Tag Archives: city of chicago

Plumbing inspection

Today, we had the final plumbing inspection for the garden unit and 1st floor. And as usual, I was wondering what kind of inspector I would get, what mood he or she would be in, and what things that could throw up a read flag.

Will the dual flush toilets be a problem? Particularly the one in the garden unit with the little hand wash basin atop?


Will I get questions about why I have plumbing stubs for a bath tub in the basement, but no tub installed? What about the grey water rough-in, which just sits there, connected to nothing, because the current code doesn’t allow graywater use? Will that raise eyebrows … or worse?

Everything installed is compliant with the Chicago plumbing code. Yet, there is no shortage of anecdotes about inspections gone wrong and rumors about notoriously difficult to deal with inspectors.

It turned out that I was overthinking it. The inspector took a look at how the first floor toilet and sinks were connected. Down in the garden unit he barely looked under the sinks.

To my surprise, he asked about the water heater. I took him back to the utility room, explaining that we don’t have a water heater but a hybrid system.


I turned the lights on and heard him say: “Oh – you have zones.” I do indeed, and proceeded to brag about our mechanical system – but he was more interested in getting to the next job.

Why do I feel the urge to share this? Because I have not yet had a bad experience during an inspection or with an inspector. I don’t know where the rumors are coming from or why the inspectors have such a bad reputation. Maybe the root of those anecdotes lie in projects where someone tried to cut corners – and got caught.

Related posts:

Wasteful low flow

Bath tub plumbing


A small step in the right direction

Chicago has a new ordinance – the Chicago Energy Benchmarking ordinance. It is a small step in the right direction, a step that gets us a notch closer to the miles per gallon equivalent for homes.

The Chicago City Council adopted the new Chicago Energy Benchmarking ordinance during the City Council meeting on September 11th with a vote of 31 to 17. The staff and volunteers of the USGBC Illinois Chapter had been hard at work to get the ordinance passed and deserve a big “thank you!”

What is the new ordinance about?

Larger commercial, residential and municipal buildings with 50,000 or more square feet are now required to track and disclose their energy consumption. To get to an apples-to-apples comparison and allow for verification of the data, participants are required to use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which is a free web-based tool.

The collected and disclosed energy data will help building owners and tenants to evaluate and compare their energy use to other buildings and identify opportunities to reduce the operational cost. I am sure there will be some owners and tenants that will be surprised to learn how much money they could save. The desired side effect: a reduction in energy consumption and emissions.

I am also sure that once the data are available, we will see a change in the decision making process of future tenants. I am not talking about altruism here – doing something good for the environment – but the savings that will most likely be passed on and more comfortable and healthy interior spaces to live and work in, which also have a big economic upside.

The challenge on hand now is the implementation of the ordinance. I understand that the USGBC Illinois Chapter is committed to assist building owners during the implementation process, but they will need a lot of help. Feel free to get in touch with them if you are interested in lending a helping hand.

I personally hope that this will become a successful program, a win-win for large building owners and their tenants. Even more so, I hope that the program will be extended to include smaller or even residential buildings in the future, getting us to the miles per gallon equivalent for homes.

For more detailed information about the new ordinance, read the City of Chicago’s full press release.


Why that storm sewer?

Some of you who have read the ‘Permit – open plan review’ post, or who have noted the storm sewer in the ‘New sewer layout’ post, who know the 168 Elm pilot project and our attitude towards stormwater management may wonder why we spend money on a new storm sewer connection.

Disconnecting roof downspouts in Chicago is a tricky subject. The Chicago Green Homes Program encourages disconnecting downspouts from the sewer system. The Department of Water Management and Department of Environment are working hard on incentivizing disconnections. There is even a building code section that addresses this issue (Chapter 18-29-1101.2):

“1. Nothing in this provision shall prohibit the temporary or permanent disconnection of the roof downspout of a building from the sewer or combined sewer so long as the disconnection does not result in the drainage of water beyond the property lines of the lot on which the building is located.

2. Roofs of single-family (Class A-1) and multiple-family (Class A-2) buildings may be provided with external downspouts discharging onto a paved or landscaped area, provided the water thus discharged can be drained directly to an area drain, catch basin or street gutter connected to a public sewer, without spilling over onto adjacent property creating a public hazard or nuisance.”

That said, the plumbing inspector in the Department of Building won’t have any of it. When I raised the issue during the open plan review, I was told in no uncertain terms that disconnecting the downspouts is not an option. I would not receive project approval unless I showed a downspout to sewer connection on the plans.

I have to admit that I did not show up with engineering drawings and calculations that would have shown how I will manage the roof runoff on the property without flooding my neighbors. I think I would not have signed off either without a complete and sound design.

But when I asked for my options, like I did with the 1 inch water service, I was given none, despite the above stated code section, and despite existing precedence in Chicago.

So – do I want to fight over the disconnection, or would I rather keep a storm sewer connection?

I’d rather keep the connection to get the city’s approval and to keep going with the project. Once we are done, we may disconnect after all, if the sustainable stormwater treatment methods in the yard can handle all the runoff.

The primary rationale to deny downspout disconnections is to assure the public’s health, safety and welfare. How would a connection to the storm sewer help with that public health, safety and welfare, considering that the combined sewer system in Chicago is readily overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it just add to the flooding? Wouldn’t it be safer to siphon some of that water off and manage it outside the sewer system?

I have difficulties following the rationales and reasoning of the inspector.


The water service problem

I got freaked out pretty badly in the open plan review meeting over the code-required water service upgrade from 1 inch to 1 ½ inch, mainly because of the additional $10k to $15k price tag.

Once I got over the initial shock, I asked the plumbing reviewer what options I would have if I didn’t want to upgrade. Asking doesn’t hurt, right? To my surprise, I was presented with the following option (I paraphrase):

“If you can get a code variance letter from the commissioner of the Department of Water Management (DWM) saying that they are OK with the existing 1 inch water service, then we will be OK with it.”

I felt much better already, even though I had no clue to what my chances were to actually get that code variance.

The next logical step was to get on the phone with the plumbing inspectors at the DWM to present my case. I explained that we have applied for a green permit, that we are rehabilitating a three unit building and that we have plans for exceptional water management with all the low flow fixtures.

I was delighted to notice that the inspector was actually willing to evaluate if the 1 inch service line would suffice for the project. He asked for the plans and product information on all fixtures, which I e-mailed him right away.

Based on this information, the plumbing inspector added up all fixtures and developed a worst-case scenario. It is basically a calculation of how many gallons per minute (gpm) are needed at peak use and whether the existing 1 inch water service can deliver that amount.

More good news! It appears that the existing 1 inch service must do the job, because I was asked to submit a formal letter in which I applied for the variance. My case was presented to the commissioner and I received the variance approval shortly thereafter.

I took the letter back into another open plan review meeting, in which I received the missing final sign-off for the plumbing. All plans and documents went back to our green permit project manager who issued the permit a couple of days later. It was time to celebrate – and we did!

The water service issue added another two week delay to the green permit process and made me jump through a few more hoops (thank God I am somewhat fit!). It also saved us $10k to $15k, which we had not included in the budget. Plus, the green permit means we had no permit fees. Not such a bad deal after all!


Permit – open plan review

A lot of people, like me, feel somewhat inconvenienced by the building permit process and the associated bureaucracy. Some of the code requirements seem excessive and expensive. Other code requirements stand in the way of sustainable technologies. On top of it, not many people like to be told what they can and cannot do.

After our recent electrical incident, my attitude began to change. The ultimate goal for all the nagging on rules and building code regulations is to assure the public’s health, safety and welfare – to prevent life threatening incidents like we just encountered.  I am now rather grateful for that.

While our project was still in zoning, we received comments from the plan review and had a week to implement the necessary corrections. Following that week we had our first open plan review meeting – yes, I said first, because we had to return a few times.

Five building disciplines review the plans and commented:

  1. Electrical,
  2. Architectural,
  3. Ventilation,
  4. Structural, and
  5. Plumbing.

We had no comments from the electrical review. The few corrections we had regarding the architectural review passed in the first open plan review.

Ventilation was more complicated. The comments we received were easily addressed and passed, but a whole bunch of other issues cropped up during the open plan review. They mainly had to do with inconsistencies between the added third unit in the basement, the architectural plan sheets and mechanical plan sheets. We were given the chance to take care of the corrections during the meeting and finally received the ventilation sign off.

Then structural, for which we had a lot of comments and corrections. Since the porch collapse here in Chicago a few years ago, the requirements and reviews have become much more stringent.

Despite all the corrections, the open plan review did not go well. Our architect, who did the engineering for the back porch replacement, was not familiar with the new requirements and had a lot more work to do. I also needed to provide more information on the load bearing columns in the basement and the planned solar panels on the roof. We had to return a week later, made a few more corrections  and finally got the structural sign off.

We also had a lot of plumbing corrections. But it boiled down to three comments that presented major obstacles.

Our storm sewer that connects to the roof downspout runs through the building. Chicago plumbing code requires that the storm sewer is run as a separate line and only can be connected to the sanitary sewer immediately before it exits the building (Chapter 18-29-1104.2). This means that we have to add another 70 feet of cast iron soil pipe, which will cost us a buck or two.

We will have to add a pressure booster system to our incoming water main (Chapter 18-29-604.7). The city’s old water mains are mostly cast iron compared to ductile iron that is commonly used in the suburbs. Ductile iron can take much more pressure. That is why a lot of household in the burbs have a pressure reducing valve. We, on the other hand, need to boost the pressure in the building to assure adequate water supply up to the second floor – says the building code.

The real kicker was, though, that we are required to upgrade our incoming 1 inch water service to 1 ½ inch (Chapter 18-29-604.7). This carries a price tag of $10,000 to $15,000 alone. Something we had not put in our budget, and something that completely freaked me out!

Our existing 1 inch water service is a relatively new copper line with a shut-off valve and meter vault in the parkway. It should last another hundred years! Plus we have planned for all sorts of water conservation measures in the building, such as low flow fixtures.

Common sense tells me that the 1 inch water service should suffice for our three units considering all the low flow fixtures. But there are no provisions in the code that take water conservation measures into account. It looks like we are stuck with the code required upgrade and the associated price tag.