Poly-B Plumbing: Common Issues and Maintenance

Homeowners generally don’t give too much thought about the plumbing system installed behind the walls and underneath the floors of their houses. In most cases, that’s not a big deal, that is unless your home has Poly-B plumbing.

This type of plumbing is rarely used anymore but can still be found in many homes across Canada. In this article, the plumbing experts from Summit Drain explain what Poly-B plumbing is, why you might be concerned as a homeowner, as well as the methods and cost of replacement.

What is Poly-B (Polybutylene) Plumbing?

It was at one time a very common material choice for plumbing systems inside new homes. Poly-B, which is the version of the material’s real name of polybutylene, was used extensively in new home builds throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Plumbers loved working with Poly-B because it was cheaper than copper and much easier to install. Of course, it was too good to be true.

It turned out that Poly-B had a short lifespan because as early as the mid-1980s, homeowners with Poly-B piping reported leaking. In many cases, the leaks were discovered far too late and people experienced extensive water damage and worse yet — mould damage that presented a health risk to occupants of the homes. That’s why it’s important to ensure you know what material your plumbing system is made from. It’s estimated that across Canada there are more than 700,000 households with Poly-B pipes.

Identifying Poly-B Plumbing in Your Home: Tips and Tricks

It’s important to know the possible colours of Poly-B piping to help you identify your plumbing material. The most common colour is grey, but there are black, white and blue variations out there in some homes.

Not certain that you have Poly-B pipes in your home? You may be able to determine once and for all by simply looking at a few spots where there is exposed plumbing, such as under a sink, in a utility room or a laundry room. Check around water tanks or on the ceiling of a basement that hasn’t been drywalled yet.

Typically, there will be plastic fittings that connect the various pieces of Poly-B pipes. This is something to look out for. However, there have been reports of some homes using brass or copper fittings instead.

Another interesting way to identify a Poly-B pipe is to look for some specific codes stamped onto one side of the pipe. If you see ‘CSA-B 137.8’ or “PB2110” — then you’ve got Poly-B and it’s time to contact a plumber. However, it’s important to note that even if you don’t have these stamped on your plastic piping, they could still very well be Poly-B pipes. If you’re not sure and can’t seem to distinguish this on your own, then contact the professional plumbers at Summit Drain who will execute a swift and thorough inspection of your plumbing.

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Potential Issues That Come with Polybutylene (Poly-B) Pipes

The fittings themselves tend to present the most problem for homeowners when it comes to Poly-B piping. Because the fittings used to connect most systems are made from simple plastic, they would eventually crack and leak over time. Most of the time this was because they were not properly installed.

The pipes would crack too if the plastic fittings were overtightened. Also, unfortunately, Poly-B pipes don’t hold up well to intense heat or pressure, something which all plumbing systems have to deal with daily. That’s why so many homeowners are horrified to learn that they have Poly-B piping in their homes.

But it’s not over yet — there is more to worry about because Poly-B plumbing is slowly degraded by chemicals such as chlorine. Even a very minuscule amount that you might find in a municipality’s drinking water is just too much for Poly-B to take and the dangers of leaking are imminent.

And the scary part is that you never know when the Poly-B piping is going to fail when it’s related to chemical exposure. These chemicals start breaking the pipe down from the inside, so a Poly-B pipe could look perfect to the naked eye from the outside, but it could be ready to crack or blow at any moment.

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Is Poly-B pipe illegal in Canada?

Using Poly-B in the plumbing of Canadian homes began around 1975 and it would go on to be used for more than 20 years until being discontinued from production and banned from new installations around 1998.

Poly-B was completely ripped out of the Canadian plumbing code by 2005.

Costs to replace Poly-B Plumbing

When it comes to the cost to replace Poly-B piping, there are many factors to consider that can leave the price varying from anywhere between $3,000 and $25,000. Of course, a larger home will be more expensive than a smaller home. Anything extra complicated within your plumbing system like a sprinkler system or pool pump will inflate the cost as well. Then you have to factor in the cost of new pipes and the labour to install them.

Finally, you have to think about how you’ll access all of the pipes in your home. If you have to cut out a bunch of drywall and rip up some flooring, then the final cost of this plumbing project will rise rapidly. If those costs seem kind of scary, you also have to think of the high cost of fixing water damage or removing mould if your Poly-B piping fails you in the future.

What can you do to maintain your Poly-B plumbing?

There are a few things you can do on your own to defend against possible failures with your Poly-B plumbing, and we’ll go over them in this article gladly, however, we must note it’s inevitable that one day your system will need replacing as the materials just aren’t built to last.

Swap out your plastic fittings: So much Poly-B piping was fitted with plastic in the early days of installation and as you now know, those fittings will certainly fail over time. However, you can hire a plumber to replace the fittings with brass or copper, which are much more durable and dependable.

Avoid over-crimping: In most cases, Poly-B pipes are held in place with metal bands. Sometimes installers crimped them too tightly which led to cracks and hairline fractures and eventually leaks. So don’t over-crimp!

Make the pressure lower: Is your home’s water pressure too high for your Poly-B plumbing system to handle? These pipes can typically handle anywhere between 40 and 60 psi before there’s an elevated risk of failure. However, there are special valves you can buy. A plumber can install one and allow you to reduce the pressure on your pipes — as long as it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment or usefulness of your various fixtures like showers and toilets. Lower the amount of chlorine: As we mentioned earlier, even small amounts of chlorine can degrade the quality of your Poly-B pipes over time leading to eventual failure and water damage in your home. Get your water tested and if you happen to live in an area with particularly high levels of chlorine content, then you can get a special filter installed to remove chlorine from the water as it enters the house.

Turn down the water heater: High heat situations can also degrade the durability of your Poly-B pipes. This can be possibly avoided by turning down your water heater’s temperature. Just be sure to consult the manufacturer’s directions on your unit before doing so. Most health experts recommend going no lower than 55°C to avoid the possible growth of harmful bacteria inside the tank.

FAQs:

While they’re both made from plastic, Poly-B and PEX pipes are very different. PEX, which is the short form of “cross-linked polyethylene, is not the same plastic used in Poly-B.

A different method is used to make PEX and that means PEX is a much stronger pipe that can hold up way better when it comes to heat, pressure and chemicals like chlorine. PEX is a very common plumbing material used in modern homes and is considered very reliable by industry experts. Poly-B is no longer made or used in plumbing projects.

Just like any pipe whether it be copper or PEX — Poly-B pipes will freeze. That’s why professional plumbers always recommend that you take the proper precautions to winterize your pipes and properly insulate your system so there are no bursts of blockages.

Most experts will tell you that Poly-B will start to experience failures within 10-15 years of initial installation — which begs homeowners to call a plumber immediately because you never know when that crack or degradation of the pipe is going to be too much for the system to handle.

It might seem like a lot of money to spend on something that you never see, however, it will increase your home’s resale value, help you out on insurance and simply give you peace of mind.

Need to replace the Poly-B pipes in your home or are you worried that you might have Poly-B but can’t be sure? Call the plumbing experts at Summit Drain. We have experienced technicians who provide first-rate customer service and compassionate care for all of our clients.

Contact Summit Drain today for your free consultation.

FAQ

A main sewer line blockage can cause water to backup in random places. For instance, you run your washing machine and notice your sink overflowing – this can be a clear sign that you have a clogged drain line.

If you have ruled out a potential sewer drain clog, you can rinse your sewer drain by flushing it with water. When you flush your lines, try adding a bit of drain cleaner to the water. A great place to flush your sewer line is the toilet – a larger amount of water and drain cleaner can enter your system quickly and easily. Unfortunately, if you do this when you have a clog, it can cause backup and potential flooding – if this is the case, clear the clog first.

You should generally know if your sewer line is blocked with slow drainage. The purpose of the sewer line is to take all the water drainage away from your house via sinks, bathtubs or toilets – if you find that there is slower drainage in one drain then you can essentially clear that yourself using a drain snake or a plunger.

There is confusion regarding when you are responsible for sewer line repair. While some may believe that the homeowner is only responsible for repairing the part of the line that’s on their property, this is not the case. Sewer lines consist of multiple sections, the upper lateral, lower lateral and the main line. The city is only responsible for repairing the main sewer line.

If issues with the main sewer line cause damage to your lower lateral, which is most likely where the damage would generally first start – the city would repair this damage when they work on the main sewer line. Unfortunately, if there is backup and flooding on your property from the main sewer line, then the city would not be responsible. It is best to follow up with the city to see if they will repair any damage in these cases.

Unpleasant smells coming from your drains is indicative of sewer line issues and damage. You should always take these types of smells seriously as it could be toxic fumes slowly releasing from the sewer below into your home.

There are a number of ways to clear a slow drain using products found around the home:

Bent Wire – If you do not have a drain snake, you can try using a stiff wire – like one from a clothes hanger, leaving the hook to enter pipes and pull out any clogs. Try to make sure you don’t push debris further into the pipe.

Homemade Flush – Mixing baking soda and vinegar can dissolve any materials that are potentially clogging your drain pipes. This is a good and much safer alternative to store-bought chemical cleaners.

Toilet Plunger – Like plunging a toilet, you can try using this on your drains. Using a plunger on your drains can help get things moving by using suction. This should be enough to fix any mild blockages.

Aged drain pipes are at risk for corrosion which can lead to breaks. Summit Drain has both the technology and expertise to fix this if necessary.

Yes. Drain pipes are durable, but not meant to last forever. If you live in an older home in Ottawa, most likely the pipes are made from copper and can collapse in this day and age.

When it comes to a collapsed drain, call Summit Drain. We use trenchless technology to replace sewer pipes made from original materials without ruining your property.

Rock salt
Rock salt helps by removing moisture from the roots, which in turn kills them. Two lbs should do the trick, pour 1 down the toilet. Flush until gone. And repeat with the next. Then leave for 12 hours and don’t run any water.


Foaming root killers
Another effective way to treat roots in pipes is with foaming root killers. Pour powder into toilet and flush. It will foam upon contact with water. Not only does it help dissolve current roots, but also helps to protect against future ones.


Copper sulfate
Copper sulfate is another good option. Available at most hardware stores, pour roughly half a cup into toilet and flush until gone. Leave the home and take all pets and family members along. This is a toxic substance and banned in some places.


Should I replace old pipes?
There does come a time where it makes sense to replace your pipes. Over time they crack and corrode. It is recommended to begin routine inspections once your home reaches 50 years in age. For plumbing Services in and around the Ottawa area, nobody does it like Summit Drain.

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