Did you know that, as of 2022, the plumbing industry is worth $17 billion? Plumbing plays a huge role in the overall safety and well-being of your home, and it's important to know that you're using the best possible materials for it.
Polybutylene (Poly B) plumbing was popular in the 1980s, and if you have a home that was built during this time, you likely have it. But what does that mean? How can you know if you have Poly B plumbing in your home, and what should you do if you do?
Luckily, we're here to help. Read on to learn everything you need to know.
What Is Poly B Plumbing?
Polybutylene (Poly-B) plumbing is a low-cost plastic resin pipe known for its easy installation. It was a common replacement for copper piping systems from 1978 to the early 1990s, and was often called "the pipe of the future."
Since it was so cheap, a lot of homes have it, and the owners might not even know it.
What Does Poly B Plumbing Look Like?
The piping itself is usually grey or white and comes with a relatively dull finish. The material can also come in silver, black, or blue, and the connections and elbows are typically copper.
Poly B is relatively flexible, and the different colours usually mean different things. The black, grey, and silver pipes were usually used indoors and outdoors, while the blue was typically reserved for cold water use.
The outside is stamped with "PB2110," and it's usually 1/2-1 inch in diameter. The most important thing to note: you're not going to find it used for wastewater, drain, or vent piping.
How Does Poly B Plumbing Work?
Poly B plumbing works like any other household plumbing system. There are two components of whole-house systems: one subsystem that brings freshwater in, and another that takes wastewater out. Poly B is typically going to be used for pipes that bring fresh water in.
This freshwater is under pressure whenever it enters your home, which is how it gets up the stairs and around corners. The water that comes into your home also usually has chemicals like chlorine in it that can be good for your body, but they also break down the Poly B.
Risks of Poly B Pipes
While Poly B plumbing isn't necessarily bad, it does come with certain risks.
As these pipes age, they begin to pose a larger threat to the homes they're placed in. They're prone to bursting and leaking, which can mean devastating consequences for homeowners. As a result, homes with Poly B plumbing have been involved in many lawsuits over the years.
This means insurance companies aren't likely to cover you or your lawsuit if your system fails. They may even refuse to insure you until it's been replaced.
With so many risks involved with this plumbing, a lot of homeowners opt to have it replaced if it's found in their homes (or they're made to by their insurance company).
If left unattended, your home becomes more susceptible to things like leaks or even burst pipes. While water damage can affect the walls and other belongings in your home, it can also reach the other components of your plumbing system, like the vents, traps, and cleanouts.
This might not sound like a big deal, but if they sustain damage then you're not just replacing the pipes, you're replacing all the other components of your system, which is likely to cost a lot more money than a preventative replacement might have.
Is Poly B Plumbing Bad?
While the exact cause of Poly B failure is unknown, it's believed to happen because oxidants (like chlorine) from public water systems react with the polybutylene itself, which can cause scaling and flaking, and the material might become brittle.
These problems cause microfractures in the plumbing, causing it to fall apart from the inside and lead to compromised structural integrity. That means your building becomes a lot more susceptible to things like pipe failure and extensive amounts of water damage.
Other things, like improper installation, can also cause this, but it's difficult to diagnose that single problem on an entire plumbing system without professional advice.
Poly B Plumbing Canada
Poly B plumbing was banned in Canada in 2005. Since this code isn't retroactive, however, that means materials that were previously considered safe can still be used if they don't pose a health or safety hazard.
So, while you can't install new Poly B plumbing anymore, you don't necessarily have to replace what's already there. It's also important to know that any plumbing system can fail, and Poly B plumbing isn't the only material that can put your home at risk if it's installed incorrectly.
Most Ploy B failures, however, haven't happened in Canada. They've mostly occurred in the United States where they've been installed in attics throughout the south, where excess heat can actually bake the pipes. This isn't a practice used in Canada.
If you notice Poly B plumbing has been used in your heating system, however, you might face some problems. Normally, water from heating systems becomes de-oxygenized after the first year of use. Poly B, however, allows oxygen to cross from the air into the water, which can lead to premature rusting of the heat exchanger.
What Do You Do If You Have Poly B Plumbing in Your Home?
If you find Poly B plumbing in your home, it's best to have it replaced. You can look for external factors like the ones we just talked about, or you can turn to any home inspection reports you might have.
If you suspect Poly B plumbing in your home, you should have a home inspection done anyway. This will be able to tell you just how much Poly B plumbing is in your home, and where you'll need to replace your pipes.
Poly B that's discovered at the supply hoses between valves and pictures is typically easy to replace, and it's fairly inexpensive. If it's discovered near the water supply piping, however, it's going to be harder to replace, and more expensive.
Should You Replace Poly B Pipes?
While you don't necessarily have to replace your Poly B piping, some insurance companies view it as high risk because of its failure rate. It's best to contact your insurance company to see if this is the case.
They'll be able to let you know what happens if you keep it, and even how much your monthly rate could go down if you choose to replace the piping.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace Poly B Plumbing?
With this piping, replacing certain sections isn't usually an option. If you have to make any repairs, it's usually going to be a whole-home re-piping job.
How much it costs is ultimately going to depend on your home and its size, as well as where the Poly B is founding in the system and how much damage is found (if any). The price range for replacing this type of piping is anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000.
Another factor that can affect the overall replacement cost is whether or not installers have to tear up floors, walls, or even insulation to gain access to the piping. If there's a lot of demolition that has to be done, you're going to be looking at a higher replacement cost.
While the initial investment is a big one, it pays for itself in the long run. You also receive the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pipes are safe and up to today's standards. You're also going to lose the risk of having your water supply contaminated with plastic that might chip off as Poly B begins to break down.
All in all, it might sound like a hassle at first, but you're going to be better off in the long run when you choose to replace your Poly B piping.
Do You Need to Replace Your Plumbing?
Though it has the potential to be a costly replacement, it's going to be cheaper and pose less of a risk if you choose to replace it before things get out of hand.
If you think you have Poly B plumbing in your home, it's probably time for a replacement. Again, you should contact a professional for their recommendation before making any moves, and also your insurance company. In the midst of Covid-19, many folks are reevaluating their expenses in many different ways. One of the best ways is look at bundling your insurance partners. Our partners over at Onlia have some of the best and most comprehensive home and auto insurance products on the Canadian market. Reach out to them today. One of their experienced agents is looking forward to working with you.