Home Inspection: Poly-B Plumbing

Polybutylene piping, or Poly-B for short, is a flexible plastic supply plumbing material that was in use in home construction between 1978 and 1995. Poly-B can be identified by its light grey color and the permanent markings on the tubing (Pp). As a cheaper and easier-to-use alternative to copper, Poly-B was installed in over 6 million American, and over 700,000 Canadian homes. There was a class action lawsuit involving Poly-B that ended in 2005 (according to PBSettlement.ca) involving more first generation Poly-B plastic connectors and elbows. Second generation Poly-B (copper or brass connectors, elbows, and clamps) alleviated the majority of the issues with the exception of areas that contain a high chlorine content in their water.


Poly-B Plumbing Issues

  • Initially there were issues with plastic fittings and elbows, which were prone to cracking or breaking. We mostly alleviated this problem by using primarily copper and brass fittings and elbows.
  • Another claim is that Poly-B piping can deteriorate and fail when exposed to extreme heat, very hot water, or where water has high chlorine levels. Chlorine levels in Canada are much lower than those in the United States.
  • “Poly-B is permeable to oxygen. Poly-B that is used in circulating hot water loops is prone to deliver oxidized water which can be very hard on water heaters and boiler and drastically shorten their life.” (Vision Mechanical Ltd.)
  • When exposed to sunlight for an extended amount of time, Poly-B piping can break down. Poly-B should not be used nor stored outdoors.

Home Inspection

It should be noted that the vast majority of Poly-B related issues were reported in the United States. Far fewer cases have been reported in Canada and most of those seem to be related to poor workmanship and installation rather than the piping itself. While numbers for British Columbia are unknown, Alberta Municipal Affairs is aware of approximately four Poly-B failures in Alberta over the last 20 years. All of these failures were related to improper installation rather than the materials themselves. It is important to note that copper and PEX pipes can fail too – nothing is 100% guaranteed. If you have questions you can always book an inspection.

8 Ways to Make the Best Of Poly-B

  1. Check all visible joints for leaks or cracks and ensure they joints are copper or brass, not plastic.
  2. Ensure your home’s water pressure is between 40-60 PSI. Anything above 100 PSI may cause failures at the connectors.
  3. If you live in an area with very high chlorine levels, consider installing a water filter close to where the water enters the home.
  4. If your Poly-B only distributes hot and cold water throughout the house set your hot water tank to about 125-130o
  5. If Poly-B is used in a circulating hot water loop, have the system assessed for possible corrosion. It should not be installed in a hydronic in-floor heating system as failure rates are high. Poly-B is also associated with excessive corrosion buildup in a boiler system.
  6. Ensure no Poly-B pipe is connected directly to a hot water heater as this softens the pipe and may cause failure.
  7. Make sure your home inspection determines the type of supply piping in your home to avoid problems later in acquiring home owner’s insurance.
  8. Inform your insurance company of the type of Poly-B you have – First generation or Second generation, as this may make a difference in the insurability of your home.

In short, despite a bad reputation, second generation Poly-B is unlikely to cause significantly more issues than any other type of supply piping, as long as it is properly installed and adheres to CSA standards of use for this type of domestic plumbing.

To determine what type of plumbing is in your home or for a thorough inspection of any home’s interior and exterior components, please feel free to contact Discovery Inspections by telephone at 250-713-4811 or by email.

For more information on polybutylene piping check out Square One Insurance, Facts About Polybutylene Pipes and Carson Dunlop

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Feature image via academyoflearning.com