Thousands of new homes built in the Calgary area in the 1970s to 1990s have plumbing made of “poly B” (polybutylene). In most cases this pipe will eventually develop leaks, and should be replaced before there’s water damage to your home.
If you suspect your home includes poly B pipe, we recommend you have it replaced (unfortunately it can’t be repaired). Some insurance companies won’t cover homes that include this material, and poly B plumbing can affect your home’s resale value.
The plumbing experts at Knight can advise you on your options. We provide full price quotes in advance, have award-winning service, and provide a satisfaction guarantee.
Please call us to book an appointment, or contact us online.
Poly B Plumbing FAQs
1. What’s the Matter With Poly B?
Poly B isn’t dangerous to your health. The problem is that it develops leaks easily, which can damage your home – especially if the leak happens within the walls or ceilings where pipes are completely hidden. The leaks can be sudden and severe.
2. How Do I Tell if My Home Uses Poly B for Pipes?
If your home was built before 1975 and you haven’t done any major plumbing additions or replacements, you’re safe. If your home was built between 1975 and 1998 it’s very possible poly B was used.
If your home was built between 1998 and 2005, it’s unlikely poly B was used, but you should still check for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while the NRC-CNRC Plumbing Code de-listed poly B for use in plumbing in 2005, the code is not retroactive so once installed, it could stay. Secondly, while poly B wasn’t being manufactured anymore, there may have been plumbers out there who didn’t throw away their remaining supplies. All told, the Alberta government estimates that about 148,000 homes in the province were built with poly B plumbing.
What it looks like: Poly B pipe is a flexible plastic that’s light/medium gray in colour. In some cases you may be able to view a stamp that says “poly B potable” or “PB2110” along the pipe.
Not all plastic pipe is poly B: for example your drainage pipes are made of black ABS or PVC plastic. PEX is a plastic piping that’s white or translucent, but can also be blue or red. PEX is actually great when used for plumbing (we have more on PEX below).
To look for poly B pipes, try checking your water supply lines if they’re exposed under a sink, or in your basement, especially near your hot water tank.
3. Can I Tell By Looking At It That My Poly B is OK?
Unfortunately not, as the damage happens on the inside of the pipe.
4. Why Was Poly B Used on My Home?
When it was approved for use, poly B was seen as a cost-effective alternative to copper plumbing. What home builders didn’t know at the time was that it breaks down after a couple of years.
This is especially true if it was exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Unfortunately, it’s common practice to stack materials on build sites so they’re handy when needed. This often led to UV exposure, resulting in increased breakdown of the bonds in the material in many cases.
5. How Long Does Poly B Last?
In Canada, the typical life expectancy of poly B is estimated at 10 to 15 years. While there are exceptions, this depends on how it was installed, where it was installed in the home, and what it has been exposed to since then.
6. What Could Cause My Poly B Plumbing to Fail Faster?
Even if your poly B wasn’t exposed to sunlight for long periods before installation, there are some situations in which poly B can still fail more quickly.
- If your home’s water pressure is on the high side. While the City of Calgary does a good job of smoothing out the water pressure overall, there are some situations where the pressure in a home can be higher than normal. This can stress cracks in the plastic and result in a leak.
If your home has high water pressure, we can install a valve that will normalize the pressure to the proper range of 40 to 60 PSI.
- If your Poly B plumbing is exposed to high water temperatures you can expect that the poly B will most likely fail sooner. In fact the majority of poly B leaks happen within the vicinity of the water heater on the hot water side. To extend the life of your poly B keep your water heater temperature around the 120°F (48°C) mark (see note on infloor heating, #7 below).
- If there’s a lot of chlorine in your water. The City adds chlorine to our water to kill dangerous microorganisms, but chlorine can cause poly B to break down faster. If you’ve been treating your water to remove chlorine, this may have helped prevent this kind of degradation.
- If your plumbing freezes. Water expands when it freezes, so a case of frozen plumbing can stress the small flaws that develop quickly in poly B. Poly B also becomes more brittle as it ages.
- Unskilled installation. With poly B, using just the right amount of pressure when attaching the fittings is key. “Over-crimping” will strain the plastic, and high pressure will of course result in an instant leak. This is why it’s best that a trained professional installs your plumbing.
- If plastic fittings were used instead of metal ones. In most of Canada, this wasn’t an issue – but it sure was in the US, where the plumbing often failed after a year or two.
7. I Have an In Floor (Hydronic) Heating System That Uses Poly B. Is That Bad?
Yes. Aside from poly B’s vulnerabilities to temperature, pressure, chlorine, and UV, it’s also oxygen-permeable. Over time, the extra oxygen that collects in your system will accelerate rusting of iron components. Unfortunately to replace this piping is quite costly. To extend the life of the piping, we suggest keeping the supplied water temperature to the floor below the 120°F (48°C) mark.
Alternatives to Poly B
While we can replace problematic sections of pipe as needed, it’s cheaper and less stressful in the long run if we do it all at once. There are two great materials we could use, depending on your budget and what your home is like.
PEX-a (Cross-Linked Polyethylene, Best Quality)
PEX-a is flexible and comes with a 25-year warranty. It was developed to be a long-lasting plumbing alternative that’s great for retrofit situations, as it can be threaded through walls more easily. It’s non-toxic, resists freezing damage, and doesn’t pit or corrode from the inside. PEX-a has withstood decades of industry testing (it’s been used in Europe since the 1960’s) and is projected to last 100 years.
The classic plumbing material, copper plumbing can be more expensive. But it’s been used in homes for a long time and is known to last 50 to 70 years.
Rest Easy With Professional Plumbing from Knight
If your home contains poly B plumbing, we can provide you with a quote to replace it. You’ll get an honest quote that reflects all costs – including labour – in advance. We also provide a satisfaction guarantee for our work.