The actual pipe itself, which is known as pex pipe, isn't the problem. In fact, according to a number of plumbers and contractors contributing to a contractor's blog, the pipe product itself is pretty good stuff. Rather than a single layer of pex tubing, the Kitec XPA pipe is in actual fact two layers of pex pipe, with a layer of flexible aluminum sandwiched in between. This feature not only affords the pipe added strength, but plumbers report it is easier to work with, in that it will not readily uncoil like standard pex pipe. As well, once the plumber bends the pipe into shape, it will retain that shape.
Here's the problem: the brass fittings, which have been reported to fail over time, appear to have a higher concentration of lead in the brass formulation. This, in turn can lead to dezincification, a powdery white corrosion that can build up in the fitting, restricting the water flow and contributing to a failure—either at the fitting connection itself, or at some other point in the line impacted by the restricted flow, increased pressure, or both.
As the investigation continues surrounding homes in Washington State that may have been plumbed with the Kitec system, a class action lawsuit has been filed in Nevada (case number A493302) related to Kitec brass fittings.
As recently as February 4th of this year, the Kitec piping system was being investigated in the state of Washington—specifically Seattle, Tacoma, the East Side and Everett.
Residential plumbing has been a challenge for decades. While homes have become more expensive to build due to various code improvements, the price of labor and land acquisition, contractors have always been looking for ways to deliver services while cutting costs. Copper piping, the industry standard, was becoming an increasingly costly commodity, and labor-intensive. Translation: expensive.
PVC pipe was the darling for awhile. But PVC pipe doesn't bend. Pex does—however the single-layer flexible pipe was not well thought of either, in terms of long-term reliability.
Kitec, with its color-coded piping (blue for cold, orange for hot) seemed like an idea whose time had come.
However, the alleged failure of brass fittings is casting a pall over even that. Whether the fittings failure is a result of a bad batch, or a more systemic problem has yet to be determined. The fact remains however, that there is the possibility of homes in the US, numbering into the thousands, which could have Kitec pipe and fittings, given that the product has been around for some 10 or 15 years.
Also, unless you are a homeowner building your own home and either acting as your own general contractor, or insisting on the use of certain products, you will likely get whatever product the plumber or the contractor determines to be the least expensive pipe that will do the job. And it doesn't matter if we're talking a conservative bungalow, or a lavish executive home.
Because the bottom line is that plumbing, like wiring, is hidden. Thus, a contractor will often cut costs on those things, which are hidden. The unscrupulous contractor will cut costs to the detriment of the safety and integrity of the home. However, the honest contractor will simply seek out, and use the product that delivers the best value for the money, from a business sense. That's fair.
Plus, there was no hint as to the failure of the Kitec fittings, until they began failing. Up until that point, which could take years after installation, the pipes performed well. The contractor, assuming he is working with a reliable product, continues to install Kitec plumbing in new homes, or in the re-plumbing of renovation projects.
After all, any plumber will tell you, copper is fine when you are building a house from scratch. But with walls and floors in place, sticking to copper for a plumbing renovation is a frustration, as copper does not bend. It needs to be cut and joined in straight lines and at right angles. No curves, or snaking are possible.
Thus, if you have an older home that was recently outfitted with new plumbing, check to see what your new plumbing system is. Chances are good it's not copper. You may well have the Kitec system, with potentially unreliable brass fittings.
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However, a slow drip could go undetected behind a wall for years. In the meantime, you could have mould growing in your home, which could affect the structure of your house, your health, your contents, or your home's resale value.
The only sure-fire fix, plumbers agree, is to re-plumb the entire house from the attic down.
That's expensive. And that means you need to consider joining a class action, or contacting a lawyer to ensure you aren't made to face that bill on your own—especially if an allegedly defective product was used in the construction, or the renovation of your home. A product that, like a ticking time bomb, could fail anytime.
Was that a drip...?