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What's All the Fuss About Poly-B Plumbing?


What Is Poly-B?

Type 1 Polybutylene plumbing, or Poly-B as it is more commonly known, is a grey plastic-type of plumbing that is common all over North America. It’s popularity was based on the ease of installation and the lower cost point than traditional copper plumbing. Poly-B was introduced to residential installation in British Columbia around 1975 and was very common up until it was phased out in 1995. There are two recognized types of Polybutylene pipes, typically known as Stage 1 and Stage 2.




Why Are There Two Stages of Poly-B?


Stage 1 Polybutylene plumbing has been effectively banned and considered uninsurable by most insurance companies. This first phase of the product consisted of Poly-b pipes with plastic elbows and connectors. The biggest issue with these pipes was leaking at the plastic connections, caused by breakdown of the fibres in the pipes with exposure to chlorine. Warmer climates and areas of higher chlorine levels in potable water supplies (particularly in Eastern provinces) is where the majority of problems and lawsuits occurred. Any Stage 1 Polybutylene plumbing should be completely replaced.




Once manufacturers recognized the issues with Stage 1 Polybutylene, they corrected the main contributor to failure by replacing the plastic connections with copper or brass. This revision is known as Stage 2 Polybutylene and while still carrying some of the shortcomings of the original product, the revised product is much less prone to failure and can be insured by many insurance companies.



Can I Get Insurance for A Home with Polybutylene?

While insurance companies are generally more reluctant to provide insurance when a home has Poly-B plumbing, they do not generally consider Stage 2 Polybutylene to carry the same risks as Stage 1 and will usually provide coverage, although there may be an increased premium for plumbing leaks. Canadian homeowners with existing policies on homes with Polybutylene (about 700,000 of them) are usually grandfathered in but insurance companies are not legally obligated to cover Polybutylene plumbing so replacement is generally the plan for most home owners.


What Do I Do If My Home Has Poly-B?

First, don’t panic! Although Polybutylene plumbing has instigated one of the highest pre-settlement class action lawsuits in North American history, the majority of issues have been with the Stage 1 (plastic connector) Polybutylene. Even in these cases, most of those failures were related to installation rather than failure of the product itself. If you have existing Polybutylene plumbing in your home, it most likely will eventually leak so plan to replace at least the riskiest areas sooner, rather than later.

The first thing to do would be to confirm that the connections are all copper or brass and not the higher failure plastic. If you find plastic connectors, this is Stage 1 Polybutylene and should be replaced as soon as possible. Proactively, you should probably create a plan for replacing any Polybutylene pipes in the home as soon as you can afford to. This can be done in phases if necessary, so that the cost is broken up over time.

Ideally, any Poly-B pipes that carry hot water would be replaced first and at very least some of the risk can be mitigated by lowering the temperature of the water heater to 125-130 degrees. Additionally, water pressure in the home should be between 40-60 psi to further reduce the risk of failure.


How Much Does Replacement Cost?

In general, a very ball-park pricing estimate would suggest that around $3000.00 would cover the cost purchase the actual plumbing materials to replace Polybutylene plumbing in an average home. When you add in the additional costs of labour, drywall, painting, etc. the costs can range from $5,000-$10,000 for plastic replacement plumbing and up to $20,000 to re-plumb an entire 2-3 bathroom home with copper plumbing.  




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