California approves PEX for plumbing — again

Sept. 2, 2010
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Building Standards Commission has given its approval for the use of PEX tubing in potable water systems in the state following its review of a Second Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (SRDEIR).

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Building Standards Commission has given its approval for the use of PEX tubing in potable water systems in the state following its review of a Second Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (SRDEIR). PEX had been approved in the California Plumbing Code until a group called the Coalition for Safe Building Materials sued the Building Standards Commission.

Opponents of plastic pipe were the chief backers of the Coalition for Safe Building Materials, said Dick Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association.

PEX became part of the California Plumbing Code in August 2009, following the CBSC’s January 2009 certification of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on PEX and the commission’s ensuing unanimous adoption of regulations approving PEX water distribution systems. This summer, however, the CBSC was compelled to repeal the inclusion of PEX in the state code, effective July 1, 2010, to comply with a court order.

The Commission's action allows the statewide use of PEX in hospitals, clinics, schools, residences and commercial structures. The effective date of the action is August 18, 2010, for the 2007 California Plumbing Code and January 1, 2011, for the 2010 CPC.

Prior to the inclusion of PEX in the California Plumbing Code a year ago, 180 municipalities and counties within the state had already approved the use of PEX tubing as an alternate material to copper and other materials used for plumbing piping. During the time when PEX was temporarily removed from the plumbing code, those jurisdictions could continue to use PEX under those same alternate-materials provisions of California law.

“We estimated that half of the new houses in California had PEX in them based on local approvals,” Church told CONTRACTOR, noting that was the case before the recession when houses were still being built in California.

The CBSC reinstated PEX with the caveats that underground PEX must be sleeved, the material had to stand up to recirculating hot water, the fittings won’t de-zincify, and PEX systems had to be filled and flushed.

“We’re very pleased with the action of the California Building Standards Commission,” said Adina Barnes, strategic marketing director for PEX manufacturer Viega LLC. “This is the end of a long process and we appreciate the effort of all involved in getting to this result.”

“We are committed to giving Californians the right to choose the plumbing product that is best for them and their applications,” said Rich Houle, associate product manager, Uponor Commercial Plumbing. “Regardless of individual preferences, we fully support everyone’s right to use the plumbing material of their choice if that material meets the highest testing and listing standards required, and PEX does.”

According to Houle, “Given its many years of successful and proven performance in plumbing systems worldwide, Uponor PEX meets all the relevant criteria, and Californians deserve the same choice in systems that is currently enjoyed by builders and installers in all 49 other states.”

The resolution is the result of an agreement with the State of California, PPFA and other representatives of industry, and the California Pipe Trades Council, Church said. He believes this terminates the dispute although the Pipe Trades Council could technically ask the court to first discharge the writ of mandamus against the Building Standard Commission.

The CBSC issued five rules for PEX when it reinstated the material. Those rules are:

When PEX tubing is placed in soil and is used in potable water systems intended to supply drinking water to fixtures or appliances, the tubing or piping shall be sleeved with a material approved for potable water use in soil or other material that is impermeable to solvents or petroleum products.

PEX installed in any recirculating hot water system must meet or exceed the ASTM F876-08 performance requirements for PEX tubing product life in a continuously recirculating hot water system.

PEX brass fittings must meet or exceed the NSF 14-2009 requirements to prevent dezincification and stress crack corrosion.

All installations of PEX pipe where it is the initial plumbing piping installed in new construction shall be flushed twice over a period of at least one week. The pipe system shall be first flushed for at least 10 minutes and then filled and allowed to stand for no less than one week, after which all the branches of the pipe system must be flushed long enough to fully empty the contained volume. This provision shall not apply to the installation of PEX pipe where it replaces an existing pipe system of any material.

At the time of fill, each fixture shall have a removable tag applied stating:

“This new plumbing system was first filled and flushed on ______ (date) by ___________ (name). The State of California requires that the system be flushed after standing at least one week after the fill date specified above. If this system is used earlier than one week after the fill date, the water must be allowed to run for at least two minutes prior to use for human consumption. This tag may not be removed prior to the completion of the required second flushing, except by the building owner or occupant.”

Prior to issuing a building permit to install PEX pipe, the building official shall require as part of the permitting process that the contractor, or the appropriate plumbing subcontractors, provide written certification that he or she will comply with the flushing procedures set forth in the Code.

The building official shall not give final permit approval of any PEX plumbing installation unless he or she finds that the material has been installed in compliance with the requirements of the Code, including the requirements to flush and tag the systems. Any contractor or subcontractor found to have failed to comply with the PEX flushing requirements shall be subject to the penalties in Health and Safety Code, Division 13, Part 1.5, Chapter 6 (Section 17995, et seq.).

All PEX pipe installed in California must provide at least 30-day UV protection.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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