A blog cannot deal with all aspects of a subject and is not intended to replace professional advice. It's purpose is to highlight information and identify areas of possible interest. Anyone wishing to discuss this blog or to make any comments or suggestions about this blog is invited to do so by either posting comments or emailing me directly.


Poly-B plumbing concerns? Are they real?

This past weekend, I dealt with a newly minted agent on Facebook who started questioning whether or not Poly-B plumbing was a serious concern on a property that his buyer client was buying. He indicated that his concern started when it was noted on a home inspection, (not when he noticed it in the home prior to writing the Offer to Purchase, if he noticed it at all). FYI – home inspectors detail the type/s of plumbing in any home and don't voice concern over any particular type unless there is concern visible to them.

MY concern was not that the agent asked questions about this plumbing type, but that he asked them AFTER writing an Offer to Purchase for his buyer, the Offer to Purchase was accepted in good faith by the seller, and it was only a concern after it was mentioned in a home inspection. This isn't right. He clearly isn't alone in not getting any mentoring for practical knowledge before being allowed to trade in real estate. Experience really does count. But, that is an area that I really won't comment on further.

So, is Poly-B plumbing pipes a huge concern in Calgary homes? Not at all. At least it shouldn't be any more so than copper plumbing pipes are. Here is the free coaching that I provided him on Facebook based on general research that I had done some time ago:

Poly-B is only a product that is at the end of its lifecycle! It isn't something that should scare agents or their buyers (or home owners). It is only an extraordinary maintenance item.

Copper water supply pipes were originally designed to last 15 to 20 years before they degraded to a point that they started to need replacement. Then, thicker walled copper pipes replaced them and have been known to last up to 60 years without incident. But, just like furnaces or asphalt shingles, copper pipes don't last forever and need replacement. Overall, most original copper pipes would also be considered close to the end of their lifecycles. Keep in mind, the newer, higher-end homes are still being built using expensive thicker-walled copper pipes, but they too need to be replaced at some point. Anyone willing to pay the exorbitant cost, can likely have it installed.

Poly-B (Polybutylene) piping was brought in to replace copper water pipes in the late-1970s for many reasons. Primarily it was because copper piping was expensive to install (very labour intensive and copper was rising in cost). Another reason was due to the lead solder at every joint that was being used at the time. Lead-free solder was finally developed about the same time but was apparently much more difficult to use and added to the cost. So, Poly-B was thought to be a much better alternative to copper that would last at least as long. It, too, was found to degrade over time and was actually found to degrade much quicker than expected due to the exposure with oxygen (the main element in the water) and became brittle. (It also has been found to leach a toxic chemical into the water. The molecules in the pipe break down and release a chemical called “BPA”). Poly-B was discontinued in the early to mid-1990s due to failures of the pipes. In some regions there were also installation issues that caused massive class-action lawsuits in 2005. So the latest installed Poly-B product (other than stuff used for repairs) is now 25-30 years old and is at the end of its life-cycle. Keep in mind that entire subdivisions were built with this stuff, so the market values of homes in those subdivisions are based on it being in the homes and homes that don't have it (ANY) would be valued slightly higher. Poly-B piping is very common and has a very distinctive grey colour.

Just like copper piping, it isn't a matter of "IF" Poly-B will eventually fail, but it is a matter of "WHEN."

In 1995, Kitec plumbing was brought to Canada, as a replacement to Poly-B (and copper). It was recalled in 2005 but was still being installed until 2007. There were a few installations of this product in Calgary but it may have been limited to in-floor heating systems or radiant baseboard heaters. It can be identified by its ORANGE and blue pipes and BRASS fittings. There were class-action lawsuits in 2011 for this product, too. The main issue seems to have been an issue with the fittings.

The current replacement for copper, Poly-B and Kitec is PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) piping which has an estimated lifespan of 80-100 years. There are a number of PEX products currently available and can be recognized by white, clear, or RED and blue pipes.

As a new agent, you will also want to research these defects and what their remediations are:

  • aluminum wiring,
  • 60-amp electrical panels, 
  • Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) electrical panels, (and Zinsco or GTE-Sylvania-Zinsco electrical panel design),
  • gas meters installed inside a home,
  • the small quantity of non-certified gas fireplaces installed in Calgary (2011-2015),
  • cast iron sewer lines,
  • interlocking asphalt shingles,
  • ... and the list goes on...


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