Kitec is a plumbing system that was manufactured by a Canadian corporation named IPEX sold in the United States until IPEX discontinued the product line in 2007. Kitec became a popular alternative to copper in the mid-1990’s due to its inexpensive cost and simple installation. IPEX marketed Kitec as a rugged, corrosion-resistant alternative to copper that would hold up under aggressive water conditions.
The Kitec plumbing system consists of both pipe and fittings. Kitec water pipe was manufactured as a composite cross-linked polyethylene (“PEX”) and aluminum (“AL”) pipe, whereby a thin, flexible aluminum layer was “sandwiched” between inner and outer layers of PEX plastic. Thus, Kitec water pipe was commonly referred to as “PEX-AL-PEX” pipe. Kitec pipe and fittings were connected together using either a crimped aluminum or copper ring or a compression fitting using a locking nut and split ring.
THE PROBLEM WITH KITEC
In 2005, Kitec fittings became the subject of a state class action lawsuit filed against IPEX in Clark County, Nevada. Kitec fittings were for the most part made of brass, which is mainly composed of copper and zinc. The Clark County lawsuit alleged that Kitec fittings failed because of a chemical reaction called dezincification. As alleged in the Clark County lawsuit, when hot and/or “aggressive” water flowed through the brass fittings, the zinc leached out of the fittings, thereby weakening the structural integrity of the brass and, ultimately, causing failure in the fittings.
The Clark County lawsuit only concerned Kitec fitting failures occurring in that jurisdiction, and did not concern Kitec piping product, or Kitec fitting failures occurring outside of Clark County, Nevada. However, failures of Kitec hot water pipe and fittings have been reported across the United States, prompting the filing of multiple federal nationwide class action lawsuits and investigations concerning the manufacturing process and composition of Kitec hot water pipe. During the Kitec hot water pipe manufacturing process, IPEX added an “antioxidant” to the PEX, which is a product intended to prevent the PEX from quickly corroding under the effects of light, oxygen, heat, and water exposure. In the case of Kitec hot water pipe, it appears that the antioxidant is rapidly depleting from the PEX, resulting in separation of the PEX-AL-PEX layers, corrosion of the PEX and the aluminum core and, ultimately, premature failure of the pipe.
WILL KITEC REALLY FAIL
A flood is one of the most disastrous events that can occur to a home, given the damage that invasive water can do to a home’s structure, appliances and furniture. There have been numerous failures of Kitec fittings and piping components reported across the United States, often resulting in severe damages to homeowners (see map of affected states, below). Given the available failure data, it is perhaps not a matter of if your Kitec Plumbing System will fail, but when.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY HOME HAS KITEC
Identification of Kitec plumbing should be performed by a qualified plumber.
IPEX manufactured Kitec pipe in two primary colors for the interior of a home: blue for the cold water side and orange for the hot water side. A typical sample length of Kitec pipe prominently displays that it was manufactured by IPEX in Canada, along with its pressure rating and other information (see sample photographs of Kitec hot water pipe, below). Kitec fittings are likewise prominently stamped with “Kitec” and the place of manufacture on the obverse side of the fitting, (often Taiwan, as shown in the sample photographs, below) and rating agency information on the inverse side.
Contractors who plumbed homes with nonmetallic plumbing systems often affixed yellow stickers to warn electricians not to ground the electricity near the nonmetallic plumbing system. Homes that were plumbed with Kitec may have a yellow sticker inside the electrical panel box or on their boiler (see sample photograph, below). If you find this sticker in your electrical panel box or on your boiler, it is likely that your home is plumbed with Kitec or another nonmetallic plumbing system. You should only open your electrical panel box if you have experience with its safe use.
The proper way to determine whether your home has a Kitec plumbing system is to have a qualified plumber inspect your home. In many cases it may be necessary to make drywall penetrations to determine what type of plumbing is installed.