PEX Water Piping was hailed as the next best thing to flush toilets when it hit Canadian construction markets in the 1980’s. PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) is easy to install and cheaper than copper for hot and cold water piping; it bends around corners, connections are simple to make, and because of its pliable nature many fewer connectors are needed. PEX also handles frost better than other piping and it isn’t affected by the acidic water common in the Lower Mainland.
PEX has recently had big problems. The brass connectors that made installation so simple reacted with chemicals in the water. Zinc (a component of brass) in the fittings leached into the pipe in a chemical reaction known as ‘dezincification’. The corrosion this causes on the inside of the pipe creates a blockage of zinc oxide that leads to leaks, restricted water flow and breaks – premature failure, in other words. And because piping is mostly hidden in walls and floors, damage can become severe before the problem is recognized. Many home owners have been affected by failed PEX brass connectors and subsequent class-action law-suits have been successfully launched in Canada and the US.
How to identify problem PEX? PEX piping is most commonly manufactured in Orange (hot water) and Blue (cold water), but also found in red, white, grey and black. Look for piping at hot-water tank or under sinks to determine what product is installed. Homes that were built or re-piped between 1995-2007 are at greatest risk. If you suspect you may be affected have a licensed plumber verify what piping system you have.
Problems found to date are with the following products:
IPEX Inc – sold as Kitec, PlumbBetter, IPEX, AQUA, WARMRITE, Kitex XPA, AmbioComfort, XPA, KERR Controls, Plomberie Amelioree
ZURN PEX – sold as QPex (may not be sold in Canada)
Uponer Inc – sold as Plasco Plumb-PEX, P Pex, MB Pex
These companies are all currently involved in lawsuits.
Going Forward, brass is still the most commonly used fitting but those sold today contain less zinc and aren’t prone to the corrosion problems found in older systems. Fittings are also available in plastic, bronze and stainless steel. PEX piping will likely remain the dominant technology for domestic water piping and Hydronic radiant heating systems for all the reasons that originally made it so popular.
As part of our Vancouver home inspection process, we check the piping systems and can let you know if we foresee any problems. Book your home inspection with us today and feel confident in your future investment.
PEX fitting image courtesy of axsdeny via Flickr
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