Why certification in plumbing and heating is important

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Incorrect installation of venting on water heater creating a highly likely health and safety risk – Photo courtesy of Lance Ball

Tiffany Asher, [email protected]

SWEETWATER COUNTY, WYOMING — When an individual hires a contractor to work on their water tank, toilet, sink, or anything that regards the safety of water and/or gas, that individual believes that those they are paying to have this fixed has education in that field. The customer believes who they are paying to fix these issues has gone into that trade, finished the proper education, and is certified to work on these items within your house safely. What if you found out they weren’t? In the cities of Rock Springs and Green River, Wyoming, all that is required is a business license and insurance.

The contractor’s license for both cities is broad. For instance, someone who has never worked a day in the plumbing industry decides they want to start XYZ Plumbing can go and get a business license and then head on down to their insurance agency and get business insurance. According to the papers, they are now licensed and insured to work in your home or business. During both Rock Springs and Green River Council Meetings, Lance Ball, CEO and Owner of Aspen Mountain Plumbing, brought attention to the dangers that this can lead to.

“This is not to take out the homeowner. Homeowners have every right to touch their homes. This is to enforce it on the plumbing company. The ones that charge you for a job they should have an education in,” Ball stated. “The lack of education on the city politician’s level is what is causing this. You have your drinking water, natural gas, and water heater being vented by a plumber. I am not stepping on the handyman’s toes, the ones I am coming after are the ones dealing strictly with plumbing and heating. They are the ones doing this daily and are charging people to do a professional job without professional education. It’s a falsification of a trade, so why aren’t we holding these people responsible?”

Nick Bedard, Public Relations for Aspen Mountain Plumbing, mentioned, “Dominion Energy has been trying to educate the politician for 3 years. Aspen Mountain Plumbing has been trying to educate for 3 months. They need to listen to the professionals. The public outcry towards Aspen Mountain Plumbing is appalling because we are trying to bring awareness to the attention of politicians.”

Jeff Bybee from Dominion Energy explained that he has been trying to push for certification for a while. “What I have been trying to do is go to the Rocky Mountain Gas Association in Utah and see if they would expand into Wyoming since Wyoming does not have any certification requirements for HVAC contractors or plumbing either. I would be willing to bet that my customers, as the natural gas utilities, would assume that HVAC contractors were certified in some way, shape, or form and would be surprised to learn that there isn’t a requirement like that.”

Bybee talked about what he has been doing to help. “I started working with different HVAC contractors in our service territory to see what their interest would be as to bring the RMGA on as an organization, and we had many reputable ones that were willing to do that. But they ran into some roadblocks as well, so I started going to city council meetings to see if I can get cities to make it a requirement for a business license to be able to show that certification. Cities understand the safety concerns and why we are making that request, but all of them have different reasons for not moving forward.” Bybee explained that many HVAC technicians have gone through the certification process by themselves just to get certified, even though it’s not required. RMGA has classes for certification at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs and Western Wyoming BOCES in Evanston. They offer testing once a month, with a minimum of four students to hold a test.

“As of today’s date, there is no state, county, or city requirement for HVAC contractors to have any type of certification, or that they should have knowledge of the IFGC (International Field Gas Code),” Bybee stated. Bybee has been meeting with city councils to express awareness and spread education about safety when it comes to gas. Food handlers and electricians need some recognized code, so he’s been pushing the need for those to be educated in gas. “Kemmerer is the only city that requires it in our service territory. We service Uinta County, Sweetwater County, Carbon County, Sublette County, and Lincoln County,” Bybee explained.

On a city ordinance, all that would need to be done to ensure certification is adding a line where you can place your certification number, whether that be through RMGA or ICC (International Codes Council), which are both easy to look up, according to Ball. If you are certified through RMGA, you are given a card with your photo on it to show a customer.

CITY COUNCIL MEETING PHOTOS

Ball showed some photos of the dangers that not having a licensed contractor in plumbing can lead to (These have all happened within the last 6 months). In a few of his photos, one showed a dryer vent used for a hot water tank, a vent leading upward (not downward) which does not take carbon monoxide out of the house, vent hoods not over the water heater tank, a waterline was used as gas line, and in one case, the contractor used lead pipes for water usage. The one that was most surprising was shown at a local restaurant. “It’s not just affecting homeowners, it’s affected businesses as well,” Ball explained. Below are the images that were given to the council members.

Correct Installation of a water tank heater – Photo courtesy of Lance Ball
Incorrect installation of venting on water heater creating a highly likely health and safety risk – Photo courtesy of Lance Ball
Incorrect installation of venting on water heater creating a highly likely health and safety risk – Photo courtesy of Lance Ball

ROCK SPRINGS CITY COUNCIL MEETING

Incorrect piping on water inlet side causing potential water contamination with chance of lead introduction and electrolysis of the water which will affect the tank – Photo courtesy of Lance Ball

On Feb. 7, 2023, during the Rock Springs City Council, Ball came to the Rock Springs meeting to bring awareness to the issues of improper installations. He talked about his concerns regarding the increased number of improper installations over the past few years. In Wyoming, Ball mentioned that “We don’t have an actual, specific license for the trade of plumbing.”

Councilor Rob Zotti spoke up about how shocked he was about the venting. Zotti went on to say that he’s not a plumber but even he could see in the photos where ventilation was not done properly. “I would hope that these [photos] are from a general handyman, but how would we combat that?”

Ball responded with, “As far as combatting the handyman, I don’t think you can ever combat that. The cities of Casper, Cheyenne, and Gillette have right in there that if you’re doing any type of plumbing, you must have that plumbing license. Specifically plumbing with gas.” Ball mentions that the best thing the City of Rock Springs can do is protect itself, and protect the industry, saying that those working on plumbing need to have that requirement of training prior to working. “I’m here to help protect the city, the industry, and of course, my biggest concern, protecting the citizens,” Ball closed with.

According to Bedard, “The mentality of Rock Springs has a chance to be a pioneer here in providing a safe and effective professional-grade industry that is plumbing and heating and all home services combined.”

GREEN RIVER CITY COUNCIL MEETING

The City of Green River has also seen the same issues. During the City Council Meeting on Feb. 21, 2023, City Administrator Reed Clevenger brought up an issue that the city recently just had with a hot water heater that was not installed correctly. “We just went through pictures of a wrong venting on a hot water heater. People called about smelling gas and had just moved in. It was not properly installed. That’s something from a compliance aspect that we are working on. We believe we should have certification done on general contractor’s licenses. It is definitely something we want to move forward with.”

Green River has implemented a water heater permit mandate and fulfillment of a permit. The City of Rock Springs does not require a permit for water heaters. “When I signed up to work in Green River for Aspen Mountain Plumbing 10 years ago, I was never informed of any permit,” Ball stated. Ken Yeager, the head inspector for the City of Green River, informed Ball of a permit for water heater installation, called an alteration or addition. Other companies may be unaware of the mandate from the City of Green River. “It shows how unenforceable these laws are,” Bedard said.

 

EVANSTON CITY COUNCIL MEETING

Ball isn’t the only one pushing these certifications either. In Evanston, according to the Uinta County Herald, “Jeff Bybee and Rick Mair with Dominion Energy and the Rocky Mountain Gas Association (RMGA) were present, along with Tim Ridenour with Tom’s H-Vac, who is an RMGA board member.” Bybee had been to the council before and reminded them of the events that lead to this. In the Uinta County Herald, “He then asked Overy to report on the recent event, where an improperly installed heating ventilation system almost cost the lives of two Evanston residents.” This was posted on March 2022 and according to Ball and Bybee, nothing has been set in motion for Evanston to require a gas certification as of the date this was posted.

During that meeting, Bybee mentioned that “A certification ordinance would help to force out unscrupulous installers and that anyone can buy a business license and still not know what they are doing, and anyone working with a fuel-burning appliance needs to be certified.”

CHEYENNE’S REQUIREMENT FOR CERTIFICATION

Amanda Barto, Lead Permit and Licensing Specialist from the City of Cheyenne Building Department, explained the procedures that they take to ensure that every person they license has appropriate hours and certifications behind them before they can even apply for a license, whether it’s HVAC, plumbing, mechanic, electrical and even roofing.

Barto said that with their contractor license, according to their rules and regulations, have set requirements before you can even apply for your license. “With an apprentice or journeyman, they have to have so many hours. If they came off the street yesterday and started installing water heaters, you want them to be knowledgeable about what they are doing and not blowing up a house. We hold plumbing to the same standard as electrical, the 2:1 ratio. They all are required to be licensed, fall under one master and one company.”

 

Barton explained that Cheyenne does have boards for when accidents happen. She mentioned that if a contractor touches thermostats or anything with low voltage, they must have a license with the city to do to that type of work. “If they are touching water heaters, they are touching refrigeration, so we ask them to hold a refrigeration license, so we ask quite a bit to work in this city.”

When talking with Barto about the push for Rock Springs and Green River, she said, “I would definitely require the ICC test.” Barto mentioned that the reason Cheyenne pushes the licenses and certification so hard there is how much they have been burned. “One too many issues create problems for everybody, so we’ve regulated it to the max.” If something happens and a contractor messes up, Barto explained that those contractors could be looking at a revocation of license. “It helps us regulate it.”

Barto explained that it could be longer or shorter but the City of Cheyenne has had ordinances since about 1993, where those applying for a license must have the knowledge and training. To look over what Cheyenne requires, please click the link, and look at section 12.0, which states, “The following are the minimum experience, training, and examination requirements for building trade licenses and shall be furnished in writing. No more than two (2) apprentices are permitted to work without the direct supervision of a properly licensed journeyman or master.”

FINAL PUSH

“The final push is if the municipality drops the ball here, not only will it make Aspen Mountain Plumbing make more money in fixing faulty installed equipment, but it will keep the residents of Rock Springs and Green River in danger. We have nothing to gain here,” Bedard declared.

“The Rocky Mountain Gas Association is $400 a person, but once you are certified in that you never have to take it again in Wyoming. If you do your business right, that should only increase the person’s bill by maybe 1 cent,” Ball replied.

BACKSTORY TO PLUMBING LICENSES IN WYOMING

In the State of Wyoming, it is required that an electrician shows their certification because it’s state-mandated. Whether they are apprentices, journeymen, or masters, there are a set of rules those companies must follow. The State of Wyoming also made it, so it is up to the municipality on local plumber licensing requirements. In Green River and Rock Springs, plumbers do not have to be licensed to work on plumbing. These people deal with gas and the safety of the water coming into the home. Cheyenne, Casper, Jackson Hole, Kemmerer, Cody, and Gillette all require that “Individual Trade Licenses are also required for Class D Electrical, Gas Pipefitter, HVAC, Plumbing and Refrigeration Contractors” and must have a certification through the International Code Council (ICC). Most of these cities require 4 years of experience with the certification before even considering an application. ICC is universal and easy to look up if someone has a valid certification.

These states require either a state license, some certification, or nothing, depending on the state laws for plumbing. https://www.nextinsurance.com/blog/plumber-licensing-requirements/

Contractor License Applications for Rock Springs and Green River:

Rock Springs Contractor License Application

Green River Contractor License Application

Contractor License Applications for cities that require a license:

Cheyenne Contractor License Application

Casper Contractor License Application

Jackson Hole Contractor License Application

Kemmerer Contractor License Application

Cody Contractor License Application

Gillette Contractor License Application

 

wyo4news.com

https://wyo4news.com/news/why-certification-in-plumbing-and-heating-is-important/