Cross-linked polyethylene, commonly called PEX, is a form of polyethylene thermoplastic. The material is formed into tubing and has been used in the US since the 1980s in plumbing, heating and other building systems. It is used as an alternative to copper which is expensive, harder to install and which can corrode over time. It is also used in some projects as an alternative to rigid plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
PEX Piping – Advantages and Disadvantages
While there are many advantages to using this type of piping, these systems are not without their problems, and there have been several class action lawsuits involving PEX piping. Critics allege that PEX piping can fail when it is exposed to chlorine in the water or to an abundance of natural light before the piping is installed. There is also concern that, under certain conditions, toxic chemicals can be released from the pipe.
Some users report problems with the brass fittings in these systems. The fittings have a high level of zinc; when zinc comes into contact with water, it can cause the fittings to fail prematurely. There are also charges that, in some cases, improper manufacturing has made the brass fittings susceptible to cracking. Problems with pipes and fittings can result in leaking pipes and property damage.
Damage caused by water that leaks from a PEX piping system is generally covered under a contractor’s Commercial General Liability (CGL) Policy. The contractor’s policy likely includes completed operations coverage which provides protection when completed work results in bodily injury or property damage during the policy period.
Concerns about this material have led some insurance companies to exclude coverage for work incorporating this material from their CGL Policies. These exclusions typically remove coverage for any type of bodily injury or property damage that results from the use of PEX piping in a contractor’s work. The exclusion applies whether the PEX piping was done by the Named Insured contractor or by his subcontractor.
If you or your subcontractors use PEX piping or have used it in any past projects, it is important to review your CGL Policy to see if an exclusion has been added. These exclusions are typically found in policies written in the non-admitted insurance market, but any policy should be carefully reviewed. If you’re not sure whether your policy covers this exposure, be sure to discuss the subject with your insurance advisor.