Common water-treatment methods may cause premature plumbing failures
Choose the safe, reliable potable piping option in FlowGuard Gold.
Since 1990, there have been at least 24 class-action lawsuits involving plumbing pipes and fittings. Each of these lawsuits alleged premature plumbing failures caused by an incompatibility between the local water conditions and plumbing systems made from copper, galvanized iron, polybutylene and PEX materials.
In the case of copper, polybutylene and PEX, many of these lawsuits specifically included claims related to the influence of chlorine-based water-disinfection methods such as chlorine, chloramine and chlorine dioxide on the materials themselves.
With water quality in the spotlight after the crisis in Flint, Mich., and with the promulgation of new regulations like ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188, cities and facility owners are taking a new look at water-disinfection methods, often switching to higher or more aggressive methods of chlorine-based disinfection to keep the water clean and safe for human consumption.
In 2011, a handful of homeowner associations actually sued several Southern California municipalities and water districts, alleging the chloramines in the cities’ drinking water were causing pipe failures. However, the judge ruled in 2015 that the defendants could not be held liable for plumbing system failures caused by water-disinfection methods as long as they complied with EPA and state guidelines.
In other words, the water district is responsible for providing clean, safe drinking water in accordance with regulations. The builder, plumber and engineer are responsible for specifying and installing piping systems that aren’t going to be damaged by that water.
PEX PLUMBING SYSTEMS — A DANGEROUS TREND
While the industry clearly remembers the two major class-action lawsuits against polybutylene in the early 1990s that resulted $2 billion in settlements and millions of homes across the country being re-piped, many would be surprised to learn that since 2008, there have been at least 10 class-action lawsuits involving PEX plumbing systems alleging everything from fitting failures to chlorine degradation and pinhole leaks in the pipe itself.
Much like polybutylene, PEX comes from a family of plastics called “polyolefin,” which, along with polyethylene and polypropylene, are very popular in European plumbing systems. However, each of these materials has encountered significant issues in the U.S. due to our system of chlorine-based water disinfection.
According to a recent technical note (PPI TN-53) issued by the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), “The use of PEX tubing in a potable hot-water plumbing system with an operating temperature above 140° F or system pressures above 80 psig or highly aggressive water quality or any combination thereof can significantly reduce the service life of the tubing” (emphasis added).
Because it only takes one of these operating conditions to induce premature failure of a PEX plumbing system, there are several applications for which PEX is not well suited, including:
- Commercial buildings subject to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188, which may require the temperature limitation to be exceeded;
- Multi-story buildings with booster pumps which may exceed the 80 psi limitation;
- Residential attic spaces in hot climates, where temperatures of 140° F can be exceeded;
- Residential neighborhoods near municipal booster pumps where street pressures may exceed 80 psi during off-peak demand; and
- Areas served by water utilities that ‘spike’ the system with additional chlorine to reduce bacterial growth during the hot summer months.
Unfortunately, many builders, contractors and engineers are unaware of this significant limitation on PEX systems and have been specifying and installing PEX exactly where it doesn’t belong, resulting in costly failures — in some cases in less than 10 years after installation.
Chlorine degradation is evident in this section of PEX pipe. Photo credit: Lubrizol
FINDING A SOLUTION FOR ALL WATER CONDITIONS
Of the five plumbing materials commonly used in the U.S. over the last 120 years, only one has never been the subject of a class-action lawsuit: CPVC.
This is because CPVC piping systems, such as FlowGuard Gold and Corzan, are naturally immune to corrosion and degradation caused by water conditions. In fact, CPVC is commonly used in water-treatment facilities to handle concentrated chlorine-based water disinfectants at levels several hundred times higher than would ever be found in a home or business.
As a result, a CPVC plumbing system will withstand hot chlorinated water at the temperatures and pressures where PEX will fail.
As shown in this comparison between new and used CPVC pipe, CPVC is naturally immune to corrosion and degradation caused by water conditions. Photo credit: Lubrizol
Since its first installation in 1959, more than 10 billion feet of FlowGuard Gold plumbing systems have been installed in the U.S. Some of our earliest installations, now approaching 60 years old, are still in service today along with nearly 3.5 billion feet of pipe that has been in service for at least 25 years.
FlowGuard Gold CPVC is 100% made in the U.S. at Lubrizol’s Louisville, Ky., facility, and the pipes and fittings are manufactured by leading North American manufacturers, including Bow Plastics, Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, Cresline Plastic Pipe Company, Genova Products and NIBCO. In contrast, more than half of PEX pipe and fitting manufacturing facilities are in China.
THERE’S STILL TIME TO CONTROL THE RISK
As more builders, contractors and engineers allow the use of the PEX, they may be unintentionally exposing themselves and their customers to increased liability due the risks posed by hot, chlorinated drinking water. Fortunately, it’s not too late to reverse the trend and reduce your risk exposure.
Before allowing the use of PEX in your projects, there are a few important questions to ask:
- Has this area experienced pin-hole leaks in polybutylene or copper before?
- Does the local water utility use aggressive disinfection techniques?
- Could the pressure in the system ever exceed 80 psig?
- Could the operating temperature ever exceed 140° F?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, take a moment to consider your alternatives. With a FlowGuard Gold CPVC plumbing system, homeowners, builders and contractors can have peace of mind that they are installing a time-tested, reliable and durable plumbing system.
Jonathan Simon is Market Manager — North America Residential Plumbing for Lubrizol Advanced Materials.