ASPE’s Seattle Chapter and the industry collaborate to fix a decades-old permitting system in King County, Washington.
by Michael Curtright, CPD
For decades, the Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Plumbing and Gas Program issued over-the-counter (OTC) plumbing permits, effectively creating a no plan review process for plumbing and gas permitting in Seattle/King County. The nature of this permitting for plumbing and gas was unheard of in the nation. In fact, no other best in class city had such a policy.
We can all agree that plumbing protects the health of the nation. To accomplish this in King County, the onus fell on the PHSKC field inspectors. This was not beneficial to the inspectors or the installers. For example, rather than fostering a spirit of cooperation, the industry and the AHJ often found themselves at odds. I will cite one example of which I am personally aware: A combination waste and vent system was installed without the benefit of a plan review and without the required explicit consent of the AHJ. The result? The system had to be removed and reinstalled to meet the code requirements. In this case, the OTC approach was costly to the installer as they were working at their own risk.
However, over the last five years all of this has changed. With the collaboration of the industry and the AHJ, a robust plan review process has been gradually implemented. What is the result? Clear, online guidance helps determine if a project is at a sufficient low health risk that plan review is not required, but this applies to a very limited number of projects. For the most part, PHSKC will require plumbing and gas plan review.
What support is there for the engineer/permit applicant? Most important, they are not guessing at what the AHJ will require for a complete submittal. Detailed guidance is on the PHSKC website to help the applicant navigate through the process. It is specific to occupancy and commensurate to health risk.
Has there been some industry pushback? Of course there has been, as with any change in life.
Having said the above, I return to the title of this article, “PHSKC Plumbing and Gas Program (AHJ) Collaborates with the Industry in an Unprecedented Approach.” The Seattle plumbing engineering community was invited to collaborate with the AHJ in an unprecedented way. Specifically, the ASPE Seattle Chapter Board of Directors as well as the Chapter membership provided countless hours of pro bono input to shape and support the development of the PHSKC Plumbing and Gas Program plan review implementation and guidance.
What is the measurement of the success of this program? Better designs, improved code compliance, clarified expectations of the AHJ’s requirements, and no costly surprises in the field have benefitted all involved.
But there is more to come! In the immediate future, the Seattle plumbing engineering community will provide the PHSKC with example drawings of code-compliant designs. These will include a complete plan depiction of the information that is required to effect the most expedient plan review.
Can the engineering community and the AHJ work collaboratively to improve public health and safety? Yes: look no further than the unprecedented collaboration with Public Health — Seattle & King County.
About the Author
Michael Curtright, CPD, is a Design Engineer with MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions in Seattle and serves as the Vice President, Legislative on the ASPE Seattle Chapter Board of Directors.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.