NYC Council Intro Number 1481: An Industry Response Regarding House Sewer Work

As a little bit of a background regarding Intro 1481, the City of New York updates each agency’s codes, rules, and regulations periodically. These updates take the form of legislation being introduced to the City Council, known as an “Intro”.  NYC Council Intro 1481 is intended as an update to the NYC Plumbing Code. As stated in NYC Council Intro 1481 itself, the purpose of the intro is to align NYC Plumbing Code with the 2015 International Plumbing Code. What follows is an approved response from the NYC Subsurface Plumbers Association, a recognized Licensed Master Plumbers trade association in NYC that specializes in house sewer and water service line work.

Subsurface Plumbers Response: NYC Council Intro 1481 Purpose

The Subsurface Plumbing Industry, in the form of the NYC Subsurface Plumbers Association, wishes to point out first and foremost in its comments that the 2015 International Plumbing Code defines the building drain as terminating 30” beyond the exterior walls of the building. Therefore the fact that NYC Council Intro 1481 plans to extend the definition of the building drain as terminating at the property line poses a direct conflict with the 2015 International Plumbing Code. We therefore urge the removal of the added wording “or up to the property line, whichever is further”.  As a matter of fact, to be in unison and aligned with the International Plumbing Code, the distance should be shortened to 30” beyond the exterior wall.

home sewer work and NYC Council Intro 1481

A change in building drain definition may lead to excavations being left open in sensitive areas

The exact definition from 2015 International Plumbing Code (terminating point of building drain is underlined)

BUILDING DRAIN. That part of the lowest piping drainage system that receives the discharge from soil, waste, and other drainage pipes inside and that extends 30 inches (762 mm) in developed length of pipe beyond the exterior walls of the building and conveys drainage to the building sewer.”

Cost Ramifications and Subsurface Plumbing Industry’s response

Historically and at present a house sewer is defined as from the point of connection to 5’ out from the foundation wall, or the property line, whichever is closer to the building. This being the case, the DEP oversees the entire permitting process and the inspection process as well. The present code definition is instrumental in a seamless sewer repair process, and high quality work which meets code. The property owners of NYC have benefited in terms of receiving timely service, with relatively little interruption of the use of their drain systems and of disturbance to their property as well.

As stated in NYC Council Intro 1481 will re-define the building drain. The new definition will extend the building drain to the property line. This change will result in untold job delays, and safety concerns due to trench work remaining open for a prolonged period of time. Redefining the definition, as stated, will delegate inspections inside the property line to the NYC Department of buildings. The NYC DOB currently requires that installations be left open for 48 hours to provide an opportunity to inspect. This is as opposed to the current DEP process of same-day inspections.

Besides the above concerns, depending on the scope of work, the cost increase to each affected property owner would range from $4,900.00 to $6,900.00 with no associated benefit whatsoever.

sewer sinkhole

Sewer defects require immediate and seamless attention

Analysis: Cost Ramifications To NYC Home and Property Owners

Introducing a 2nd Agency to inspect work, under separate inspection procedures, and guidelines, will result in one(1) added day to any sewer work inside the property line. A conservative estimate for a full sewer crew, and all associated equipment is $3,500.00 for a day. Based upon a typical front yard, at a typical depth, the trucking fees to remove the excavated material, then return backfill material is $2,400.00 (an otherwise unnecessary expense as the inspection process currently exists). Therefore, a conservative price increase is $5,900.00 if the definition is changed. This cost factor does not take into account the safety ramifications of leaving open excavations inside of a private property.

Planned Stated Definition Change NYC Council Intro 1481

Page 17: BUILDING DRAIN. That part of the lowest piping of a drainage system that receives the discharge from soil, waste and other drainage pipes inside and that extends 5 feet (1524 mm) in developed length of pipe beyond the exterior walls of the building or up to the property line, whichever is further, and conveys the drainage to the building sewer.

Subsurface Plumbing Industry’s Response To Change In Definition

By extending the definition of a building drain to the property line, the DEP and the DOB will be in conflict. Both Agencies would have clearly overlapping jurisdictions, and a conflict in code. DEP will no longer have clear jurisdiction over what has historically been defined as a house sewer, and under their sole jurisdiction. This will create needless conflict between agencies, the permitting process itself, and disrupt an inspection process that is now seamless. More importantly, it will create an unfair hardship and disruption to the property owners of NYC, as explained further below.

Additional Tests and Inspections (page 32)

312.1 Required tests. The licensed master plumber shall make the applicable tests prescribed in Sections 312.2 through [312.10] 312.11 to determine compliance with the provisions of this code. The licensed master plumber shall give two days notice to the commissioner when the plumbing work is ready for tests

Subsurface Plumbing Response To Potential Additional Tests/Inspections

As noted above the current DOB inspection process, and stated previously, calls for two day notification to the commissioner when the plumbing work is ready for tests (a visual inspection as noted below). Unlike typical house drain or building drain work, house sewer work is completely outside the building. Furthermore it involves excavating at great depths, and in public areas. The prospect of leaving excavations inside the property line open, which was a rare occurrence under the present code, poses serious concerns. Most serious of them is an unnecessary safety exposure to the general public, and NYC property owners themselves. Open excavations inside a property are an invitation to calamity, including injuries to children.

Other concerns include:

  • A disruption to the property and its residents (which may include access and egress from a building).
  • Dramatic increases in the cost factor due to a disjointed inspection process, and delays in completion from present time.
  • Leaving an open excavation directly in front of a foundation wall dramatically increases the likelihood that rain water or other external sources of water will find its way into the interior of the building causing property damage, and potential physical injury. 
  • A clear conflict of jurisdiction between the DEP and DOB.

Potential Requirement of a Gravity Sewer Test

312.6 Gravity sewer test. Gravity sewer tests shall consist of plugging the end of the building sewer at the point of connection with the public sewer, filling the building sewer with water, testing with not less than a 10-foot (3048 mm) head of water and maintaining such pressure for 15 minutes.

Industry Response to a gravity sewer test being required

If the definition of a building drain is extended to include up to the property line, by extension a gravity sewer test would be required. A gravity sewer test would greatly delay the completion of any sewer work taking place inside the property line. Furthermore, it would pose the prospect of flooding out open excavations and creating a risk to safety.

Requiring a gravity test would likewise have the same cost ramifications as stated above: One(1) added day to any sewer work inside the property line. A full sewer crew, and all associated equipment is $3,500.00 for a day.  Based upon a typical front yard, at a typical depth, the trucking fees to remove the excavated material, then return backfill material is $2,400.00 (an otherwise unnecessary expense as the inspection process currently exists). Therefore, a conservative price increase is $5,900.00 if a gravity test is required.

NYC Council Intro 1481: Subsurface Industry Response In Closing

 The Plumbing Industry is not aware of any issue with the present process in place, or the definition in regards to house sewer work. It is our strong belief that the best interest of the general public in all respects is served by the definition of a house sewer remaining as-is; from the point of connection to 5’ past the foundation wall, or the property line, whichever is closer to the building.

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Balkan Plumbing is the largest sewer and water main company in NYC. For over 60 years, our family's 10 year guarantee* means we stand by our work long after the job is done. For sewer and water main issues throughout Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx contact Joseph L. Balkan, Inc. today for 24/7/365 service. Paul R. Balkan, NYC Licensed Master Plumber 01281

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