Homeownership offers a sense of achievement and security. It also represents the most significant investment most of us will ever make. Of course, it also comes with a number of different responsibilities and various challenges – one of which is likely familiar to many homeowners (including yours truly) Poly B plumbing.
Once praised as a groundbreaking solution for affordable and easy-to-install piping, polybutylene (Poly B) plumbing has since been discovered to be a serious threat that's hidden within the walls and below the sinks of hundreds of thousands of homes across Canada and millions of homes in the US. Its initial popularity belies the plumbing nightmares and unexpected financial strains (our sincerest apologies to your eyeballs for exposing them to that website 😉) that have come to be associated with it.
For homeowners and potential buyers alike, it is essential to understand:
- What Poly B plumbing/piping is
- The problems it causes
- How to identify it
- What to do if you have it
In this post, we'll cut through the confusion and provide clear, concise answers to your questions about Poly B pipes and plumbing, so you'll have the knowledge and resources necessary to make informed decisions and protect your property from potential plumbing disasters.
So get ready to say goodbye to uncertainty and hello 👋👋👋 to peace of mind as you prepare to tackle the challenges of Poly B head-on.
Table of Contents
What is Poly B Plumbing?
Polybutylene pipe, “affectionately” known as Poly B, is a type of flexible grey (typically) pipe that was once widely used in residential plumbing and hot water heating systems. It emerged as the first generation of plastic piping, competing with copper supply piping due to 🚀 skyrocketing copper prices and the ease of installation.
The History of Poly B Plumbing
Poly B plumbing saw a meteoric rise in popularity during the 1970s and continued to be a go-to choice for residential plumbing systems until the mid-1990s. Below is a timeline that highlights the critical milestones in the history of Poly B plumbing:
- 1970s: Poly B plumbing introduced as an alternative to copper piping
- 1970s to mid-1990s: Widespread use of Poly B pipes in residential plumbing systems
- Mid-1990s: Reports of issues with Poly B plumbing systems begin to surface
- 1995: Major class-action lawsuit in the United States against Shell and DuPont
- 2005: Canadian class-action lawsuit finalized
During its lifetime, it's estimated that Poly B was installed in over 6 million homes in the US and over 700,000 homes in Canada – over half of which were reportedly in BC and Alberta:
- In BC, it's estimated that more than 200,000 homes with Poly B piping
- In Alberta, it's estimated that there are approximately 148,000 homes with Poly B piping
Unfortunately, the honeymoon 👰🎉🤵 period for Poly B plumbing didn't last forever.
As time went on, it became apparent that Poly B pipes had a tendency to leak, causing significant water damage, mold growth, and even foundation damage in some cases.
These issues not only affected the structural integrity of homes but also posed health risks to residents.
Today, discussions about Poly B mostly centre on the issues of identification, mitigation, and replacement, as homeowners and potential buyers must know about the risks they face if the home they own – or wish to purchase – has this type of plumbing.
When Poly B Pipes Land in Court: A Look at the Legal Battles
It's not every day that plumbing pipes make headlines and become the center of legal battles, but that's exactly what happened with Poly B.
Over the years, the issues surrounding Poly B plumbing led to major class action lawsuits in both the United States and Canada, shining a spotlight on the potential risks and costs associated with this once-popular material.
- In the US, a class action lawsuit against Dupont and Shell, the companies that distributed Poly B, was finalized in 1995, with an out-of-court settlement for $1.14 billion
- In Canada, a class action lawsuit took a little longer to come together but was eventually finalized in 2005, with an out-of-court settlement for $50 million
These lawsuits and their hefty settlements ⚖️💰👨⚖️ should serve to highlight the gravity of the problems associated with Poly B plumbing. It's worth noting that the window for Poly B lawsuits has closed, so if you're hoping for some compensation for the Poly B in your own, you're out of luck.
The Poly B Ban: When the Curtain Fell on Polybutylene
Poly B plumbing may have once been a popular choice, but its numerous failures and the subsequent legal battles ultimately led to its downfall. The year 1998 marked a turning point for Poly B, as the production of Polybutylene resin came to a grinding halt. With mounting complaints and the shadow of looming lawsuits, the industry was forced to reconsider the material's viability.
By 2005, Poly B's fate was sealed, and it was officially removed from the standard plumbing code of Canada. No longer considered a suitable material for use, the once-promising plumbing innovation became a cautionary tale for homeowners and the construction industry alike.
The ban on Poly B serves as a reminder ⏲️ of the importance of staying informed about the materials used in our homes. As homeowners, it's crucial to be vigilant and take necessary precautions to protect our properties and investments, ensuring a safe and comfortable living environment for ourselves and our families.
Ultimately, the story of Poly B underscores the fact that some innovations that may have been initially thought of as breakthroughs can sometimes turn out to be duds. Poly B is no exception, and that's why it's so important for homeowners and potential buyers to understand the problems it can cause and the consequences of not addressing them.
Poly B Plumbing Problems
Poly B plumbing might have seemed like a breakthrough at the time, but it's become clear that it has its fair share of problems. As a homeowner or potential buyer, it's essential to be aware of the perils that come with this type of plumbing.
In this section, we'll shed some light 💡🔦 on the problems and complications associated with Poly B pipes and the factors that contribute to their failure.
Spotting the Red Flags: Common Indicators of Poly B Issues
As a homeowner, it's essential to stay vigilant and be on the lookout for any signs that your Poly B plumbing might be causing problems. Early detection can save you a lot of headaches and money down the road. But what exactly should you be looking for? We've got you covered with a few key indicators that could signal trouble brewing in your plumbing system.
Here are some telltale signs of Poly B plumbing issues:
- Discoloration or bulging of pipes: if your pipes appear discolored, warped, or bulging, this could be an indication that they're deteriorating and at risk of leaking or bursting.
- Leaks and water damage: obvious water stains, wet spots, or mold growth could be signs that your Poly B pipes are leaking and causing damage to your home.
- Low water pressure: if you're experiencing a sudden or gradual drop in water pressure, it might be a result of constriction within your Poly B pipes due to mineral buildup or degradation.
It's worth noting that these signs aren't always immediately visible or easy to spot. Sometimes, it takes a little detective work and close attention to your home's plumbing performance to identify potential problems.
However, even if you don't see these red flags, there could still be a problem lurking beneath the surface.
We should also point out that one of the most confounding things about Poly B pipes has to do with the fact that damage often starts on the inside, with no changes in their appearance or colour as they deteriorate. So everything could be fine one day, and then the next day, you're treading water as you make your way through your home.
Unraveling the Problems of Poly B Pipes
If your home is equipped with Poly B pipes, you could be confronted with a variety of issues that might take a toll on your wallet and well-being:
- Leaks and water damage: as Poly B pipes weaken over time, they become more susceptible to leaks. Even minor leaks can cause significant water damage, leading to expensive repairs and potential health hazards due to mold growth.
- Increased risk of pipe bursts: Poly B pipes are more prone to bursting under pressure, especially in colder climates where freezing is a concern. A burst pipe can result in extensive water damage, costly repairs, and possible displacement from your home while the issue is resolved.
- Reduced water pressure and flow: over time, Poly B pipes can become constricted due to mineral buildup and corrosion. This restriction can lead to decreased water pressure and flow rates, impacting your plumbing system's performance and your home's overall comfort.
- Potential health risks: degraded Poly B pipes may leach chemicals into your water supply, posing health risks. Additionally, mold growth resulting from water damage can trigger allergies and respiratory issues, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems.
There's no doubt that plumbing problems can be a nightmare for any homeowner. Not only are they disruptive to your daily life, but they can also be costly to fix, leaving you with a hefty bill for repairs and potential damages. That's why it's so important to not only know about the problems Poly B pipe failure can cause but also know about the factors that contribute to Poly B failure so you'll have a better idea about your own risks.
Factors That Can Contribute to Poly B Failure
It's clear that Poly B puts your home 🏠, your finances 💵, and, potentially, your health at risk🩺.
But all Poly B installations were not created equal. Nor do all of them exist under the same conditions.
There are a number of different factors that not only contribute to failure but can also accelerate it – among them:
- Municipal water treatment: chemicals that many municipalities inject into their water system, such as chlorine, will corrode poly b from the inside out (the worst part is that from the outside, the pipe looks totally fine, leaving you with no idea it's failing until it's too late and starts to leak).
- Poor installations: incorrect installation techniques, such as over-crimping fittings or placing pipes near heat sources, can contribute to early failure.
- Water conditions: high water pressure can wear down Poly B pipes over time.
- Plastic fittings: the use of plastic fittings can lead to weak points in the plumbing system, increasing the risk of leaks and failures.
- Seasonal stress: temperature fluctuations, particularly freezing conditions, can wreak havoc on Poly B pipes, making winterization crucial for homes with this type of plumbing.
Furthermore, Poly B pipes in radiant heating systems can introduce oxygen into the water, leading to rust and boiler issues.
In an ideal world free of these factors, Poly B pipes might last for 20 to 30 years. However, real-world conditions often lead to failures within 10 to 15 years, meaning that problems may be lurking just around the corner.
Poly B Issues
When it comes to Poly B pipes, there's more to the story than meets the eye. Yes, leaks and flooding are significant concerns, but there are additional challenges you might face.
Let's take a look at some of the greater hidden costs and complications of having Poly B plumbing in your home:
- Insurance headaches: securing insurance for a home with Poly B pipes can be an uphill battle. Many providers shy away from covering these properties, and those that do might charge higher premiums.
- Decreased home value: potential buyers are often wary of properties with Poly B plumbing, which can hurt your home's resale value.
- Selling struggles: buyers' concerns about Poly B pipes may lead to a longer time on the market when you're trying to sell your home.
It's worth noting that, while the presence of Poly B plumbing can be a hindrance to the sale of a home, “Poly B free” can actually be a selling feature, especially in certain regions.
Check out this home! Beautiful well cared for home. Enjoy that large 2-tiered decks and a backyard firepit. This 3 bedroom home features lots of new upgrades, including shingles (2017), all new plumbing (poly b removed), a deck, a .. https://t.co/jrxVCdgoBD pic.twitter.com/XgEetzsbxN— Chad Jensen (@ChadwickJensen) June 1, 2021
Being aware of the potential impact of Poly B pipes on your home's value, insurance, and overall marketability is crucial. By staying informed and proactive about the potential issues associated with Poly B plumbing, you can make the best decisions for your property and safeguard your investment. Knowledge is power, and understanding the risks tied to Poly B will help you navigate the challenges that may come your way, even when those challenges aren't immediately visible.
How to Identify Poly B Pipes
You don't have to be a professional plumber to figure out if you have Poly B pipes in your home. In fact, there are several simple ways to identify these pipes, and being aware of them can help you stay informed about the plumbing system in your house.
Here's a handy guide to help you spot Poly B pipes:
- Location: to determine if you have Poly B plumbing, look for grey plastic pipes in exposed areas such as under the sink, connected to the water meter, at the hot water tank, or on the ceiling of an unfinished basement.
- Color: most Poly B pipes are grey, but they can also come in other colors like black, white, or blue. Keep an eye out for these colors when checking your plumbing.
- Fittings: Poly B plumbing systems often have plastic fittings connecting the lengths of pipe. However, copper or brass fittings can also be used, especially in regions like Alberta, where they are quite common.
- Markings: Poly B pipes typically have identifying codes stamped on the side, such as “PB2110” or “CSA-B 137.8.” If these codes are absent, it doesn't automatically mean it's not Poly B, but it's worth considering other criteria to determine if your plumbing is made from this material.
Now, while we did say that you don't need to be a professional plumber to identify Poly B pipes in your home, given the potential risks associated with this type of plumbing, it's absolutely worth getting a professional opinion.
A licensed plumber can not only confirm the presence of Poly B pipes but also assess the condition of your plumbing system and offer guidance on the next steps.
Poly B Plumbing: Replace or Mitigate?
If you find out that your home has Poly B plumbing, the most effective solution is to replace the pipes as soon as possible. That's the surefire way to eliminate the risk of failure. But let's be real—plumbing projects can be disruptive, time-consuming, and costly 💸💸💸.
So while a replacement is the ultimate fix, we'll also discuss a few mitigation options to help reduce the risk of disaster. However, keep in mind that you'll still need to plan for an eventual replacement.
Choosing Your Poly B Plumbing Replacement Route
When it comes to replacing Poly B pipes, you've got two main options: DIY or call in the pros.
Here's the lowdown on each route.
DIY Poly B Pipe Replacement
Going the DIY route can save you some serious cash on labor costs, but be warned: it's no walk in the park. You'll need to open up walls and flooring to access the plumbing, and if you live in a townhome or strata-run complex, you'll need to consult with the strata council before attempting any repairs.
Also, be aware of the risks regarding personal injury 🤕 and property damage.
Make sure you're up for the challenge before diving in; mistakes can lead to costly repairs.
Professional Poly B Replacement
If you prefer a safer, more efficient option, hiring a professional plumbing company is your best bet. Pros offer faster project completion, better finish and fit, and less disruption to your home. Just be sure to choose a fully bonded and insured company to protect yourself from liability.
Poly B Pipe Replacement Options
When it comes to replacing poly-b piping, you've got three main options: Copper, PEX, and PVC-CPVC pipes. All of these are solid choices, as they're less susceptible to corrosion, cracking, and temperature changes.
These high-quality metal pipes are highly resistant to corrosion, have a long lifespan, and are known for their durability. Copper pipes also have excellent heat transfer properties, making them ideal for use in hot water systems. However, copper pipes can be more expensive and labor-intensive to install compared to other alternatives.
PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) pipes are a popular choice for replacing Poly B pipes due to their flexibility, ease of installation, and resistance to freezing temperatures. PEX pipes are made from a durable plastic material that's less prone to corrosion and can withstand high water pressure. They also have a longer lifespan compared to Poly B pipes and are generally more affordable than copper pipes.
PVC and CPVC (polyvinyl chloride/chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) pipes are both types of plastic pipes that are lightweight, easy to install, and resistant to corrosion. PVC pipes are commonly used for cold water supply lines, while CPVC pipes are designed to handle both hot and cold water. These pipes are often more cost-effective than copper or PEX, but may not be as durable or long-lasting.
Let's take a closer look at how PEX stands out from Poly B and why it has become the preferred choice for pipe replacement.
Poly B vs PEX: A Battle of the Pipes
PEX has emerged as the champion 🏆 in the plumbing world, leaving Poly B in the dust. What makes PEX stand out?
Well, it all boils down to a few key factors that give PEX the upper hand:
- Material Improvements: PEX is made of cross-linked polyethylene, a material that has undergone a process to enhance its molecular structure. This results in a stronger, more flexible, and more durable pipe, making it a more reliable option than Poly B.
- Resistance to common issues: PEX pipes are less prone to cracking and breaking compared to Poly B. They also resist scaling and pitting, which can lead to leaks and other plumbing problems over time. PEX's ability to withstand freezing temperatures adds to its appeal, especially in colder climates.
- Installation Advantages: PEX is easier and quicker to install than Poly B pipes, thanks to its flexibility and the use of fewer fittings. PEX's connection system also reduces the chances of leaks, giving homeowners peace of mind.
- Versatility: PEX pipes can be used for various applications, including hot and cold water supply lines, radiant heating systems, and even ice and snow melting systems. This versatility has made PEX a popular choice among both professionals and DIY enthusiasts.
- Cost-effectiveness: PEX pipes typically cost less than copper and are more affordable than Poly B pipes when considering factors like installation time and potential repair expenses.
In a nutshell, PEX outshines Poly B in terms of material quality, durability, ease of installation, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. It's no wonder that PEX has become the go-to 🏁🔥🥇 choice for replacing problematic Poly B pipes.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace Poly B?
Since the DIY route isn't for everyone (and we don't recommend it), let's dive into the costs of hiring a professional plumbing contractor to get the job done right. We did some legwork and gathered quotes from several plumbing companies for our own project, discovering a wide range of prices – from a low of $6,000 to a high of $26,000 – for the same property. While many factors impact the costs, we identified some consistent ones across the quotes we received.
Let's start with the obvious ones:
- Type of Piping Material You Choose: The type of piping material you choose will significantly affect the cost of replacing your Poly B pipes. Copper and PEX are common options, with copper being the pricier one and PEX being more budget-friendly.
- Size of Your Home: A larger home with multiple bathrooms and an extensive plumbing system will naturally cost more to replace Poly B piping compared to a smaller one.
- Number of Pipes That Need to Be Replaced: Fewer pipes to replace means a lower price tag, while more pipes will bump up the cost.
Now let's explore some less-obvious factors:
- Number of Holes That Need to Be Cut: Replacing Poly B pipes means cutting holes in walls and ceilings. More holes equal a higher cost.
- Finishing/Drywalling: Contractors may have different approaches to this. Some include (and charge for) finishing and drywalling, while others encourage customers to shop around. If you're willing to find someone else for this part, it could save you some money.
Finally, let's take a look at what we found to be the most significant factor: the choice of a plumbing contractor.
We were initially surprised to find such a variance in numbers between quotes, but soon came to realize that just about every contractor had a different approach to Poly B replacement – including:
- Type of piping material – some insisted on copper, some on different types of PEX
- Number of holes – this ranged from 18 to 30 (for the same property)
- Finishing/drywalling approach – some insisted that they got to do it, while others were more flexible
With such widely varying numbers and so many factors impacting those numbers, it's crucial to do your due diligence. Obviously you should find a contractor with a great reputation and with experience in replacing Poly B piping.
You're also going to have to do your research, get multiple quotes, and make sure every contractor is on the same page so you can do a comparison that's as close to “apples to apples” as possible.
Remember, investing in a skilled plumbing contractor can save you money, time, and headaches in the long run. Happy hunting!
Mitigation Options: Buying Time Before Replacement
We get it—replacing poly-b pipes can be a significant investment. But doing nothing at all is the worst option. While we highly recommend replacing Poly B pipes, there are some steps you can take to keep your home safe in the meantime.
One great option is to invest in a water leak detection system, which are relatively inexpensive sensors that emit an audible warning when they detect leaks. They're easy to install and often battery-operated. As you gradually replace your Poly B pipes, water alarms can offer a helpful layer of protection.
Here are some other mitigation measures to consider:
- Swap plastic fittings for copper or brass ones: Plastic fittings are more prone to cracking and failure. Replacing them with copper or brass fittings can help to reduce the chances of leaks and prolong the lifespan of your Poly B pipes.
- Avoid over-crimping: Over-crimping can weaken the pipe and fittings, making them more susceptible to failure. Make sure that crimp connections are done correctly, without applying excessive force, to ensure the integrity of your plumbing system.
- Lower chlorine levels: High chlorine levels in the water supply can accelerate the deterioration of Poly B pipes. Install a water filtration system to reduce chlorine levels, which will help extend the life of your pipes.
- Reduce water temperature: Hotter water can stress Poly B pipes, leading to increased wear and tear. Lower the temperature of your water heater to reduce the strain on your pipes and decrease the risk of failure.
- Decrease water pressure: High water pressure can cause additional stress on your Poly B pipes, making them more susceptible to leaks and ruptures. Installing a pressure-reducing valve will help to regulate the water pressure in your home, reducing the load on your pipes.
- Ensure plastic piping isn't near heat sources: Keeping Poly B pipes away from direct heat sources, such as furnaces or hot water heaters, can help prevent premature deterioration due to heat exposure. Inspect your home's plumbing to ensure pipes aren't too close to heat sources and reroute them if necessary.
It's important to remember that these mitigation steps are temporary 🩹 measures to help reduce the risk of catastrophic failure while you plan for a full Poly B pipe replacement. Consult with a professional plumber to assess your home's specific needs and develop a long-term solution for your plumbing system.
Seal the Deal: Conquering Poly B Plumbing with Confidence
Dealing with Poly B plumbing in your home is a critical issue that shouldn't be ignored. Given the potential risks and costs associated with pipe failures, taking action sooner rather than later is the best way to protect your home and your wallet. While there are some mitigation strategies you can employ, the only real solution is to replace those Poly B pipes with a more reliable option like PEX.
The most effective and worry-free way to handle Poly B pipe replacement is with the help of a professional plumbing contractor. Their expertise will not only ensure a successful replacement but also save you the headaches that can come with DIY attempts. But, choosing the right contractor is key.
That's why we've put together a free resource guide on how to choose the right contractor for your Poly B replacement project. In fact, by taking the steps we outline in our guide, we managed to save $10,000 on our own project!
Don't wait any longer – download our free resource guide now and learn how to find the perfect contractor for your Poly B pipe replacement. Take action today to protect your home and save money in the process.
Happy pipe hunting!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you live in your home during Poly B replacement?
Yes, you can live in your home during Poly B replacement. However, expect some disruptions and inconveniences, as there might be temporary water shut-offs, noise, and work areas. It's essential to communicate with your contractor to plan and minimize disruptions during the process.
How long does it take to replace Poly B?
The time it takes to replace Poly B plumbing depends on the size of your home and the complexity of the project. On average, a complete Poly B replacement for a single-family home takes about 1 to 2 weeks.
Is Poly B plumbing still used?
No, Poly B plumbing is no longer used due to its history of failures and lawsuits.
Are all gray pipes made of polybutylene?
Not all gray pipes are polybutylene. While most Poly B pipes are gray, other pipe materials, such as PVC or PEX, can also be gray. It's essential to examine the markings on the pipes or consult a professional plumber to accurately identify the pipe material.
Can I use PEX fittings on polybutylene pipe?
No, PEX fittings are not designed for use with polybutylene pipes. Although they might appear to fit, PEX fittings and polybutylene pipes have different dimensions and materials, which can lead to leaks and other issues.
Is Poly B toxic?
Poly-B itself is not considered toxic. However, the main concern with Poly B is its potential to fail, causing leaks, water damage, and mold growth, which can be harmful to health.
Can I use PEX crimp on polybutylene?
No, PEX crimp fittings are not compatible with polybutylene pipes. Using PEX crimp fittings on polybutylene pipes can result in leaks and system failures.
Are there circumstances when you should not use PEX?
Although PEX is a popular choice for many plumbing applications, there are situations where it might not be the best option – including exposure to sunlight, the presence of rodents, and exposure to extreme temperatures (this is particularly true of specific industrial applications).