Re-piping or Epoxy Coating
The leaky condo syndrome has caused and continues to cause significant financial hardships for homeowners. While not as costly as the building envelope problem, the replacement of domestic water systems due to pre-mature failure of piping, undersized pipes or the expiration of the life cycle of pipes may be both costly and troublesome.
Method one is the conventional method. This process involves the entire removal and installation of new pipes for the potable water system. The piping is typically replaced using Pex or Type "K" copper pipe as it is the heaviest gauge copper piping available and 30% thicker than the Type "L" copper pipe which was likely originally installed. For a low rise building of 100 units with one 3 piece washroom and a kitchen sink the cost would be in the area of $4,000 - $5,000 per suite. At the end of the process the building will have an entirely new water distribution system.
Method two involves the installation of an epoxy coating to the interior of the pipe carrying potable water. This method is advertised to work on all domestic water systems where the pipe is from 1/8 " to 6" in diameter. This process involves drying the pipes and the mechanical cleaning of the pipes using a sand and air mixture under pressure forced through the pipes. The epoxy coating is then applied by connecting the application equipment directly to the water tap fittings. Advertising material available suggests a possible cost saving from 35% to 40% as compared to the conventional methods of replacing the actual pipes described in method one above. Research pursuant to this article indicates that epoxy coating quotations are coming in at only 10% to 15% less than conventional re-piping. At the end of this coating process the old pipes remain but have been modified using the epoxy coating.
Two questions immediately arise:
- Do the modified epoxy coated pipes and epoxy pipe coating contractors meet all the broad and complex national and municipal
building code requirements?
- Can the Municipalities assure the public that the epoxy method is a safe and viable alternative to the conventional method of pipe replacement?
- A legal action filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, September 21, 2001 may assist in answering these questions and may determine the methods available to execute this type of work in the future.
The company filing the legal action is Cambridge Plumbing System, a plumbing contractor, whose primary business is the conventional retrofitting of potable water system. Cambridge Plumbing System is challenging the process and validly of the epoxy method as well as the lack of regulations governing the installation of the coating by epoxy coating contractors including staff training, staff supervision, permit approvals, inspections and performance requirements and failure of the Municipalities to enforce various building codes as applicable. The Defendants in the Action are the Cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam and Richmond, Corporation of Delta and the Municipally of Surrey and West Vancouver.
The City of Vancouver, under the Vancouver Charter, is charged with enforcing the provisions of the BC Building Code as incorporated and amended by the Vancouver Building By-law number 8057. The remaining Municipalities are charged with enforcing the provisions of the BC Building Code including Part 7 that regulates the installation of plumbing systems including potable water systems.
In the filed documents, the Plaintiff alleges that since 1999 epoxy pipe coating contractors have been coating the interior pipes of potable water systems. The Plaintiff further alleges that this activity has been carried out contrary to the provisions of the applicable building code.
The Plaintiff alleges the following specifics of non-compliance by the epoxy coating contractors in jurisdictions regulated by the Municipalities (summarized):
- The insertion of an epoxy coating within a pipe reducing the pipe size below that specified in the Code creating increased resistance and reduction in water pressure and reducing the pipe size so as to further its nonconformity relative to current Code
- Altering a plumbing system without prior assessment to determine whether the original system was adequately designed so that it
would meet Code after the epoxy coating treatment
- Failing to provide detailed plans under seal confirming the original installation as modified with the epoxy coating treatment complies with the Code thereby preventing the Municipalities from conducting the required inspections to ensure Code compliance and failing to demonstrate the epoxy coating used is free from defects and has the integrity to comply with the Code.
- Failing to demonstrate that the pipe as modified with epoxy is capable of withstanding specific design pressure for the piping system, contrary to the National Building Code as adopted by the applicable Municipal Code, and was designed and fabricated in accordance with the National Building Code as adopted by the applicable Municipal Code.
- Failing to demonstrate that the application of epoxy coating to nonconforming piping is equivalent to and will meet the performance level of the National Building Code as adopted by the applicable Municipal Code, and that the epoxy coating is suitable on the basis of past performance tests or evaluations, contrary to the National Building Code as adopted by the applicable Municipal Code.
- Failing to; demonstrate that the epoxy coating was properly applied, that shut off valves were located and isolated to ensure proper functioning after the epoxy coating was applied, tag coated pipes to alert future trades from damaging the epoxy coating and to ensure that piping was not in proximity to a heat source which might impact the integrity of the epoxy coating
Additional concerns relating to the degree of skill, training and supervision in the installation of the epoxy coating were stated by the Plaintiff as follows:
- Possible pooling and ridging of epoxy causing turbulence and turbidity and possible reduction in the life cycle of the coated pipe
- Possibility of inadequate bonding of epoxy due to improper heating and cleaning of pipe
- Possibility of damage to shut-off valves and plugged water lines
With specific reference to the Municipalities that have a duty of care to inspect for compliance to the applicable code, the Plaintiff alleges the Municipalities have breached that duty of care as follows:
Failing to ensure that the epoxy application contractors obtained the required plumbing permit and building permit, and failing to
inspect to determine that original and modified piping met pipe and size configuration requirements as per the applicable code
- Failing to ensure that the application contractors and their staff were properly trained and supervised, failing to establish training and application criteria, and failing to demand evidence that the coating has met performance criteria
- Failing to determine if permit plans produced by epoxy contractors accurately represented existing pipe configuration and failing to make independent inquiries as to the adequacy of epoxy coating
In general the Plaintiff alleges that the Municipalities failed to inspect the work done within their jurisdiction and failed to establish adequate criteria for the application of epoxy coating. As a result of this failure the Plaintiff cites lost piping contracts as the epoxy coating contractors are permitted to operate unfairly without incurring the costs of demonstrating compliance with the applicable code.
The Plaintiff is also seeking the following Injunctions:
- An injunction restraining the Municipalities from issuing permits where it has not been demonstrated that the epoxy coating method has met the Code requirements
- A Mandatory Injunction requiring the Municipalities to require permits for epoxy pipe coating applications
- A Mandatory Injunction requiring the Municipalities to order the removal of epoxy coated piping which does not meet Code
The Plaintiff is also seeking General and Punitive Damages and Damages for economic loss plus Special and General Costs.
Notwithstanding the potential merits of the "epoxy" solution, one primary concern is the lack of regulations, inspections, and performance standards for the epoxy coating solution and the training and supervision of the epoxy contractors.
Again, as with the "leaky condo" syndrome it appears that the parties charged with exercising a duty of care to protect the public have not met minimum performance criteria.
It is hoped that this matter be addressed as quickly as possible by the Municipalities involved to ensure we do not have another disaster in the making, similar to the faulty design and construction methods utilized which resulted in the leaky condo crisis.
About the Author: Ben G. Larsson Ben G. Larsson, B.A., CPM, RPA, FRI, CMOC is President and Chief Executive Officer, Interlink Realty Corporation, Richmond, British Columbia and a frequent contributor to many publications. Mr. Larsson currently serves as a member of the Property Management Advisory Board, Real Estate Council of British Columbia, Mr. Larsson is also a Past Chair, Institute of Real Estate Management, Canada, and has served on the Board of Directors, Real Estate Institute of Canada, Governing Council, Regional Vice Presidents Committee and Executive Committee of the Institute Real Estate Management-USA and has been directly involved in the property management industry throughout Western Canada since 1975