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Anyone Had Problems With Kitec in the Northwest?


hausdok
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Hi All,

Had a high-end condo the other day heated by hydronic forced-air heaters (Bio-Radiant) plumbed with Kitec pipe. I've read up on the problems with the fittings in Texas, New-Mexico, Nevada and Southern California but I didn't find anything other than a map showing Washington state as being one of the states where class action lawsuits have been filed to indicate that there's ever been an issue in Washington.

The system has been working fine for a decade and I didn't see any issues with any of the fittings, such as the black spots described on some of the sites about the issues with Kitec pipe fittings. As we learned with polybutylene and some of the other product lawsuits, what happens in other states doesn't always happen in our own.

I plan to contact Northwest Mechanical in the morning. They are rock stars in the hydronic heating design, engineering and installation industry so I think if anyone will know they will. I'm going to ask them what they know about the issue and whether there have been any issues in this region. In the meantime, I'm looking for any brethren with verifiable information that there's ever been an issue with the product here in the northwest.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Northwest Mechanical did an ASHI seminar about 2 1/2 years ago and it was at that exact time that Northwest was just starting to investigate supposed troubles with Kitec; mostly in the Issaquah Highlands, I believe.

They'll be able to do you well.

I had Kitec tubing on the in-floor heating on my last house. No problems; however, after I learned about the issue, I had a heat exchanger installed to separate the potable from the heatin water and minimize oxygen intrusion.

Since that seminar, I haven't heard a thing since. . .

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Randy,

Thanks for the response.

I passed that information along and got in touch with NW Mechanical. As soon as they heard that there was no timer, expansion tank or second circulator on the system, their engineer recommended that the system be looked at more closely to verify whether it had been safely installed and to confirm whether it has Kitec pipe, which has been known to fail at the fittings.

The buyers scheduled that company to go out and inspect the system for them. In the meantime, the sellers and their agents, being more concerned with damage control of the deal, came back with statements from the local municipal inspector that their town had the "softest" water around and therefore the corrosion issues with Kitec would not occur.

NW Mechanical countered with the fact that they've been replacing Kitec piping and fittings with significant corrosion in one local complex and still have another 70+ systems to go. They went out there Monday, looked at the system and then gave my client an estimate for what it will cost to replace the Kitec pipe with new pipe and the water heater with a modern state-of-the-art wall-hung boiler designed for dual purposes like this one where the water won't be mixed.

The seller then came back with an evaluation by his own HVAC tech that said that the Kitec pipe and fittings was only right there at the water heater, so all that was needed was to replace that little bit of pipe and then install an exchanger, expansion tank and second circulator on the system and all would be fine.

The client did a little digging around to find out who had installed the pipe and to attempt to find out whether all of the piping was Kitec. He discovered that the installer was no longer in business - afraid of getting sucked into Kitec pipe lawsuits perhaps?

The seller came back with another assessment from the second HVAC guy saying that even if it were Kitec pipe in the walls, etc., that any leaks would be tiny and wouldn't do much damage anyway and could be easily fixed.

The clients have had enough; I got an email yesterday telling me that they'd rescinded their offer, thanking me for the heads up and informing me that they'll be contacting me on the next one.

Meantime, there is a 10-year old condominium building in Edmonds with about 14 very expensive condos in it that's got a zincification time bomb ticking. [:-timebm]

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Sounds messy.

However. . . .it is stll unclear whether the actual Kitec tube itself is the problem. It appears from your tale that zincification of the fittings is still the main culprit--which is the consistent issue with the research I've pursued.

In your adventure, did you or NW Mechanical ever ascertain whether the tubing itself was the problem?

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Sounds messy.

However. . . .it is stll unclear whether the actual Kitec tube itself is the problem. It appears from your tale that zincification of the fittings is still the main culprit--which is the consistent issue with the research I've pursued.

Right. And I wonder if the issues with KITEC installations could be resolved by simply replacing the fittings?

Marc

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Hi,

No, according to NW mechanical, simply replacing the fittings won't cure the issue because dezincification also affects the aluminum portion of the pipe. Kitec, and most other pipe used for heating is Pex-Al-Pex - it has a layer of aluminum pipe sandwiched between an inner and outer layer of PEX. The aluminum pipe functions as an oxygen barrier and prevents migration of oxygen through the plastic pipe wall - a problem with most hydronic systems installed without oxygen barrier type pipe. According to NW Mechanical, when the fittings go to hell, so does the aluminum layer.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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  • 4 years later...

I am with NW Mechanical. Good discussion thread!

I have samples of Kitec that I carry with me that show what happens to the orange Kitec tubing when it is exposed to high pressure, heat, and chlorine -- this is what most applications have coming off the water heater. The inside layer turns to something like crumbled cookie dough. A leak can occur at that point, or the water can then get between the aluminum middle layer and the outside PEX layer and travel to a remote place in the home. Once it finds a weak place, it can either drip or burst. Since it is usually under city water pressure, there is the possibility of a constant full-pressure water flow at the point of the failure.

The most common warning signs of the tubing failing are leaks, blisters, or lengthwise cracks.

Our methods of dealing with it are:

1. remove and replace all the tubing. Involves sheetrock work

2. install a closed-loop re-plumb next to the water heater, putting in a stainless-steel heat exchanger, another pump, another expansion tank, etc. This does not guarantee that the remote pipes will last forever, but it eliminates the possibility of a flood. No sheetrock work.

3. install a ductless heat pump system, if physically possible and if allowed by the HOA.

Thanks!

Brian

brian@nwmechanical.com

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Thanks Brian,

I had another job with orange pex-al-pex in it a few weeks ago. That house is a three story townhome that is only a decade old. There was about a foot of PEX from the manifolds in the garage to where it disappeared into the finished ceiling. All tightly sealed in fully-glued foam. I tried to find a name on the pipe but I could not uncover enough of the pipe without damaging the insulation to determine whether it was in fact Kitec although the seller apparently had disclosed that someone else had looked at piping in the building and had said that it was Kitec.

Last I heard they were going to check with DCLU and the original builder to find out what it is.

I hope you don't mind; I copied and pasted your response above into the email to them and included your email address. Maybe they'll be getting in touch with you.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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The product name Kitec or the manufacturer's name "Ipex" are printed about every 4 feet on the tubing. Sometimes there isn't enough of the pipe exposed to get a clear look. And not all orange tubing is Kitec. But if there are wall hydronic/fan units throughout the townhome, with the heating source being the water heater, there's a very good chance that is Kitec.

In my personal experience, Kitec pipes here in the greater Seattle area go before the fittings do. Sometimes the homeowner will spot a small area of wet sheetrock from a concealed leak in the wall. Other times they'll come home to find the carpet drenched.

Most of the time, homeowners choose to fix or drain the Kitec pipes before it becomes a big problem. But many wait until leaking starts.

We use Uponor PEX products, which do not degrade under the conditions that are destructive to Kitec.

Leaking is one of the two problems in this system. The second is bacterial contamination of the water heater from stagnant water in the hydronic tubing working its way back into the potable water. This was first documented locally during a court case involving the Seattle Housing Authority and the Kitec systems in a number of its properties. The Kitec system is an "open loop" design; a "closed loop" design would have prevented contamination and in all likelihood would have allowed the Kitec to have a long life.

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It is possible to not remove the piping throughout the home and instead to just do a "loop-closing" package near the water heater. This eliminates all potential for flooding, as the isolated and low-pressure space heating loop then contains less than 3 gallons of water, rather than an unlimited flow under city water pressure. There is no guarantee of the remaining Kitec in the home lasting forever, as it has already having undergone 8-20 years of adverse conditions, but at least the house won't flood. This a lot cheaper than replacing everything and doing extensive sheetrock work, so it is a reasonable option. Is it enough at the time of the sale of the property?? I don't know.

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