What is Poly B™ piping?

Poly B™ piping, known as polybutylene, is a type of grey plastic plumbing pipe most commonly used for residential plumbing works between 1985 and 1997. Poly B™ was common in North America, almost all new builds and renovations that took place during these years used this type of pipe. Poly B™ has been banned due to extensive water and property damage caused by it’s high failure rates

What does Poly B™ Piping look like?

If your home was built or renovated between 1985 and 1997, it is crucial to have your home inspected for possible Poly B™ pipes. The first way to identify Poly B™ piping is by its colours. Polybutylene piping is made in blue, silvery gray, and black colours. Blue pipes were used mainly for cold water, while black and silvery gray were used interchangeably for indoor and outdoor purposes.

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Why does Poly B™ Piping fail?

When it was first introduced to the plumbing industry, Poly B™ was widely accepted due to its affordability and flexibility. However, it was not long when its molecular flaws came to light and the pipe started to rupture and fail woefully. This caused water leakage and property damage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The molecular bonds inside Poly B™ Piping are unstable causing the pipe to crack under certain environmental strains. The following scenarios speed up the deterioration process of the piping.

  • High chlorine content in the municipal water supply.

  • Prolonged exposure to UV light.
  • Exposure to high heat areas or high temperatures.

What is the Failure Rate?

If you are looking for a short answer, it is 100%. It is not a question about if it will fail; but when it will fail. The different factors involved with the deterioration of the piping make the exact time frames impossible to determine. Here are some notable factors in determining the failure rate of Poly B™™ piping:

Poly B™ Replacement

If the piping was manufactured in a hotter climate, the rate of failure increases instead of a colder setting. We know that high heat is a critical factor in the deterioration of the piping.

Was the piping transported in a closed semi-trailer or an open flatbed? UV light during the transportation increases the failure rate of the piping.

Often, the piping was stored outside in the sun until the tradesmen were ready to install it into a home. Exposure to weather elements and UV light would cause quick deterioration of the piping.

New home building companies working with large contractors typically deliver all of the materials for an entire block of houses at one time. These materials are placed either on the driveway or inside the garage while the teams work through home by home. Poly B™™ Piping may have been exposed to UV light and temperature changes for months before even being installed in the home, causing a higher failure rate.

The higher the potency of chlorine in a water system, the faster the pipe will deteriorate.

Lawsuits, Litigation, and Insurance

When was Poly B™ Banned?

There are 2 different dates on which polybutylene piping was banned.

The use of Poly B™ was banned by the National Plumbing Code, which oversaw all plumbing trades in Canada and refused to recognize Poly B™ after 1997. The pipe was disallowed to be used to construct any building requiring piping systems.

The government of Canada officially banned Poly B™™ in 2005. The ban’s reasoning was that a substantial volume of lawsuits were filed against Shell and Dupont over structural damage and property damage caused by ruptured Poly B™ piping throughout hundreds of homes. Poly B™ was reported to be failing after a few years of installation.

This resulted in structural damage to drywalls, water damage, and costly restoration. Shell and Dupont lost the lawsuit.

Poly B™ Lawsuits and Litigation History

Combined class-action lawsuits made Poly B™ one of the highest pre-settlement lawsuits in North American history. The total combined lawsuits amount to multiple billions of dollars.

Poly B™ Insurance Coverage

Poly B™ piping has proven to be a huge liability for both homeowners and insurance companies. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada deemed Poly B™ inadmissible to indemnity clauses. This means that no insurance company is required to ensure a home with Poly B™ piping under law.

Until recently, most insurance companies have offered grandfather clauses to current customers with Poly B™ piping and leniency to new clients. However, because of the losses incurred by insurance companies, most of them are no longer willing to renew policies or insure new clients that come to them with Poly B™ in the home. Legally, they do not have to because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2005.

Buyer beware, If an insurance company does offer to insure the home, there are typically massive premiums and costly deductibles following a first leak.

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Real Estate and Poly B™ Piping

There is a boom in Alberta’s real estate market with decade-low housing prices and historically low-interest rates. This means that houses are moving regardless of Poly B™ piping, and many buyers and sellers may be caught off guard if they are unaware of the Poly B™ piping in the home and the risks involved.

Buying a Home with Poly B™

As a buyer, if you have found a home, but it has Polybutylene installed, you may feel discouraged about buying the house. Most houses built in the 80s and 90s are top-quality builds and are often located in highly desirable neighborhoods with great amenities. A quick remediation will have your new home in tip-top shape and give you peace of mind that your domestic water plumbing system is worry-free for years to come.

However, it is important to mention that sellers do not repipe homes before putting up their properties for sale. Before you complete the purchasing contract with the seller of the home with Polybutylene piping, inform your real estate agent to tell the seller to either:

  • Replace the Poly B™ piping in the home OR
  • Reduce the selling price of the home to allow you to replace the Poly B™ pipes before you move in.
  • Oftentimes, a seller will meet you halfway on the remediation of Poly B™ piping.

Selling a Home with Poly B™

If you are selling a home with Poly B™ piping, you may be faced with an educated buyer who is aware of these Poly B™ issues, and this person may be unable to get home insurance upon purchasing the home.

There are typically three options…

  • Replace the Poly B™ piping before selling the home.

  • Face a buyer asking for unrealistic discounts to cover the remediation costs

  • Deal with potential buyers walking away from a home because they simply do not want to deal with the hassle of replacing the piping in the home upon purchasing or be unable to accommodate the remediation itself.

Poly B™ and Home inspectors

A qualified home inspector should be familiar with Poly B™™ and the piping risks in a home. They should not implement scare tactics but educate the homeowner on the risks and educate them on their options in dealing with it.

The Poly B™ Replacement Options

Installing a new plumbing system into a building requires adequate knowledge about the right material for performance, efficiency, safety, and durability. Different types of pipes are available for piping purposes, and they each come with a different estimated life expectancy. Here is a list of available home piping options.

Class C PEX Piping
(Low-Grade)

  • This type of pipe is commonly found in big box home improvement stores and was the first type of PEX piping released on the market.

  • This PEX is only rated for 80-100psi.
  • Can come color-coded
  • Class C PEX has low resistance to high heat and will commonly burst if frozen.
  • Estimated life expectancy is 50 years.

Class B PEX Piping
(Mid-Grade)

  • Class B PEX is the pipe most plumbers refer to as “ PEX“ likely because of lack of training and because it is regularly accessible through typical plumbing suppliers.
  • Ratings for Class B PEX range from 100 – 110 psi.
  • The pipe is cross-linked and has adequate freezing and heat-resistant prevention qualities.
  • Class B PEX can be ordered in an O2 Barrier tubing for in-floor heat applications.
  • Estimated life expectancy is 50 years

Class A PEX Piping
(High-Grade)

  • Class A PEX is the highest-rated PEX piping available on the market.
  • In its most advanced grade, this pipe can handle up to 497 psi.
  • Top manufacturers warranty piping for up to 25 years.
  • With a cross-linked development process, this PEX piping can withstand multiple occasions of freezing and extreme heat applications.
  • Class A PEX can be ordered in O2 (oxygen barrier), making it the perfect PEX for in-floor heating applications and domestic water lines.
  • Estimated life expectancy is 100+ years

Looking for Poly B™ Replacement Services?

Urban Piping Ltd. is the leader in Poly B™™️ Replacement in Canada. With multiple Canadian offices we can service nearly every part of western Canada.

Poly B™ Replacement Services