June 2023 Professional Engineer’s Perspective: What You Should Know About ASPE Design Standards

June 2023 Professional Engineer's Perspective by David DexterEver since the official founding of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers on September 18, 1964, its mission has been to be the voice of plumbing engineering to the global plumbing community. Since its beginnings, ASPE has been dedicated to the advancement of the science of plumbing engineering, endeavoring to advance the professional growth of its members while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

From ASPE’s inception, it has been dedicated to organizing and disseminating technical information relative to plumbing system design. Over the years, the design of plumbing systems has evolved from simple domestic water (DW) distribution along with drain, waste, and vent (DWV) systems into the numerous complex systems required in today’s building environments. The following list is far from all-encompassing, but it includes some of these complex systems:

  • Facility storm drainage, conventional roof drainage, and siphonic roof drainage systems
  • Medical gas systems for hospitals, dental offices, and other users of medical gases
  • Industrial gas systems used for the manufacturing and processing of consumer products
  • Laboratory waste systems that handle chemical wastes as well as biohazard materials
  • Protective systems to remove or neutralize deleterious materials from the waste stream, such as FOG (fats, oils, and grease) or acid/alkali wastes from laboratories or industrial processes
  • Petroleum product distribution systems to deliver oils, greases, chemicals, etc., for service and maintenance facilities as well as factories that produce automotive equipment
  • Systems to collect and separate deleterious materials such as AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) used in fire protection systems, also known as one of the “forever chemicals”
  • Water distributions systems, which are critical to human survival, that must be protected from the normal mineral loading in addition to biofilm growth that may include Legionella contamination
  • DWV systems that may not utilize gravity drainage but instead make use of vacuum to extract waste

The list could go on for some length, but this at least provides a short overview of the ever-growing types of systems for which a plumbing engineer is responsible. Plumbing engineers are involved in every type of facility—residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, educational, medical, etc.—and every building has some type of plumbing system within its walls.

How ASPE Got Involved in Standards Development

In keeping with ASPE’s vision as a global leader, the Board of Directors decided to create a design standards process in 2002. When it was announced that ASPE was seeking interested parties to join Working Groups (WG) or the Main Committee (MC), many members stepped forward to assist and advance this new initiative. While I had a minimal knowledge of the standards process, I offered to join one of the WGs being formed for what the Board hoped would be the first set of ASPE design standards. To my surprise, ASPE President Julius Ballanco, CPD, FASPE, told me that I did not understand; the Board desired me to chair the MC. I told Julius that my knowledge of the process was lacking and questioned taking on the position of Chair. This was in 2003, and I have learned a great deal since then, with much more to learn.

So What Are Design Standards?

According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex, standards are the generally accepted uniform procedures, dimensions, materials, or parts that directly affect the design of a product or facility. Per Wikipedia, it means to design items with generally accepted and uniform procedures, dimensions, or materials. Taking these definitions and applying ASPE’s intent and my understanding of the profession, design standards are mutually agreed upon means and methods that refer to all aspects of defining quality and methods of fabrication or installation of materials and equipment. In other words, it is the professional set of procedures and guidelines to offer all engineers and designers the recommended approach on an acceptable means to design a project or system recognized as an acceptable standard of care.

Are There Different Standards? What Makes Them Different?

Yes, there are many different types of standards: industry, national, international, quality, environmental, legal, and technical. Some standards are proprietary and best serve the needs of the developer, not the user. Some standards are developed by a closed group of industry members to serve their own needs while attempting to restrict competition. Most national or international standards are developed through an open consensus process in which no specific or interested group has a majority control and the standard is subject to public review. This open consensus process is required for a standard to be recognized in the model codes.

ASPE’s Current Design Standards Status

ANSI (American National Standards Institute), a quasi-governmental agency, develops procedures and policies to ensure that no one group or entity has control or dictatorial sway over the development of approved American National Standards. Initially, ASPE was simply a developer of standards that could be referenced by the profession as “good practice.” Since becoming an ANSI-accredited standards developer requires significant effort and has an associated cost, it was not until 2012 that ASPE became ANSI accredited.

ASPE is committed to advancing the profession by providing technically valid standards that comply with the ANSI process and advance the public’s health, safety, and welfare. These standards come out of a need voiced within the profession for meaningful means and methods that can guide engineers and designers in acceptable ways to protect public good.

ASPE currently has issued several ANSI-approved standards:

  • ASPE/ANSI 45 (2018): Siphonic Roof Drainage
  • ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 63 (2020): Rainwater Catchment Systems
  • ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI 78 (2023): Stormwater Harvesting System Design for Direct End-Use Applications
  • WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-801-2015 (R2021): Sustainable Management
  • WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-802-2017 (R2022): Sustainable Water Treatment Media
  • WQA/ASPW/ANSI S-803 (2017): Sustainable Drinking Water Treatment Systems

As you probably noted, ASPE has partnered with ARCSA (American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association) and WQA (Water Quality Association) in the development of standards that ASPE has a mutual interest in maintaining. Neither ARCSA nor WQA are ANSI accredited to develop consensus standards; hence, their WGs draft standards, and then ASPE’s MC oversees the public review in accordance with the ANSI process.

ASPE also has several other standards currently under development as well as technical guidelines that may become future standards.

Where Do These Standards Begin?

When members or other interested parties see a need for guidance and uniformity, they develop a statement of purpose for the proposed standard. Provided the MC and ASPE agree that this is a needed standard, the PINS (Project Initiation Notification System) will be placed with ANSI. The PINS allows other organizations to review the proposal and protest if they feel the proposed standard overlaps or interferes with one of their standards projects.

Once the PINS process has ended, a WG of knowledgeable and interested individuals is formed. As the document is developed, it will go through internal reviews and edits to ensure technical accuracy as well as agreement between WG members. Once the WG believes the document is ready, it moves to the MC for balloting. MC members may suggest revisions as they believe necessary. Upon acceptance by the MC, the document will be released for public review. The WG shall review and respond to every public comment and revise the document as necessary to address the public comments or provide reasoning for rejecting a comment. The revised document will then go through further review by the MC and public before receiving approval for issuance as a standard. It then is forwarded to ANSI for approval as an ANS.

How You Can Get Involved

Help yourself and the profession by suggesting needed standard ideas. Form a WG and seek members to develop a technically accurate draft and become part of the solution to solving the need. These documents are here to serve the profession and address the needs we all see. Be a contributor to the profession, sharing your knowledge and experience with others to better improve the design process and protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

About the Author

David D. Dexter, FNSPE, FASPE, CPD, CPI, LEED BD+C, PE, is a registered Professional Engineer, Certified Plumbing Inspector, and Certified Plans Examiner with more than 40 years of experience in the installation and design of plumbing systems. He specializes in plumbing, fire protection, and HVAC design as well as forensics related to mechanical system failures. Dave serves as Chair of ASPE’s Main Design Standards Committee, Chair of the Bylaws Committee, Co-Chair of the College of Fellows Selection Committee, and Co-Chair of the Professional Engineer Working Group. He also was the 2008–2009 President of the Engineering Foundation of Ohio, 2010–2011 President of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, and 2012–2014 Central Region Director for the National Society of Professional Engineers.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

Scroll to Top