With the start of the new year, and in the middle of a dry, dry winter, California residents face a new set of regulations to require plumbing fixtures that use less water.
Effective Jan. 1, significant remodels of residential and commercial structures that were approved and completed before 1994 must include the replacement of outdated toilets, urinals, shower heads and faucets in order to get the remodel signed off.
Enforcement will be up to the local building departments. Officials from Woodside, Portola Valley and Atherton have said in interviews that, with a 1994 reference point, many properties have long since been upgraded. The Almanac was unable to reach anyone in the Menlo Park building department before publication time.
In Woodside, property owners will regulate themselves. Owners will have to bring to Town Hall a signed form attesting to the number of fixtures in the building(s) and their having been upgraded, Deputy Town Manager Paul Nagengast told the Almanac. "We decided that, with our (staff) resources, it was best to do it that way," he said.
Portola Valley will use signed forms as well, but won't exclude on-site visits, said Deputy Building Official Gary Fitzer. "It's a state law, so we're required to enforce it," he said.
The replacement rules do not apply to building repairs, such as new roofs or windows. The law also includes a provision by which a licensed plumber can certify that newer fixtures will not work with the existing plumbing infrastructure. "That's the plumber employing a rule of reasonableness," Mr. Fitzer said. "It's worthy of discussion."
Brett Hale, Atherton's building official, said the town will be using a sign-off policy, but added that "it depends on how the building inspections go."
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Standards to tighten
After Jan. 1, 2017, the upgrade requirement will extend to all residences and commercial buildings, remodeled or not. Two years later, the upgrade becomes a mandatory item to be disclosed when property ownership changes.
SB407, enacted in October 2009, established the requirement in recognition of the essential nature of fresh water to the "future economic and environmental health of California." The priorities include protection and restoration of aquifers, reliability of water supply and sophisticated water conservation. The state is also encouraging retail water suppliers to offer incentives to help property owners comply with the law.
When asked to comment on the new regulations, Dave Guy, who owns Guy's Plumbing and Heating Inc. in Menlo Park, said that while he does not do remodels, the law may spring surprises.
"There may be an issue that wasn't an issue before you pull the toilet up," Mr. Guy said. A new toilet on an old fitting might leak and insurance might not cover it, he said. Lead fittings might have to be replaced with steel, or a job might entail unanticipated work on the floor.
The other big issue is having enough water to complete flushing into the main sewer line. The new toilets now work well enough to move waste out of the toilet, but can they move it off the property and into the sewer main? "It builds up and the pipes need to be cleaned out more often," Mr. Guy said.