Understanding your plumbing inspector's view


Beaker of dirty and clean waterDon’t accuse a plumbing inspector (PI) of blindly following a bloated set of bureaucratic rules for no good reason.

Yes, a plumbing inspector’s job is to enforce the plumbing code. Yes, a plumbing inspector will likely be suspicious of anything that deviates from that code.

But that plumbing inspector has good reasons for following the plumbing code (and so do you).

Plumbing inspectors, whether they are full-time government employees or licensed plumbers contracted to do inspections, are focused on protecting public health, safety and welfare.

That’s because bad plumbing can lead to contamination, illness and big public expenses. Plumbing inspectors don’t want to see you or your food service establishment get in trouble or incur greater costs. They just want to make sure the plumbing system is designed and installed in a way that prevents problems.

What do plumbing inspectors do?

PIs inspect new plumbing systems in new construction and significant changes to existing systems.

They may also be called in if someone believes something illegal is going on, such as a commercial kitchen discharging fats, oils and greases directly into the sewer system. Those kinds of discharges can lead to build-up of fat in sewer lines that can cause blockages and backflows and end up requiring costly repairs to public sewer infrastructure.

What is a plumbing inspector looking for during an inspection?

Fundamentally, PIs want to ensure that your plumbing meets the standards required by the plumbing code, as well as any local or state regulations that might also apply.

A plumbing inspector will typically inspect vents, traps, faucets, fixtures and lines, checking to make sure everything follows code. They’ll usually check:

1.  Does everything appear to be installed and designed correctly according to the rules in the plumbing code? Those rules, for example, may govern where a grease interceptor can be installed and how much capacity that grease trap needs to have.

2.  Were the components of the plumbing system installed by a currently licensed plumber?
That provides the inspector an assurance that even parts of the system that can not be directly observed or easily tested were installed according to best practices.

3.  Does the plumbing installation match the approved plumbing plans?
General contractors will often submit a plumbing system plan along with their building plans to obtain a building permit. Usually, those plumbing plans are reviewed by a plan inspector and approved. If a plumbing inspector finds a significant deviation from those plans in the building, that PI is likely to have questions.

4.  Is everything that’s installed safe and legal?
A PI will also review plumbing to make sure everything is safe (which it should be if installed according to the plumbing code) and legal. Plumbing inspectors will also be alert for evidence of other violations of local law. For example, if plumbing in a commercial space indicated it was going to be used for food service even when the building wasn’t zoned for that. 

Expertise and professional opinions

Plumbing inspectors are usually fully licensed plumbers, and then have additional training to perform plumbing inspections.

Though various plumbing codes cover lots of situations, no document can be all encompassing. When plumbing inspectors encounter situations that aren’t precisely spelled out, they use their experience and plumbing knowledge to determine whether the design is reasonable.

But at the heart of their decisions, is whether the health and safety of the public are protected. So don’t accuse them following rules for no good reason. Your health and safety depend on them.