PEX Pipe – After 30 Years It's OK to Use.

Published: February 11, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(Business Wire)--In a unanimous vote, the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) has
approved the addition of PEX plastic pipe and tubing to the California Plumbing
Code (CPC), allowing its use in hospitals, clinics, residential and commercial
construction throughout the state of California. The Commission`s approval took
place following certification of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the use
of PEX, indicating that it meets the rigorous standards of the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) will be officially added to the CPC when the new
code is formally adopted on August 1, 2009. In the meantime, cities, counties
and other local jurisdictions may approve the use of PEX, effective immediately.

Read the whole article at:

If you’ve been in the business a decade or more, you may remember there was fairly widespread use of a product called polybutelene pipe – usually just called ‘plastic pipe’. There was even a item in our TDS dealing with polybutelene piping, most prevalent in manufactured homes.

Poly piping was not used as extensively in residential construction in California as it was in some other states because in California it has been the subject of extensive litigation dating back to its introduction in the early 70’s. Those initial lawsuits by groups like the Plumbers Union were initially filed because they were afraid the widespread use of these products would lead to job loss for plumbers.

By the mid-80’s it became apparent there were other problems with polybutelene pipe – chief among which was an unusually high failure rate under normal operating conditions, exacerbated by exposure to chlorine and other water additives. Hmmm, that’s not good. Turns out Californians may have been spared the worst of these problems for the wrong reasons. Widespread use of polybutelene pipe was widely outlawed in 1995 after numerous class action suites against the predominant manufacturer, Shell Oil.

About the same time there was another product called PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene pipe. It had gained popularity in Europe and started gaining ground in the US, especially in areas that required widespread replacement of the older polybutelene product.

PEX (or crosslinked polyethylene) is part of a water supply piping system that has several advantages over metal pipe (copper, iron, lead) or rigid plastic pipe (PVC, CPVC, ABS) systems. It is flexible, resistant to scale and chlorine, doesn’t corrode or develop pinholes, is faster to install than metal or rigid plastic, and has fewer connections and fittings.

PEX tubing is made from crosslinked HDPE (high density polyethylene) polymer. The HDPE is melted and continuously extruded into tube. The crosslinking of the HDPE is accomplished in one of three different methods.

PEX plumbing has been in use in Europe since about 1970, and was introduced in the U.S. around 1980. The use of PEX has been increasing ever since, replacing copper pipe in many applications, especially radiant heating systems installed in the slab under floors or walkways. Interest in PEX for hot and cold water plumbing has increased recently in the United States.

But not in California. Continued pressure by the plumbers and various trade groups claimed everything from high failure rates to downright unhealthy results from the pipe. In 1998 an Environmental Impact Report was released by then Governor Wilson’s office showing no health or safety issues. However in typical California fashion, opposing groups claimed the main benefactor of such a report was a major contributor to Gov. Wilson. The plumbers union, major contributors to newly elected Gov. Davis, promptly had the report discredited and back it went to the scrap heap.

In speaking on that decision ;

Richard W. Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Assn., Glen Ellyn, Ill., released the following statement regarding last week’s ruling by the California Second District Court of Appeals, reversing a lower court order placing PEX plastic pipe into the 2001 California Plumbing Code and ordering that all changes to state building codes be subjected to environmental review under the California Environmental Act:

“If anyone continues to wonder why California has a reputation as an anti-jobs, anti-business state, yesterday’s ruling by a California appeals court clearly illustrates why.

However, subsequent lawsuits forced the Building Standards Commission, now full of Schwarzenegger appointees instead of Davis’ union lackeys, to re-look at the issue resulting in a new 300 page EIR issued just last month. The report concluded that PEX is safe and meets all building codes and will henceforth be included in the states plumbing code.

Church, still in office over at the Plastic Pipe and Fitting Ass’n., claims that their ability to use PEX will bring down the cost of building new homes. Ironically this comes at a time when we aren’t building any new homes, but maybe eventually…

Of course it is California. Something can always go sideways before we realize the benefit from this decision, delayed 30 years in the labyrinth we call our political process.

  • Final Environmental Impact Report for PEX (FEIR) (PDF)
    Approved by the California Building Standards Commission on Jan. 22, 2009.
    Effective Aug. 1, 2009.

PEX Regulatory Action proposed for the California Building Standards Code, Part 5, Title 24.

  • PEX NOPA (Notice of Proposed Action) Second 45-Day comment period for the adoption of statewide regulations allowing the use of PEX with specified mitigation measures. For the NOPA and proposed express terms go to:

Last modified: February 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Originally published: February 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm
Printed: September 27, 2020