The Jan. 29 decision by the California Building Standards Commission to end a 25-year restriction and allow the use of chlorinated PVC pipe in the construction of homes, apartments, hotels and motels instantly creates the potential for a market that would be larger than anywhere else in the United States except Florida.
"It is a market of substance," said Jeff Cash, business director for plumbing in the Americas for Noveon Inc., the only U.S. maker of CPVC resin and estimated to be the largest manufacturer worldwide of the material.
Based on 2005 housings starts, California represents a potential market of 40 million pounds of CPVC annually, or 450 million to 500 million feet of pipe, Cash said.
"It will be a slow upside, but it certainly opens up an opportunity for increased sales in residential and in high-rise applications."
Brecksville, Ohio-based Noveon is a subsidiary of Lubrizol Corp. in Wickliffe, Ohio.
Dick Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association in Glen Ellyn, Ill., agreed with Cash's assessment. "It is a big deal. It essentially means that California will permit CPVC anywhere."
Until 2000, CPVC was not permitted in California. Since then, it has been permitted only where water and soil conditions weaken copper piping. It also has been restricted to buildings no taller than two stories.
The Coalition for Safe Building Materials - which represents 11 unions and consumer groups - is expected to challenge the change in the plumbing code, which is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1.
"We haven't made a decision yet," said Tom Enslow, a Sacramento lawyer who represents the coalition. But he said the environmental impact report from the department of Housing and Community Development, which was the basis for the decision, "does appear ripe for a challenge."
Church and Cash said they do not think the coalition has grounds for a restraining order that would restrict CPVC sales. With this decision, only Chicago, New York, Nacogdoches, Texas, and all of Arkansas have CPVC restrictions or bans.
Currently CPVC pipe accounts for 13 percent of pipe sales in California, compared with a nationwide average of 32 percent. In Florida, which has the highest market penetration, CPVC has a 58 percent share, said Dave Walls, executive director of the California Building Standards Commission.
"This product has been in use in California for many, many years. It just wasn't approved for residential locations. This lifts those restrictions," he said.
Walls said the commission agreed that CPVC's environmental impact would be "no greater than what was already in place." Also, the report estimates that copper piping costs four times as much as CPVC piping and that typical labor costs for CPVC piping are just 65 percent of those for copper.
"The combination of labor and materials savings is significant," said Cash, who said he expects CPVC pipe to make most of its inroads against copper pipe.
Enslow disputed the contention that housing costs will drop, as well as some of the environmental assessments.
"Housing prices in California are based on land, and on supply and demand," he said. "Most of the savings will not get passed on to the consumer, but rather just increase the profitability of builders."
In addition, he said "too many environmental questions remain unanswered" related to ventilation rules during installation and leaching into groundwater and soil.
"CPVC pipe is one of the dirtiest plastics from cradle to grave," said Enslow, noting the opposition of the California Professional Firefighters because of the hydrochloric acid fumes released when CPVC smolders and the dioxins released when it burns.