The years of fighting are over, and PEX can now be used throughout the state in all plumbing systems.

Photo courtesy of Uponor

PEX has traveled a long and winding road to its approval for use in California plumbing systems and the tubing’s subsequent addition to that state’s plumbing code. A turning point in the journey was in 1998 as the outgoing Republican administration published an environmental impact report (EIR) stating that plastic pipe did not pose a health threat to California citizens.

The California State Pipe Trades Council objected and in May 2002, the state adopted an updated plumbing code that deleted PEX tubing as a viable product pending another EIR. The Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association, on behalf of PEX manufacturers, filed a lawsuit in September of that year against the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC). PPFA won the lawsuit the following February, and PEX was added to the California Plumbing Code.

Photo courtesy of REHAU

But that wasn’t the end of it. The state’s pipe trades group and several environmental groups filed an appeal and, in December 2004, the appeals court ruled that PEX piping used in building, plumbing and fire codes would be subject to another environmental review and be banned from the 2001 plumbing code - despite the fact that PEX tubing had passed stringent tests for safety and durability by national testing agencies, and was included in all major model plumbing codes.

Fast-forward to January of this year, when the CBSC certified the environmental report and unanimously adopted regulations approving PEX water distribution systems for the state’s plumbing code. The new regulations take effect Aug. 1.

The EIR was conducted from October 2007 through December 2008; it studied the impact of PEX tubing on air quality, water quality, performance, waste, recycling, energy consumption and natural resources in regard to manufacturing processes, installation, use and disposability, says Dale Stroud, senior manager of new business development/market research at Uponor North America.

Uponor, as a member of the PPFA, has worked on a local level in the state to gain approvals in many jurisdictions under the alternative materials provision in the California code.

“Currently, estimates are that up to half of the jurisdictions within the state have already approved the use of PEX tubing for plumbing, and many more are now moving toward approval based on the pending inclusion of PEX in the state code,” he explains.

The Copper Question

One of the drivers of PEX adoption nationally was the price of PEX tubing versus that of copper pipe. As copper prices skyrocketed, industry groups were touting PEX as a less expensive product that would bring down the cost of building new homes. In fact, many California consumer groups backed the 2002 lawsuit for that very reason.

Copper prices have come down in recent months, but Stroud says that the driving force behind PEX use is based on performance, not economic factors.

“As PEX has become a ‘standard’ in the plumbing industry, there is a growing awareness of the benefits it offers from the standpoint of durability, resistance to harsh water environments, reliability and other related factors,” he notes.