Code compliance is crucial in the HVAC field. If a job does not meet code – for whatever reason – it doesn’t pass inspection. If it doesn’t pass inspection, it’s more work, less money and damage to your reputation.

For their sixth mission, the Mission: HVAC students explain what it means to meet code, why this is so important and how to achieve code compliance on each and every job.

Derick: Meeting Code

Codes have been set in place due to past trial and error, and have been put in place because they are the sure and safe way of doing any kind of HVAC work.

The purpose of codes is to guide government agencies in meeting their minimum obligations to protect the general welfare of the population. But, meeting the code is not without challenges:

One of the challenges of meeting the code is fixing an install to make it up to code. Since the codes are always being updated, there are codes that are in place today that may not have been in place during the time of the install or job.

Another challenge is keeping up with the codes. The best way we can do this is through training. Always look at the particular sections of the codes that pertain to the industry or line of work and pay attention to any changes to the sections of the codes. The code can be complicated at first glance, but with proper studying  and on-the-job training, it will become familiar.

The code is your best friend when it comes to getting the job done in a safe and correct manner.

Jacob: It’s Really Not Made Up

For this mission, I spoke with a local (North Carolina) code official about meeting the code. This mission was particularly interesting to me due to my past in general construction. When framing or working with masonry and rebar, for example, you can always size materials up from the code requirements and finish with a superior project. But when working in heating and air, you reach a conclusion based on calculations and you have very little leeway in what you do. If your heat load calculations tell you that a three ton system is needed, you can’t go with a five ton and make it better.

Question 1: What is code compliance?

The inspector told me the exact same thing my instructor in an Architectural Program told me years ago: It is the absolute legal minimum required to build a habitable house. He clarified this point a little by adding, in layman’s terms, “It is the worst house you can legally live in.” I have a friend who noticed that his roof looked a little wavy in the past. He crawled up in the attic and discovered that the roof rafters were 2X8’s. When he called Code Enforcement to ask about it, he was told “Well, that’s code.” The guys building the house passed, but left a lot to be desired. They were probably looking at the code as a rulebook instead of the minimum.

Question 2: Why is this important?

He started with the brief introduction that it was basically about public safety. Of course that is kind of general and obvious, so he gave me a very specific explanation that I kind of understood already, but had never had anyone explain it this way. In this country, we build houses that are unfortunately built with a projected useful life. In many other countries, even residential buildings are constructed with a large amount of concrete or solid brick walls, not simply the single veneer like we have here. The point is that a house constructed in the US is understood to undergo “progressive destruction” instead of “catastrophic destruction.” While this may sound pretty bad, the general idea is that you can notice something going wrong and correct it instead of having the thing fall in on you.

Question 3: What’s something that the general public, non-builder homeowner may not know about the code?

The answer: they do not make this stuff up. In all codes, the state level is the lowest level. For example, here in North Carolina, you have the North Carolina Building Code, the North Carolina Fuel Gas Code, and the North Carolina Mechanical Code. One exception is the National Electric Code, which is a basis that states can start from and then modify. Having said that, he added that code is enforced at the county level. In North Carolina, you would have to design for building codes using a greater snow load in the mountains than at the Outer Banks, for example. Also, the code may be interpreted differently from county to county. While there is a way in the system to petition for a clarification or even change to the code, it is generally easier to ask questions first and build later.

Question 4: What are the most common mistakes or code failures you see?

The inspector said it’s usually the simple stuff – things like sealing ductwork well, leaks and not sealing PVC joints. I spoke to some of the guys on our installation crew and they said the same thing. They are experienced enough that someone will usually catch it, but occasionally that one PVC joint gets overlooked, no matter how many times you glance at it in a day. These guys are good at what they do, know the rules, and nothing against them, but it’s just a reality that this sort of thing will occasionally happen. However, the inspector does sometimes see larger mistakes, like no traps in the condensation line, no pan under the indoor unit or no float switch in the pan all the way up to incorrectly sized equipment and ductwork.

Question 5: What is a sure way to prevent failing an inspection?

The answer was that there is unfortunately no way to be sure you will not fail, but you can do a lot to minimize the possibility. The first is that, as mentioned before, each county may interpret any given code section differently. This basically goes back to communication. If you will be working in a county you haven’t contracted in before, take the time to go to the code office or set up a job visit from the inspector you will be working with. Simply having the name of a person to go to in the event of a question or problem will go a long way. For HVAC in particular, one phrase that is repeated more than any other is “Install according to manufacturer’s instructions.” What does that mean? It means, stay organized and keep your paperwork together so you will have something to show the inspector.