The Washington City Council agreed to updated property maintenance and building codes, but the changes sparked some debate among council members.

An ordinance approved Monday updates the city from a 2003 edition of building codes to a 2015 edition. The 2003 edition was approved in 2009.

The council voted 7-1 to adopt the 2015 International Property Maintenance, Residential, Building, Plumbing, Mechanical, Fire, Fuel Gas, Existing Buildings, Swimming Pool and Spa, Wildland Urban Interface codes, as well as the 2014 National Electric Code.

Councilman Mark Hidritch voted against the code adoption.

Under the new codes, the city will permit the use of plastic pipes for plumbing, while the previous code called for copper piping. The plastic pipe is commonly called PEX and is a cross-linked polyethylene pipe.

Hidritch, with Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, opposes the use of PEX pipes.

John McCreery, building official, said Washington is the only entity within the region that does not allow for its use.

He added that four appeals have been approved allowing for PEX pipes.

Councilwoman Susan Watermann questioned the safety of the PEX pipes and for how long they have been used for plumbing.

McCreery estimated the plastic pipes have been used for 50 years in Europe and about 20 in the United States. He added that he would not use PEX pipe in his home.

“I wouldn’t use it in my doghouse,” added Hidritch. “I am embarrassed. We always wanted to stand out but now we are bowing.”

Watermann added that lead in pipes causes problems in some areas of the U.S., and questioned if PEX pipes should cause similar concerns.

“Twenty years down the road do we want to be in the position that we have chemicals in the water?” she asked.

“If there is dye (in the pipes) then you are drinking it,” responded Hidritch.

He added that PEX pipes are not as durable as copper pipes and lose effectiveness if left out in the sun before installation.

Councilman Jeff Patke said developers and builders should have the choice to use PEX or copper piping.

“It’s a choice,” he said. “Far be it from me to tell them they can’t.”

Patke added he thinks Washington should have higher standards, but he does not want potential developers to build in other municipalities because they can’t use PEX pipes here.

“If the rest of the country is doing it we are behind the 8-ball,” Patke said. “We have to let it go —we can’t be a detriment to developers in the city.”

McCreery stated there would be a savings of $500 to $700 in a three-bedroom home by using PEX pipes.

Watermann made a motion to approve the updated codes without allowing for the use of PEX pipes. That motion failed with a 6-2 vote, with Watermann and Hidritch voting against it.

The code was then adopted with the use of PEX pipes.

Other Changes

City staff reviewed the 2015 code version and made changes so the edition better fits the community.

In August, the council agreed to move forward with a 90-day review period when residents can comment on the changes to the codes.

McCreery said the new code also addresses wood I-joists requiring they be drywalled at the bottom, or sprinkler heads be directed at the joists to allow for more time to leave the residence during a fire.

He noted that the wood I-joists would “fail” in under five minutes, while other joists or those with drywall will provide longer time to residents to get out of a burning home.

According to McCreery, some municipalities have adopted codes that are too stringent, which are not included in the proposed Washington codes. For example, some codes in St. Louis County call for an entire house to be arc-fault protected, while the codes and amendments proposed here call for arc-fault protection only in bedrooms.