The recent settlement that resulted in the reinstatement of PEX pipe into the California Plumbing Code will have a significant benefit on the commercial end, according to one engineer.

“The biggest impact, by far, will be the existing multifamily two- and three-story apartment complexes,” said Bob Reimer, P.E., senior engineer and technical director for the California Building Industry Association.

“Those were very common designs in California back in the ’60s and ’70s. You’re dealing with 40- to 50-year-old complexes and they may need a major retrofit to the plumbing system. PEX is an easier product to deal with in retrofits.”

Reimer sees the addition of PEX back into the code as having other wide-ranging benefits.

“The fire sprinkler mandate (in residential one- and two-family dwellings) begins on Jan. 1,” he said. “That will require more plumbing for the home. Having the availability of another plastic pipe option certainly helps. For engineers and architects, it broadens the array of product types that can be used. It benefits everybody.”

Reimer was pleased to see the various sides on the issue reach an agreement on the subject.

“We’ve been working with this (the plastic pipe issue) since 1982,” he said. “It’s been up and down administratively for 28 years. What is so different this time is all parties seem to be in agreement. Everybody has pretty much signed off on the final settlement. That’s the first time I can say that since I came to work here.”

The judicial rollercoaster regarding PEX pipe in California finally came to a halt in mid-August when a coalition of consumer, environmental, public health and labor organizations reached an agreement with the state and the plastic pipe industry to settle the ongoing litigation.

“We think this provides significant protection for homeowners, occupants and workers,” stated Tom Enslow, a lawyer at Sacramento, Calif.-based Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo who represented the coalition in the lawsuit. “At the end, we came to the same place. It was nice that the state, industry and coalition organizations could find common ground and get it done.”

Last December, an Alameda Superior Court judged ruled the state had failed to evaluate evidence of health risks and failed to address the risks of PEX pipe failure in certain applications. The court ordered the state to withdraw the regulations and redo a previous Environmental Impact Report, a ruling appealed by the Plastic Pipe Fittings Association.

While the appeal was pending and PEX was back out of the code this year, the state prepared a new EIR to address the issues raised in the ruling, which led to the current settlement.

As a result, the California Building Standards Commission now allows the use of PEX in all occupancies, including commercial, residential and institutional building construction, rehabilitation and repair under the jurisdiction of the CBSC and responsible agencies in all areas of the state effective Aug. 18 (for the 2007 California Plumbing Code) and Jan. 1, 2011 (for the 2010 CPC).

“Everyone comes out ahead,” Reimer said.

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