Common Code Violations and Tape and Sealant Application Mistakes
This mission is about the most common code violations, along with other tape and sealant application mistakes. Unfortunately, the codes are very foreign to many technicians and company owners and that is why all the violations and application mistakes occur. In my teachings, I spend a lot of time talking about Normals. I tell the student that “you must know the Normals before you can identify the abnormal.” Codes are written to be our Normals and act as our guide to performing safe and proper service and installations. Typically, the average technician will be familiar with a few codes, but usually it’s more of an accident than by studying the code books. When I became a subject matter expert for the state, I realized how big a problem this was. Most technicians learn the repair side and never get exposed to the regulatory side and therefore the lack of code knowledge follows them as they advance. Failed inspections typically are the way a technician discovers he did not follow a particular code.
Here is how codes work:
Specialty organizations write and develop code books based on years of information and feedback. Codes are amended from time to time to keep them current and fix issues or omissions from the previous edition. There are thousands of codes and all skilled trades have hundreds of them. Many times, the trade codes even overlap; for example HVAC has to follow fire codes, electrical codes and plumbing codes along with many others.
Common code books for HVAC are The Uniform Mechanical Code, International Residential Code and International Fuel Gas code. The codes may specify other manuals to be followed such as Manual J, Manual S and Manual D. Codes will often refer to following specifications from SMACNA, ACCA, UL 181, ASTM and more. There isn’t anything you can do in HVAC that is not spelled out specifically in a code, manual or specification. One of the easiest things you can do is always follow the manufacturer’s installation manual. In fact, the codes require you to do just that. The information in the installation manual is right out of the codes and will help you greatly. Many of these installation manuals get thrown away and few ever get read. Understanding how detailed the codes can be helps to understand why up to 90% of the homes in America have systems that are not fully code compliant.
I once asked some State and city code officials to give me a list of the top HVAC code violations and I compiled it to the most common violations:
- No Permit
- Failure to follow Manufacturer’s instructions
- Failure to properly install, seal and leak test the ductwork
- Condensate drain trap not properly installed
- Flexible gas line entering the furnace or no sediment trap
- Service access and clearances issues
- Flue pipe touching combustibles
- Failure to follow manual J, S and D
When you realize that not following codes can be deadly for the home occupants, it really shines a light on the importance of learning and following them. This applies to your area whether it is required by local jurisdiction or not. Just take the example #5 above about flexible gas line entering the furnaces. The code requires rigid steel pipe to extend from the furnace and then connection to an approved flexible gas line. If you don’t follow this and run the flexible connector inside the furnace it can vibrate against the entry opening of the cabinet and rupture. If this happens there will be a deadly situation very quickly from the leaking flammable gas. We should strive to learn the codes for the things we do and not inadvertently create a dangerous condition. Never hesitate to call an inspector or expert and ask for advice. I have found most code enforcement officials are more than happy to help you if you ask. States and other jurisdiction areas adopt different manuals and codes so be sure and check on your needs based on your location.
Let’s look at some issues with misapplication of tapes and sealants. These are also covered in the codes and many times follow the UL181 listing. Tapes are part of everyday HVAC work and there is a lot to know about them. Thankfully Shurtape has made this easy for us with this Tape University resource. The wrong tapes are used quite often so using a resource like Tape University is very helpful. Tape University can help us make the right choice when taping and sealing things like metal duct, flexible duct, ductboard, line set insulation, duct insulation repairs and many more applications. Using the wrong tape will result in a failure of the connection and a code violation. When you are required to use UL181 listed tape you will find that Shurtape has it clearly marked so that it is easy to identify after installation. Take some time and explore the Tape University site and then look in your truck and make sure you are using the right tapes. Even when you get the right tape make sure to follow the procedures to get proper adhesion. Putting tape on a dirty surface will not work any better than using the wrong tape. If you use mastics in your applications, be sure to read carefully the mastic instructions. Make sure you are using the right mastic in terms of duct pressure, indoor or outdoor application and temperature applications. Whether you are using mastic or tape it pays to do the job right the first time.
Look at codes as being the Normal and strive to learn them so you will be performing the safest and best work that will not come back to haunt you or, even worse, hurt someone.