POLY B PLUMBING REPLACEMENT
Do you know what kind of plumbing your home has? It’s not something you think about a lot, as long as it’s working properly. But if your home has Poly-B ( Polybutylene) plumbing, you may have had to make some repairs or replace the plumbing entirely.
Word is getting around that a type of plumbing pipe commonly installed in the ’80s and into the ’90s has some major potential problems and may be worth replacing. We estimate that at least 20-30% of Calgary homes have plumbing systems made up of Poly-b, and it’s especially prevalent in communities like Sundance, Edgemont and Silver Springs. If you’ve heard about Poly-b, you might be wondering how to know if you have it in your home, what to do if you do, and what exactly the risks might be to not replacing it.
Poly B, also referred to as Polybutylene, is a flexible grey pipe used in hot water systems and residential plumbing. It was manufactured in between the years of 1978 and 1998 because of its flexibility, low cost, and ease of installation.
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 colour and the permanent markings on the tubing.
The main difference between Poly B and PEX is in how the material is created. The polymer chains in PEX are bonded to each other; this is called cross-linking and does not happen in Poly B pipes. One advantage that PEX has over Poly B is its greater tolerance to high pressures. The second advantage of PEX over Poly B is its higher tolerance to temperatures.
The good news is, if you have Poly-b pipes in your home but haven’t had any problems, it’s not necessary to replace all your pipes any sooner than you would have otherwise. It’s okay to wait until there’s a problem or until you are renovating. You should, however, have your incoming water pressure tested to make sure it is within the working pressure of the polybutylene.
One exception to this would be if your pipes are connected by plastic fittings. In this case, we still recommend replacing at least the sections we can see, even if you haven’t had an issue yet. These fittings have become very brittle and might crack from even the pressure of a touch. If your fittings are metal, you’re safe to wait for the replacement.
We do have quite a few customers who are choosing to replace their Poly-b pipes proactively for their own peace of mind, and we support this decision as well.
- Replace plastic fittings: In the early days of Poly-B piping, the fittings in some areas were made of plastic, and tended to fail over time. This is less common in Canada than in the U.S. If your fittings are plastic, you might consider getting a plumber to replace these with copper or brass fittings.
Don’t over-crimp: You’ll notice that the pipes are held in place with metal bands. If these are crimped too tightly, hairline fractures could result. With fractures, come leaks, so this is an important step.
Lower the pressure: Pressure-reducing valves are available and are designed to reduce the water pressure in your house, allowing for less stress on both the pipes and the fittings. Most experts recommend between 40 and 60 psi. High water pressure can actually cause damage to the home’s fixtures, as well as cause the pipes to rupture.
Reduce the chlorine: High levels of chlorine in the water can speed the deterioration of poly-B pipes. Most regions of Canada don’t have an issue with chlorine, but if your home is in an area with high levels of chlorine, you may want to consider installing a filter to remove chlorine right where the water comes into the home, not just where it comes out of the tap.
Cool down: Hot water causes Poly-B pipes to deteriorate quicker. You may want to turn down the temperature on your water heater, but be careful; turning it too low can cause bacteria to grow. And Poly-B pipes should not be connected directly to the hot water tank. ClearView recommends setting the tank to no lower than 55 degrees to prevent bacteria forming in the tank. If you have small children in the house, setting the water to a lower temperature has an added bonus of helping to prevent scalding. See Hot Water Tanks.
If your home has Poly-B piping, please discuss it with one of our plumbers, and we will do our best to assist you. Remember, if you’re not sure, look for flexible, grey-colored plastic pipes in areas with exposed plumbing such as near your hot water tank, water meter, or under a kitchen or bathroom sink.
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