically make changes to the equipment, they can prove that the installation was intended to follow the written code. There are always ways to compromise with inspectors as long as the intent is the same.

"It is the inspector's responsibility to meet the intent of the code," Barry added. "There is a big difference between meeting the intent and being liable for the intent."

He noted that it is the obligation of all contractors to understand the local codes and noted the extreme differences in various regions of the country. Barry said there were very strict codes in Fairfax County, Va., and an instructor in the audience said his area in rural Texas required no inspections.

Publication date: 08/15/2005