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.
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.
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.
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.