Why Is PEX Banned In California?

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf
PEX has been a major part of the plumbing world for years, but not every state allows for its use in construction. California is one such state, and PEX is banned there because of its harmful effect on drinking water. The legality of PEX in California has a complex history with many ups and downs, so let’s take a look at why PEX is once again banned in the state.

Pex is a cost-efficient plumbing material that is often times used in place of copper. Not only that, it actually results in a much quicker install than using copper, too. It is also quite flexible, making for a great remodeling option.

PEX is banned in California because of the chance that toxic materials can enter the water. California has banned and reapproved PEX several times. There are currently no studies that indicate that PEX pipes can be harmful to humans.

Understanding the Timeline

The battle between PEX and California has actually been raging for years now, but the past 18 months in particular have really stood out. The industry underwent what is known as an Environmental Impact Review on the safety of PEX products.

That EIR was performed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act and initially mandated that PEX was to be added into the state of California’s plumbing code. But a lawsuit was filed that the EIR wasn’t performed properly and a judge declared that the approval of PEX be repealed.

Back Again and Then Gone

Despite that repeal, the PEX industry won what is known as a stay of the judge’s orders; this again allowed PEX to be added for approved building materials in residential projects. But another lawsuit followed shortly thereafter.

There have been continuous back-and-forth legal battles where PEX has been approved and then removed multiple times. As it stands today, PEX is not on the list of approved building materials in residential projects.

Why Contractors Want PEX

Plumbers and builders, the ones at the forefront of these projects, like PEX because it is much faster and easier to use than copper piping. There has even been third-party testing done that has shown PEX to be totally safe for consumers where PEX is used.

PEX provides greater flexibility in remodels, too. Changing or moving copper piping can be a major endeavor and those costs add up quickly. But with PEX, moving pipe around is easier because of the flexibility of the material.

So, it should come as no surprise that contractors, builders, and plumbers would want to have PEX at their disposal for jobs of all sizes.

Enter the Opposition

Still, the opposition stood tall. This included environmentalists and pipefitters units. They made claims that the chemicals being used to manufacture PEX could pose a potential health hazard. It shouldn’t come as a surprise why the pipefitters opposed the use of PEX, but that is another issue.

The California State Pipe Trades Council (CPTSC) eventually called for a repeal. Their claim was that the methyl tertiary-butyl ether used to make PEX could eventually leach out into the drinking water. Manufacturers throughout the industry have since voiced disappointment as the battle over PEX approval continues to rage on.

Is Drinking Water from Plastic Piping Harmful?

The main argument when it comes to the banning of PEX piping in California is whether the chemicals used in its creation will leach out and into the drinking water. For PEX, the inner pipe, which is meant for drinking water, is made of a plastic known as cross-linked polyethylene.

There have been multiple studies to indicate that there are no health risks when it comes to drinking water coming from PEX pipes. While there have been instances of PEX pipes causing odors and undesirable taste when the water remains there for some time, there are no known health hazards.

Despite these studies, environmentalists in California continue to fight against the implementation of PEX as an approved building material. The battle continues to wage with lawsuits coming from both sides and seemingly no end in sight.

PEX in Other States

Despite the issues in the state of California, PEX is being used for plumbing and construction jobs in other states for the aforementioned reasons. Despite claims about health issues, they are on approved materials lists elsewhere.

For those states, there are some simple things that builders, contractors, and plumbers should adhere to when using PEX for their next job.

Use Sticks Instead of Coils

PEX is a material that has “memory” to it. This means that it will naturally want to revert back into its original shape. Working with a coil of PEX is basically akin to working with a big slinky. So, for most jobs you will want to buy the 10-foot “sticks” of PEX instead of the coils.

While you might end up paying a couple of cents more for every foot that you buy (and will need to install a coupler or three), it will save you a ton of frustration. Not only that, you can avoid kinks that can keep the PEX from working properly. Plumbers that run miles and miles of PEX each year will usually go with sticks over the coils for just this reason.

Push-In Elbows and Couplings

If you do plan on using PEX for your next job, make sure that you have some push-in elbows, couplings, and tees when you show up. These are great for particularly tight quarters where you can’t use a cinching or crimping tool.

Best of all, you don’t need any tool with these push-in components. All you do is push in the connector and you’re done. They even work with cPVC and copper, making them very versatile to have on hand during a plumbing or construction job.

The one downside to this is that they are quite pricey; they can run anywhere from $5-$12 per fitting so make the best use that you can of them. Also, check your local approved building material codes: some won’t allow them inside of walls and other inaccessible areas.

If You Must Bend, Bend Carefully

Though PEX is naturally flexible to use, that doesn’t mean that it can be folded in half on a whim. PEX is way too easy to kink and will cause major frustrations if it does. When a kink occurs, you are then left to cut the kink out entirely and carefully splice the new section in.

Overbending the PEX can also damage it; the bend radius is generally around 6 or 8 times that of the outer diameter. Check manufacturer specifications to be certain. Use bend sleeves to avoid overbending and kinking.

If you are using a bend sleeve, it will be a requirement that you are working in open space. Working in tighter spots can mean frustration and difficulty getting them in. Try something like an elbow fitting in place of the bend sleeves.

The Downsides of PEX

While it is gaining favor for its versatility, PEX does have some downsides to it like any other building material. For one, it is quite sensitive when exposed to UV light. That doesn’t mean just sunlight, it also means bulbs like the ones in your home.

Generally speaking, the manufacturer will recommend a specific amount of exposure to sunlight; this is important during the installation process. Some manufacturers will even recommend total darkness. Moreover, PEX isn’t good in high-heat areas. Think recessed lighting and hot water heaters.

Lastly, it can be damaged by chemicals and pests. There are some pest control companies that even recommend against using PEX because pest damage is a very real possibility. Keep these in mind if you plan to use PEX on a future project.

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Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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