Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters: Frequency Asked Questions for New Regulations

See Below for a List of FAQs Related to the New Regulations to the Uniform State Plumbing Code.

On December 8, 2023, new regulation changes went into effect.  These changes were made to the Uniform State Plumbing Code (also known as 248 CMR 10.00).  The purpose of these frequently asked questions is to assist licensees and the public in understanding these changes.  This is an advisory only, readers should refer to the actual regulations themselves as any unintended conflict between this FAQ and the regulations must be resolved in favor of the regulations.  This FAQ is preliminary and will be updated/supplemented as needed.

Table of Contents

When are the code changes effective?

The effective date of the code changes is December 8, 2023.

What are the enforcement requirements / recommendations regarding jobs in progress?

Code changes are not generally enforced retroactively absent certain explicit language.  Accordingly, these code changes only apply to jobs in which a plumbing permit was issued on or after the effective date.  Ongoing jobs with a valid plumbing permit issued prior to the effective date of these code changes may adhere to the code in effect prior to the code changes.  An installer is free to utilize the newer code changes in association with an ongoing job, however all work covered on the existing permit must then follow the new updated code, there are no provisions to allow a mixture of following old and new code language.  In the event these requirements create a hardship or unusual circumstance, a variance may be sought pursuant to the provisions of 248 CMR 3.04(2).

The term “gender-neutral” may be stigmatizing for certain groups, why can’t the code use alternative terms like “gender-inclusive”, “all gender”, or stop using the term “gender” at all?

In adopting the plumbing code, the Board has long endeavored to provide all people in Massachusetts with access to safe plumbing fixtures.  To meet this goal, the plumbing code shall always be a living document, it will never cease to require updates as technology changes and society itself evolves.  To that end, in 2017 the Board added the term “gender-neutral” to single user bathrooms (previously known only as “unisex”) which were “available for use by anyone.”  For this new series of changes, the Board’s focus was expanding the 2017 advancement to also apply to multi-user bathrooms; in the midst of the greater policy determinations being made, adjustments in terminology were being reserved for future code changes.  In the meantime, the Board emphasizes that the term “gender-neutral” as used in the code is not meant to exclude any groups, for purposes of code compliance, a “gender-neutral bathroom” would be available for use by anyone regardless of gender-identity.

Do gender-neutral bathrooms need to be designated by a sign? Does the sign need to call the bathroom “gender-neutral” or may a different description be utilized?

The code does not require any specific signage.  However, 248 CMR 10.10(15)(c)(4) states that “[i]n establishments other than residential, rest room facilities shall be clearly designated.”  Accordingly, a gender segregated bathroom must be designated as such, otherwise, the owner/installer is free to utilize whatever terminology they deem appropriate to indicate that a restroom is open to all users regardless of gender.

How does an installer calculate how many plumbing fixtures are required for a gender-neutral bathroom?

Step 1 - 248 CMR 10.10(Table 1) - Determine how many fixtures would be required if the bathrooms would not be gender-neutral. 

Step 2 - 248 CMR 10.10(15)(h) - Either replace all gender designated fixtures with gender-neutral fixtures, or if some gender designated bathrooms are still desired, ensure each gender is treated equally.

Step 3 - 248 CMR 10.10(15)(h) - Include single user bathroom within 300 feet. 

  • Example - Restaurant with 400 seats
  • Assume 200 male; 200 female (solely for calculation purposes)

Acceptable methods (note, this example will not show urinals, see question below):

  • 8 water closets female; 4 water closets male
  • single user bathroom, bathroom with 11 gender-neutral water closets
  • 12 single user bathrooms
  • single user bathroom; 4 water closets female, 2 water closets male, bathroom with 5 gender-neutral water closets

If floor to ceiling stalls are required for water closets, won’t that impede the ventilation and lighting in the bathroom? If a user has trouble/faints, won’t the elimination of a gap at the bottom of a stall prevent aid from being provided?

In requiring floor to ceiling partitions, the Board was not intending to impede the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms.  To the contrary, as a relatively new concept, the Board imposed this requirement to help preserve the privacy of users of these bathrooms in a manner which will encourage their use.  However, the Board acknowledges that lighting and ventilation are important.  In fact, Basic Principle 15 (248 CMR 10.02(15)) states that “No toilets, urinals, bathtubs, or shower facilities shall be installed into a new or renovated room, space, or compartment that does not incorporate proper illumination and mechanical exhaust to the exterior of the building.”  However, these requirements are largely governed by other codes and may require the involvement of non-plumbing professionals (e.g. electricians, sheet metal workers, construction supervisors, etc.).  While the intent of this code change was to begin eliminating unnecessarily large gaps found in some conventional stalls, the Board purposely did not define the characteristics of a floor to ceiling partition.  The code does not prohibit an installer from incorporating lighting and ventilation features into these partitions (such as installing a grille).  Further, while the Board acknowledges concerns about not being able to “see” a user in distress, a problem that would seem to apply to all single user bathrooms, there is again no prohibition in installing features on the partition to address this concern.  So long as the privacy of the user is not jeopardized, this code change was specifically designed to allow innovation. 

Are urinals required or prohibited in gender-neutral bathrooms? If allowed, how does that affect minimum fixture requirements in the code?

The code does not prohibit urinals in gender-neutral bathrooms.  However, the code no longer mandates them in any particular installation, thus they may be used at the election of the owner/installer.  The calculation involving urinals would otherwise be identical to that of the general calculations.  Per 248 CMR 10.10(3)(h), “Urinals may be substituted for toilets where indicated in 248 CMR 10.10, Table 1 Minimum Facilities for Building Occupancy and are listed by percentage.”  Accordingly, for a restaurant requiring the installation of 12 gender-neutral toilets, up to 6 urinals could be installed, each substituting for a toilet. For purposes of converting existing gendered bathrooms to gender-neutral, owners/installers may wish to be cautious in that the capping of an existing urinal is a material change that would require an updated review to ensure compliance with the code’s fixture requirements.   

Contact

Online

General Questions & Correspondence: Plumbingboard@mass.gov
Product Approvals: plumbing.products@mass.gov
Variance Assistance Plumbingvariances@mass.gov

Fax

(617) 727-0139

Address

1000 Washington Street
Suite 710
Boston, MA 02118

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