Photograph of  this antiquated laundry sink with several unsanitary plumbing violations in view.Installation Specifications, Inspection & Testing Plastic Plumbing Piping & Connectors
Properties, Failures, & Standards for ABS CPVC PB PEX PVC Piping
     

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Plastic plumbing pipes:

Beginning here, this article series describes the properties of all types of plastic piping and tubing used in buildings for water supply, drainage, or gas or oil fuels, including ABS, CPVC, PB, PEX, PVC. We include information about failures and problems with some generations of plastic pipes (ABS, polybutylene) and we describe good building practice installation details where plastic piping is being installed.

Included is information about ABS, PB, Polybutylene, PEX, PVC polyvinyl chloride and other plastic piping materials. We discuss problems and class action claims for plastic pipe product failures including both the piping itself and its connectors or fittings for each of these materials where trouble has been found.

We also discuss ongoing or previous health & safety concerns raised for some plastic piping products. The articles at this website will answer most questions about plastic building water supply and building drain piping products, failures, and claims as well as many other building plumbing system inspection or defect topics.

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Plastic Water Supply & Drain Piping Types, Failures, Inspection, Diagnosis, Repair

Polybutylene water piping guidelines (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Article Series Contents

As Carson Dunlop Associates point out in the Home Reference Book, as currently used in buildings:

Plastic water service piping may be made of

Plastic building drain piping may typically be made of

Piping history of use (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Most plastic piping used outdoors is buried at least 18 inches deep. Exposed piping may be subject to mechanical damage and deterioration from sunlight.

Plastic supply piping is popular because it is less expensive and easier to work with than copper.

There are many types available including cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), polybutylene (PB), and chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC). - Home Reference Book, used with permission.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Contributions or comments are invited. CONTACT us to contribute.

As Carson Dunlop's sketch (above left) shows, plastic piping entered widespread use in North American beginning around 1965 and continues to the present.

ABS Plastic Pipe Failures, Leaks, Claims, Settlements

ABS Drain Piping (C) Daniel Friedman

Complete details are at ABS PLASTIC PIPE. Excerpts are below.

As our black ABS drain piping photo shows (above), some drain line leaks having nothing to do with product defects can occur in this system if the piping is not properly installed.

Field investigations of leak stains (as in our photo) as well as investigations of sewer gas odors (SEWER GAS ODORS) have traced these problems to failure to properly clean, prime, and glue the pipe joints during construction.

However, "All Black -hit," defective black ABS plastic waste pipe manufactured in the mid 1980's failed by cracking, as Cranor's photo below illustrates.

"All Black -hit," defective black ABS plastic waste pipe manufactured in the mid 1980's failed by cracking. The result was litigation and some damage settlements, but currently it is unlikely that a homeowner will find legal relief for newly-discovered ABS drain waste vent piping cracks and failures.

ABS Plastic Drain/Waste/Vent (DWV) pipe failure Brands

ABS drain pipe material failures were reported for pipe made between 1985 and 1988. [1][2][5][6][7] below

More information: U.S. CPSC Hot Line: 800-638-8270

ABS Plastic Pipe Leak Failures Still Being Discovered

Cracked leaking ABS Drain Piping (C) Daniel Friedman John Cranor The House Whisperer

ABS plastic drain and vent line failures are still being discovered, as John Cranor's photo from 2011 illustrates.

Home inspector John Cranor provided the photo at left of a cracked ABS drain line, commenting:

This photo of cracked ABS is damage that I feel has to be related to the defective ABS that was reported years ago. I am in VA and have inspected close to 6000 homes and this was the first I have seen this issue here. I saw at least six spots on the drain pipe in the crawl space that had similar cracking and white crusty residue like shown in photo.

I know there was once a lot of information out there about this issue but now I cannot find hardly anything. The website abspipes.com is now owned by some plumbing contractor and it has no useful information about ABS or its issue.

The seller of the property where I took this photo has some plumber saying there is nothing wrong and that he has never heard of a problem as I described. He claims the white residue is mud and that he could see no crack.

Spotting ABS plastic pipe cracking failures

Plastic drain pipe mixup (C) D Friedman

Although the cracked ABS drain line is quite visible in Mr. Cranor's photo (above), or in some areas where piping is exposed (photo at left) there may not be ready access for visual inspection of all surfaces of all of the plastic ABS drain lines in a building.

Here are some tips that can reduce (not eliminate) the chances of missing faulty black ABS plastic drains:

ABS Class Action & Litigation

The prior class action litigation involved five of the six ABS pipe manufacturer's brands listed above: Centaur, Phoenix, Polaris, Gable, and Apache. (Spartan was excluded). We have not found evidence of an class action (June 2012). The attorney involved in prior actions, David Birke-White, indicated (paraphrasing) that defective ABS piping failures are a progressive problem and that piping that had not already failed will do so in the future.[1]

ABS DWV pipe failure references

PEX TUBING: Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX)

PEX Water Piping installation (C) D Friedman Galow Homes

Complete details about PEX are at PEX PIPING INFORMATION, Excerpts are below.

PEX and PB plastic pipe are used for water supply in buildings use mechanical fittings (crimp and compression type) and we have found some installers using PEX tubing in low temperature heating applications (see below). PEX piping is also referred to as "cross-linked polyethylene" piping or just "PEX".

Our photo (left) illustrates PEX water supply piping being installed in a New York home. Photo courtesy Galow Homes. Installing both building water supply piping and heating supply piping (and radiant heating) can be significantly faster using PEX tubing because of its ability to bend around turns, avoiding some elbows, 45's and other fittings.

PEX piping is used in both hot and cold water applications (see the blue and red colors below). By convention the builder uses blue PEX for cold water and red PEX for hot water supply piping lines.

Generally you will find PEX piping or tubing marked with the nominal pipe size, wall thickness, and pressure rating and other information (see the illustration just below).

Temperature and pressure ratings for PEX, according to Zurn Manufacturing's engineering specifications is 160 PSI at 73°F, 100 PSI at 180°F, and 80 PSI at 200°F.

PEX piping marking guide (C) Zurn Manufacturing

Illustration of PEX tubing markings - courtesy Zurn Manufacturing (permission requested 12/2010).

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged, detailed version.]

When installing PEX piping, care must be taken that the pipe does not contact heating ducts. If the pipe freezes, it is less likely to burst than and copper piping. Also, most types of plastic water pipe tend to sag and should be well supported by hangers.

Watch out: PEX plastic water piping should not be installed outdoors or exposed to sunlight for long periods. The red and blue PEX piping shown below (right) were delivering hot and cold water in a newly-constructed home. The larger black ABS plastic pipe is probably a drain line.

Polybutylene water piping guidelines Carson Dunlop Associates

Watch out: do not use plastic piping nor any other type of piping in applications for which it was not intended, or the result could be dangerous. For example, do not use PEX tubing for LP or natural gas piping.

Plastic piping (C) Daniel Friedman

PEX Tubing Connectors: Types, Tools, Requirements

Watch out: a variety of patented PEX tubing push-fit and clamp connecting fittings (at least six types) and connector crimping tools are on the market. You may not obtain a proper and secure PEX connection if you mix tubing connector fittings and crimping tools improperly. We recommend choosing a specific connector type and crimping tool and using it consistently at a given plumbing installation.

See PEX BRASS CONNECTOR LEAKS for an update on field reports of de-zincification corrosion and leaks at brass PEX pipe connectors, elbows & tees.

Examples & Photographs of the various types of PEX fittings and the special tools used include:

PEX Clamp fitting installation (C) D Friedman

PEX Clamp fitting installation (C) D Friedman

Shark Bite type PEX fittings (C) D Friedman


PEX Tubing installation details (C) D Friedman
Shark bite push fit plumbing fittings (C) D Friedman

Standards, Listings and Approvals for PEX Plumbing Systems

The following standards and building codes list at least some elements of PEX plumbing systems.

Plumb-PEX Plumbing System Class Action Settlement - PEX piping leaks

In March 2012 the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota court-ordered homeowner notification program was scheduled to begin. People who own or previously owned a building where Plumb-PEX plumbing components were installed are notified of a proposed class action settlement involving Radiant Technology, Inc. and Uponor, Inc who sold Plumb-PEX insert fittings and stainless steel PEX tubing clamps.

Those components may have leaked, or may leak, causing building damage. The defendants denied all claims of the lawsuit but have agreed to settle the case. [14][15]

Plumb-PEX Settlement Details

RTI Plumb-PEX Plumbing System fittings and components including

or

Plumb-PEX Settlement Provisions

The settlement reimburses for property damage caused by a qualifying leak in the Plumb-PEX installation, and it provides for possible repair or replacement of the RTI Plumb-PEX installation in structures suffering two or more "qualifying" leaks.

Watch out: If you are eligible for a claim under the Plumb-PEX settlement, you must file your claim within 18 months of the notification date of 22 March 2012

Also see PEX vs. Copper Water Supply Piping - health & other questions found below in the FAQs section of this article.

PB Pipe: Polybutylene Plumbing Plastic Pipe Use, Installation Specs, Failures, Leaks, Claims, Settlements

Plastic drain piping (C) Daniel Friedman

Complete details are at PB Polybutylene (PB) Pipes. Excerpts are below.

Thumbnail: Polybutylene (Polybutylene) Plumbing (plastic pipes): gray plastic water supply piping cracked, leaked, and resulted in a class action and settlement.

PB or Polybutylene pipe material (photo at left, center horizontal piping) is gray plastic water supply piping that racked, leaked, and its early use resulted in a class action and settlement.

In 1995 a $950 million class action settlement, Cox v. Shell Oil Company, provided relief for damage due to leaks in Polybutylene plumbing (PB Plumbing) within certain age constraints. Periodic notices were to be provided to homeowners over a 12-year period (ending ca. 2007) as follows:

Owners who purchased a house, mobile home, or other structure in the United States after August 21, 1995, provided that the structure contained polybutylene piping with plastic or metal insert fittings when they purchased it, are included in the class. These individuals may have been entitled to free replacement of their plumbing if it leaked previously or in the future.

The Polybutylene Pipe Settlement case is now closed. Homeowners whose structures still contain problematic versions of PB plumbing may nevertheless find that their building or mobile home is damaged by leaks and needs repairs. However there is no longer relief provided under the class action suit.

By 2010 it would be uncommon to find problematic plastic piping in buildings as we expect that where leaks were a problem, they have in many if not most installations, been discovered and repaired by now.

However home inspectors and home buyers as well as building maintenance staff need to be alert for discovery of older problematic or leaky plastic piping in buildings.

When we see several types (colors) of plastic piping mixed together, especially on older renovation or handyman plumbing jobs we worry that amateur work may have omitted use of the proper pipe glues and sealants.

PB polybutylene pipe failures noticeBut the majority of leak problems with polybutylene supply lines involve failure of plastic fittings. Fitting failure may lead to the need for system replacement.

This type of fitting was commonly used from the late 1970s until the late 1980s. Copper fittings were used in most installations from the late 1980s until the late 1990s. Failure of copper fittings is rare.

Failure of the actual polybutylene piping also seems relatively uncommon.

For at least some of the extensive plastic pipe failure claims, an important factor in the PBS pipe failure mechanism included water that contained significant levels of chlorine.

Polybutylene water piping guidelines (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

See Chlorine - sources in drinking water for related information.

Connections for PB or polybutylene water piping can be made without soldering, and the pipe is easy to work with, as Carson Dunlop's illustration (left) shows.

Our photo (below) shows hot and cold water piping using these materials and fittings in a new building.

PEX Tubing installation details (C) D Friedman

Polybutylene Piping failures:

Polybutylene water piping guidelines (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Polybutylene piping has been (PB) the source of considerable controversy due to failed fittings, especially first generation plastic fittings.- Home Reference Book, used with permission.

In this article (below) we include links to information about PB piping failures, claims, and litigation. -DF

PB Pipe: Polybutylene Pipe Failures, Claims, Litigation, Contact Information

White PVC Drain Pipe Break (C) Daniel Friedman

Our photograph of a broken white Schedule 40 PVC sewer line in a crawl area (left) illustrates what can happen to this material if a sewer line is blocked and exposed to freezing.

Recommendations (Specifications) for PB Polybutylene Water Pipe Installation

Industry associations, including the Polybutylene Product Line Committee of the Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association have made recommendations for successful installation of polybutylene piping systems, including those listed below. Frankly by 2010 we were never seeing PB installations in buildings at which all of the recommendations below were followed and OPINION it may be that industry experts no longer consider all of the 1990 recommendations necessary. [Feedback invited - CONTACT us.]

PVC Piping: CPVC Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride Water Piping in buildings

Plastic sewer pipe installation (C) D Friedman

Complete details are at CPVC & PVC PLASTIC PIPING. Excerpts are below.

Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe is not as flexible as PB or PEX and the fittings are solvent welded (glued) rather than press-on. This pipe is likely to split if freezing occurs. CPVC pipe is suitable for use on both hot and cold water lines.

Our photo (left) illustrates Royal brand PVC sewer piping being installed at a New York Home. Photo courtesy Galow Homes.

Watch out: PVC polyvinyl chloride pipe produced by JM Eagle Corp. is reported to be defective, leaking or breaking as early as in the first year after installation. Details are at PLASTIC PIPE LEAK CAUSES.

See WATER HEATER DEBRIS FLUSH for an example of a deteriorated plastic water heater dip tube debris that clogged the building water supply piping, faucets, fixtures.

Watch out: Using the wrong solvent adhesive, or not using it properly (including pre-cleaning the pipe joints) not only results in leaky plumbing, also the purple solvent cement makes permanent stains, as Oatey Plumbing points out:

The pigments or dyes in Oatey Purple Primer and Oatey Purple Primer/Cleaner are permanent. Depending on the type of material stained, its porosity and the length of time the stain has set, it may be possible to remove or lighten the stain.

We recommend blotting a clean, dry towel with Oatey Clear Cleaner to attempt to remove the stain. It may not be possible to remove the colorant from particular fabrics or surfaces. The finish and/or color of certain fabrics or materials may be dulled or discolored when in contact with solvents in Oatey Clear Cleaner.

You may want to try the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot before using on the stained area. Please use our purple primers and colored cements with caution.

PVC Pipe waiting for use (C) D Friedman

PVC is Poly(Vinyl) Chloride, CPVC is Chlorinated Poly(Vinyl) Chloride and ABS is Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene.

PVC and ABS pipe are normally used for drain, waste and vent (DWV) systems.

CPVC is used for water distribution systems. It is important to choose the correct solvent cement or pipe glue based on the type of plastic pipe being used.

Our photo (left) shows a close-up of markings on PVC sewer piping. Note that we took this picture of pipes resting on a gravel driveway.

You should not bury plastic sewer piping in sharp rocks but rather it should be bedded in sand and located 18" below the ground surface or deeper to reduce chances of damage from rocks or from vehicles passing overhead. Photo courtesy Galow Homes.

PLASTIC vs. COPPER PIPES in BUILDINGS

Complete details are at PLASTIC vs. COPPER PIPES in BUILDINGS. Excerpts are below.

Many plumbers prefer to work with copper and, although plastic pipe is less expensive than copper, the fittings are expensive. Some areas do not allow plastic pipes based on environmental concerns. Some questions have been raised about the chemicals used in the adhesives used to join sections of piping, and the toxic gases given off from plastic piping during a fire.

Polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are only suitable for waste, underground water service pipes or cold water piping systems.

Our photographs of plastic water supply piping connections show a new water main (below left) and building supply pipe being connected to copper piping entering a building (below right) in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico in 2010.

Plastic water supply piping (C) Daniel Friedman

- Adapted with permission from Carson Dunlop Associates' The Home Reference Book

Plastic water supply piping (C) Daniel Friedman

Reader Question: Do Rodents Attack Plastic Tubing or Piping? Does the tubing color make a difference in rodent resistance?

This might seem a strange question but we have blue plastic used for the connection from our gas tanks to our cooker. We have just had it serviced and have been advised that it should be yellow plastic. We have had the blue plastic for a lot of years and have been told it must be changed because the yellow tubing is not susceptible to vermin.

Since we have never had a problem with vermin and the blue tubing – I was wondering how true this is and why do the vermin not like the yellow tubing. It would be good to get some advice before we start doing unnecessary work. Thank you for your help - D.M.

Reply: Yes, No, and maybe

We have indeed had reports of rodents chewing on plastic piping of various types, colors, brands, and application (water piping and gas piping for example). And rodents will gnaw on other plastic piping too, not just PEX.

You didn't say exactly what kind of plastic piping you are using nor its brand - that information would let us check with the manufacturer for recommendations about rodent proofing the piping. Certainly we don't want a rodent-chewed hole in any piping but in gas piping it would be particularly dangerous.

I am doubtful that changing from one color piping to another would make much difference in rodent resistance if the piping brand and material is the same; but if the color change includes a change of material, the new material might be more rodent resistance.

In a New York installation I have seen yellow plastic-covered flexible copper tubing used for both gas piping (not through walls and ceilings or hidden locations) and heating oil piping. A mouse that chewed the outer plastic cover would most likely not get through the copper, but you'd lose the protective coating at that spot. At that same installation, we used threaded black pipe for gas piping where it runs through hidden locations such as ceilings and walls.

If your pipe damage is occurring indoors you need the services of a pest control expert - an "exterminator" too.

If you can send along details about the pipe type and brand we'll research further. See the CONTACT link on our pages.

Question: Pex vs. Copper Water Supply Piping - which should I use?

Question: my daughter is doing extensive renovations on her house and the question has come up whether to use PEX or copper in the plumbing. ... Any thoughts would be helpful. Thanks

Reply:

PEX hot and cold water piping installed during new construction (C) Daniel Friedman Eric Galow 2012 2013

Elisha I've moved this discussion to its own article found at

PLASTIC vs. COPPER PIPES in BUILDINGS

We will continue to monitor the PEX health and contamination question and will update here. CONTACT US by email to send field reports or to report on new studies.

Copper Water Supply Piping

The same PLASTIC vs. COPPER article above lists propertie of copper water supply pipes when used in buildings and compares copper pipe performance with that of plastic.

Each plumbing pipe material has its own vulnerabilities as well as advantages & disadvantages.

Copper Water Supply Piping

Copper Supply & Drain Piping Caveats

We discuss types of copper piping and their intended uses and copper fittings beginning
at COPPER PIPING in buildings.

In sum, I don't believe there is a single "right" answer, and each material has some advantages and features that may make it fit a particular installation best. But when I ask my buddy Eric Galow, who is a full time builder, he's a PEX man all the way.

Question: is PEX the same as Kitec® ?

Is PEX the same as Kitec? How does one tell distinguish between Kitec and PEX? - Anon

Reply: Kitec was one brand of PEX piping or tubing.

Anon,

PEX (cross-linked polyethylene piping) is a general term for a type of plastic piping used in water supply, heating, and other applications.

Kitec® is a specific brand of PEX tubing that was subject of a class action settlement with an end-date for filing claims of 31 March 2012. You can jump directly
to Kitek® plastic piping leaks, class action settlement; found within that article

There you'll see how to tell the difference between Kitec and other PEX piping brands by color and markings that may be on the tubing.

Details about PEX piping are
at PEX PIPING INFORMATION
and
at PEX BRASS CONNECTOR LEAKS

...


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Or see PLASTIC PIPE LEAK CAUSES

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PLASTIC PIPING ABS CPVC PB PEX PVC at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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