Plumbing tips from A1 Choice Plumbers in Kelowna & West Kelowna
Polybutylene Piping (or Poly-B) is a blue or grey non-rigid water supply piping. Chances are you’ve either seen it or heard of it before. With production beginning in 1977, Poly-B was widely used because it was relatively inexpensive and easier to install than traditional copper or even C-PVC water piping. Poly-B has caused a lot of problems – you may have heard a story or two throughout the years – and although improvements have been made since it was first introduced, problems still persist. This article discusses what those problems are, how they affect you and your home, and what you can do to fix them.
WHAT IS POLY-B?
Poly-B was supposed to be the next big thing. It largely replaced copper for most homes where cost was an issue. Poly-B is very easy to assemble and there’s no soldering involved. It’s also very flexible, and you can bend it to suit your desired angle. Although Poly-B has performed its job in many homes without a problem, it has struck controversy in those that have experienced failures and that has influenced the way underwriters view homes that have Poly-B plumbing systems.
Interior Poly-B are typically grey or white in colour, while exterior ones are usually light blue, grey or black. The best places to inspect for interior Poly-B are sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and water heaters. Common exterior places to inspect for Poly-B are at the points where pipes enter the home, such as the basement, the main water valve or the water meter.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH POLY-B?
The problems started surfacing in the early 1980’s in the form of leaks and ruptures of the piping. The majority of these leaks occurred at the pipe joint fittings. While the manufacturers of Poly-B argued that the majority of the leaks were the fault of bad installation through the use of improper fittings to join the pipes, there were simply too many problems occurring for this to be the sole cause. Contributing factors that cause Poly-B failures include chemicals in the water supply reacting with the piping, and using acetal insert fittings (grey or white plastic) to connect the pipes, which weaken the pipes and joints. In place of plastic fittings, metal ones are preferred. Other causes are cracks in the fittings, applications where high levels of chlorine are used in the water supply, and poor installation in areas of excessively high temperatures, for example near water tanks or in the attics of houses in very warm climates.
After numerous class action lawsuits against the manufacturers, Poly-B is no longer manufactured or used in installation. In Canada, Poly-B was originally tested and certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) as an acceptable product for potable water systems, but as of 2005, the NRC-CNRC National Plumbing Code de-listed Poly-B as an acceptable plumbing piping material.
When buying a home the discussion of Poly-B and its relation to insurance underwriting needs to occur as soon as possible. If the presence of Poly-B is determined in a home you intend to purchase, you should initiate dialogue with your insurer immediately. The presence of Poly-B may affect the underwriting of the home and your acceptance of the terms offered by your insurer.
WHAT CAN I DO TO FIX THEM?
The most effective way of identifying Poly-B is to have your plumbing inspected by a licensed and experienced plumbing professional. In the meantime, ensure that the operating pressure of the system is safely between 40 and 60 psi and your hot water supply system is significantly lower than 180º F.
Ultimately, the only way to completely eliminate the chance of a failure or leak is to replace all Poly-B components with a more modern and reliable piping such as PEX. Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) shares many of the same qualities as Poly-B, but with an enhanced cross-linked molecular structure that greatly improves its structural integrity and, unlike Poly-B, PEX pipes are not softened by heat.
A lot of homeowners are choosing to take the proactive rather than the reactive approach. The cost of replacing Poly-B is a good investment in your home, and can be likened to the cost of several routine home maintenance items such as re-carpeting your home or putting on new roof shingles. This will give you peace of mind knowing the piping in your home is sound.