Do you know what’s lurking within the walls of your home?
If you’re a homeowner in the Lower Mainland, chances are you could have a banned plumbing material installed in your residence.
Poly-b piping is a plumbing fixture that was widely popular in the ’70s-’90s and it was installed in homes all over North America. These pipes were banned in the early 2000s for disasters involving leaking and corrosion. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of property damage.
Find out whether or not you have poly-b pipes in your home, and learn what you can do about it before it’s too late.
What is Poly-B?
Poly-b or Polybutylene pipes were originally used as a groundbreaking new plumbing material due to their flexibility, affordability and the relative ease with regards to installation. These pipes were installed in most homes between the ’70s and ’90s throughout North America. At the time, this plastic product seemed like an excellent alternative to traditional copper pipes.
However, problems soon arose with poly-b pipes. The material degrades quickly due to internal corrosion and it cracks easily under pressure and with temperature changes.
As a result, it is no longer approved as a plumbing material under the National Plumbing Code of Canada.
There were lawsuits filed regarding poly-b piping and many homeowners succeeded due to the extent of damages caused by leaks but deadlines to claim damages were up in the early 2000’s. Poly-b piping typically lasts 10-15 years, so the timeline has long passed and there are still many Canadian homes with this type of piping.
If you think you may have poly-b pipes in your home, the best thing to do is to have them inspected and fully replaced. Likewise, if you are interested in purchasing a home from this time period – ’70s-’90s then it’s essential that you do your due diligence and have the plumbing inspected by an experienced professional. Poly-b piping should not deter you from buying a home you love, but it is something that you want to be aware of before purchasing. Ideally, have the plumbing fully replaced before purchase or allocate a renovation budget to replace it after you move in.
Why Are Poly-B Pipes a Problem?
Poly-b piping seemed like a good solution at the time, however, when it comes to longevity, durability and ultimately safety these pipes fall short and homeowners have been left to pay the price.
The core problem with poly-b pipes is their known risk for leaks. This means, as a homeowner you are at risk for extensive water damage and in some cases, even flooding. Slow leaks in the walls over time also contribute to the formation of mold, which can cause illness and lung problems for residents.
Lastly, insurers are also aware of the risk poly-b piping poses for homeowners, and themselves. They know that homes built in the ’70s-’90s could have poly-b piping and you may face higher insurance premiums and flooding deductibles if you are unable to prove the material used in your plumbing has been upgraded since that time.
It will be difficult to get reasonable insurance prices as a result. Disasters from poly-b piping put your home’s value at risk and could be incredibly costly to repair. The average cost to have piping stripped and replaced ranges from $4000 to well over $20,000 depending on the size and complexity of the home.
What Causes Poly-B Pipes to Fail?
Poly-b pipes can fail for several reasons, however, the key causes of pipe failure most often include chemical-related corrosion, cracks due to temperature changes and cracking due to pressure changes.
Reasons for failure
- Chemicals – chemicals meant to purify the water supply can weaken and degrade poly-b pipes over time. The corrosion happens inside the pipes, so it is impossible to detect a problem until it’s too late.
- Temperature – High water temperatures, and in some cases, freezing pipes can cause cracks and fractures in poly-b pipes. Polybutylene was not meant to resist extreme temperatures and it is very susceptible to damage when this happens.
- Pressure – High water pressure can also cause damage in poly-b pipes and it can cause the pipes to loosen and leak.
Steps that homeowners can take to reduce risk
The best way to reduce the risk of poly-b pipe failure is to fully replace it with an alternative. However, there are some things you can do in the meantime.
- Chemicals → You can get a filter for the water you use in your home, to reduce the number of chemicals. These are called whole house filters and they are effective in lowering the amount of purifying chemicals so things are easier on your pipes.
- Temperature → If you often use boiling hot water, consider lowering the temperature to warm instead to prevent cracking due to high temperatures. If you live in a colder climate, consider heavy pipe insulation to keep the pipes from freezing and cracking in the winter.
- Pressure → High water pressure can cause poly-b pipes to loosen and leak, consider using a lower water pressure while you still have these pipes installed.
Where are Poly-B Pipes Found in Homes?
Poly-b pipes could be installed throughout your home. They can appear just about anywhere that water is routed through the house. Areas that are particularly plumbing-dependent include your kitchen and your bathroom, but poly-b piping could funnel water everywhere from your toilets, sinks, showers, bathtubs, dishwashers and washing machines.
The pipes can also be found in your walls and are often visible in rooms like unfinished basements, where the piping is clearly exposed. Homeowners should also be aware that Poly-b piping can be found in homes with radiant floor heating as well.
How Can I Tell if my Home has Poly-B Pipes?
The best way to determine whether or not your home contains poly-b pipes is to hire a plumbing professional to inspect the home in detail. However, if you want to rush and check whether or not your home has poly-b pipes right away – after reading this article, there are some key places you can look.
With regards to appearance, poly-b piping is commonly a light blue-grey in colour, but it can also be black. It has a typical plastic look to the exterior. It is often marked with the letters ‘PB’ sometimes in large print, and sometimes in smaller, less evident locations. Be sure to check the pipes carefully for any sign of wording on them.
The best places to look for poly-b pipes are below the sink and the pipes leading into the toilet. If your home has a hot water tank, it’s also a good idea to check the pipes that connect to the tank as well. Unfinished basements are also a dead giveaway as it is easy to see the pipes when they are exposed throughout the basement walls. Sometimes you may even see exposed pipes outside or connected to the home as well.
I Think I Have Poly-B Pipes, But They Look Fine. Do I Need to Replace Them?
If you have identified poly-b piping in your home, be aware of the extreme risk you take on every day you avoid pipe replacement. Poly-b pipes may look ‘fine’ from the outside, but in reality, they have a lifespan of 10-15 years. If your home was built between the ’70s and ’90’s chances are they are well over their warranty. As a banned plumbing material you will not find replacement poly-b material either.
Poly-b piping deteriorates from the inside out, so even to the well-trained eye, it is impossible to visually inspect the health of the pipes. The pipes may look like they are intact without cracks, but inside, you do not know if they are ready to burst, or extremely fragile. It is truly not worth the risk to ignore replacement when it comes to potentially flooding your home at any moment.
What Should I Replace my Poly-B Pipes With?
There are three main replacement options for poly-b piping. These include Copper, PEX and PVC-CPVC pipes. All three of these are good options for poly-b pipe replacement as they are not as susceptible to corrosion, cracking and temperature changes. However, each have pros and cons of their own.
- Copper Pipes – These are excellent, quality pipes that are highly resistant to corrosion.
- Pros: Durable, lightweight, does not leak chemicals or contaminate water
- Cons: Can cause a metallic taste in water, higher price
- PEX Pipes – Polyethylene or PEX pipes are a type of durable plastic.
- Pros: PEX is highly flexible, it can wind through walls and floors easily due to its non-rigid material, great for DIY projects, the material can expand to prevent cracking.
- Cons: Cannot be recycled efficiently, cannot be used outdoors as UV rays can break down the material.
- PVC/CPVC – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride) existed long before PEX pipes. They are also plastic with the extra ‘c’ in CPVC standing for chlorinated.
- Pros: These pipes are temperature resistant and come in a variety of sizes. It can be used both outdoors and indoors.
- Cons: Weaker compared to metal pipes and can crack under extreme stress.
How Much Does Poly-B Pipe Replacement Cost in the Lower Mainland?
The cost to replace poly-b pipes varies greatly depending on the situation. This is because each house is different, and there can be additional costs if mold or water damage is discovered.
In general, the cost of poly-b pipe replacement in the Lower Mainland is around $10,000 for the entire project. This includes the material costs, labour costs and restoration costs.
This is indeed a large amount of money for most households, but it is far less when you consider the cost of flooding, pipe failure and high insurance premiums as a result of keeping your poly-b piping.
What are my Options for Replacement?
There are two main options for poly-b pipe replacement. The first is to DIY the entire project and replace the piping yourself, and the second is to call in the professionals and have the pipes professionally removed and replaced. Those who are looking to replace the pipes on their own should ideally have some knowledge of plumbing and repairs before getting started.
DIY Poly-B Pipe Replacement
Homeowners can try to replace the pipes themselves, this saves a large amount of money in labour costs, however, the results can be costly to correct if done incorrectly. This task is not easy because it involves opening up walls and flooring to access the plumbing. Note that if you live in a townhome or strata-run complex, you will need to consult strata before attempting any repairs on your own.
You should also be aware of the risk with regards to personal injury and damage to the property if something goes wrong. Be sure that you are capable of taking on this task before attempting the project, it may end up costing you more in the long run if the installation is unsuccessful.
There are many instructional, step-by-step videos online to assist in the replacement process but it is heavily suggested that you only attempt this project with a good understanding of plumbing and repair knowledge.
Professional Poly-B Pipe Replacement
A professional pipe replacement is a safe and excellent option when it comes to replacing old poly-b pipes in your home. Professional services mean faster project completion, better finish and fit and less disturbance overall to your home. Be sure to look for a plumbing company that is fully bonded and insured in order to protect yourself from liability if anything goes wrong.
At Hillcrest Plumbing and Heating we provide full-service inspections, repairs and replacements of poly-b piping. Our team brings decades of experience to the plumbing industry, so you can rest assured the project will be completed on time and to a very high standard. Leave it to the professionals and learn more about our poly-b pipe replacement services.
Pro-Tip: Use Connected Water Leak Sensors if Full-Scale Replacement Isn’t Financially Feasible
Understandably, the cost to fully remove and repair poly-b pipes altogether is quite significant. Yet, the worst thing you can do is nothing at all and wait for things to get worse.
Although it is highly suggested that you have poly-b pipes replaced, there are some things you can do to keep your home safe in the meantime. Many hardware stores supply relatively inexpensive sensors or ‘water alarms’ that can provide an advanced warning to homeowners if they sense a leak. They are easy to install and are often battery-operated. They let off an audible warning sound if water or leaks are detected.
If you are looking to replace your poly-b pipes slowly over time, it’s a good idea to have this passive form of water detection available.
Choose Hillcrest Plumbing & Heating for Your Poly-B Replacement
The experienced plumbing professionals at Hillcrest Plumbing & Heating know poly-b piping inside and out. Our team can inspect, remove and replace these banned pipes so you can have peace of mind as a homeowner.
All of our technicians are licensed and bonded and we can service all areas of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Click to learn more and book your poly-b pipe replacement with us today.