Jul 16, 2012 / 5:00 am
Polybutylene pipe, or its common name, Poly B, is a flexible grey pipe used in residential plumbing systems and hot water heating systems since the late 1970's. Copper supply piping has been used for over a hundred years in Canada. Recently it has been replaced in a large scale by plastic primarily because of cost. Copper is so valuable now that people are killing themselves stealing it from electrical applications in order to sell it for its scrap value.
Plastic was introduced since it delivers water much the same as copper and because it is far more economical to purchase and install. Poly-B supply piping was the first generation plastic piping that extensively replaced copper. It is well suited for potable water plumbing applications. Poly-B is able to withstand the high and low temperatures found in plumbing and heating applications. In fact, it is designed to handle hot water conditions up to 82 degrees centigrade. Poly-B was approved by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) for residential use.
(Photo: Hugh Cairns)
At present, Poly-B appears to be a reliable plumbing system with a very, very low incident rate of failures here in Canada. Some home insurance providers might view Poly B as a higher risk, but in most cases, optional or increased coverage is available.
Consumers in the southern United States have had problems because of issues related to installation, extremely hot temperatures and high levels of chlorine in the water. The Canadian experience has been much different. The Poly-B piping installed here primarily used copper or brass metal insert fittings and soft copper crimping rings, not the plastic insert fittings with either aluminum or copper bands which are reported to be more susceptible to failure like they used in the States. Many U.S. failures occurred in southern areas where plumbing was run in attics, which has not been practiced in Canada, and some plumbers took old brass fittings and used them for plastic... a likely mismatch.
Poly-B piping was introduced to the British Columbia construction industry in the mid-1970s but wasn’t widely used in until the 90’s. Unconfirmed estimates cite that there are in excess of 200,000 homes in BC with Poly-B water systems. I see many of them every month here at home. I suspect that as many installation problems have occurred with copper pipes as have been experienced with Poly B. So, as you can see I am not too excited about the Poly B issue here at home. Although I am not a rabid keen supporter of poly-b piping, I respect that it has been performing very well for homeowners in the Okanagan. Some people declare that it should all be ripped out; I wouldn’t go that far -- although a good thorough inspection of any visible joints might be warranted. A consultation with a licensed plumber will provide some valuable insight too.
Recently, buyers and sellers of homes with Poly B here in the Okanagan have found themselves in a bit of a conundrum at insurance time. Some insurers have tagged the product with being a higher risk. It seems that the insurance industry is heading more and more a la carte these days. If you have a pool, they charge you more. They like to charge more for having a wood burning appliance, a business run from the home or a shake roof too.
At present in Canada, Poly-B appears to be a reliable plumbing system with a very, very low incident rate of failures, most of which have been attributed to poor workmanship. Some home insurance providers might view Poly B as a higher risk, but in most cases, optional or increased coverage is available to address such situations.
For more information on Poly B piping click here.
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