California Clears Way for Plastic Pipe

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Builders, home buyers and plumbing contractors in the Golden State stand to benefit from a recent change in the state's building code that for the first time allows the use of a specific type of plastic pipe to convey drinking water inside homes and bu...

December 31, 2000
CPVC piping has been approved for use in California on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. The principal benefit is a 30% to 40% reduction of labor costs in terms of hours, officials say.

 

Builders, home buyers and plumbing contractors in the Golden State stand to benefit from a recent change in the state’s building code that for the first time allows the use of a specific type of plastic pipe to convey drinking water inside homes and buildings.

Chief among the benefits: CPVC (postchlorinated polyvinyl chloride) plastic pipe offers significant cost-savings to builders and buyers — enough that it could also open up a retrofit opportunity for plumbers, experts say.

"From a materials standpoint, there is not much of a difference in cost between copper and CPVC," explains Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association in Sacremento. "Where the cost decrease will occur is entirely in labor. We see, on average, a reduction in labor hours of 30% to 40% with CPVC."

Why then did it take more than a decade for California to change? Many have seen reluctance on the part of the state’s labor community to back the use of CPVC as the chief impediment over the years, but the facts are these.

Negative environmental impact reports issued by researchers in the late 80s and early 90s led the state’s chief code making body, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, to limit CPVC plastic pipe to exterior applications. Those reports suggested potential health and environmental risks, but these risks never materialized into actual cases during years of CPVC use throughout most of the country.

With those concerns no longer an issue, the Department of Housing and Community Development on November 15 approved the use of CPVC as an alternative material to metallic pipe, giving sole discretion on the issue to local code officials. The impetus for the change related to a wholly different issue: corrosion resistance.

In many parts of Southern and Central California, high levels of alkaline and other minerals in ground water tend to corrode traditional metallic pipes — dramatically shortening such a plumbing system’s useful life in those areas, the code making authority said in written findings issued with the approval.

"This will give new and existing home owners a permanent solution to end the cycle of premature failed metallic pipe by allowing homes to be initially installed with CPVC," the findings say. "Or, in the case of failure of existing metallic pipe, to be re-piped with CPVC."

Some of the anecdotal evidence about the extent of the corrosion issue suggests that it is significant, not only in California, but in other parts of the country. At the Denver division of D.R. Horton Inc., all of its new homes have been fitted with CPVC plumbing systems since March of 1999, says Chris Brosseau, purchasing manager for the division. The goal in doing so was to head off the corrosive effects of high concentrations of minerals that are found in the local water supply.

"We provide our buyers with educational brochures and tell them about metal pipe corrosion and so far buyers have understood why we do it," notes Brosseau. The change could not have come soon enough for plumbing subcontractor Rob Kennedy, president of Kennco Plumbing Inc. in Santa Clarita, Calif.

"I have seen a hole develop in a fitting of a copper plumbing system in just 21 months," notes Kennedy. "I have also seen examples of corrosion where homeowners had to replace their systems in less than eight years. I have one crew that is dedicated to just re-piping metal systems in aggressive water areas."

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