'It was just very shocking': Faulty pipes cause headache for Toronto condo owner

New homeowner Preety Keith was thrilled with her condo purchase, until she was hit with a plumbing bill for thousands of dollars because her building was filled with recalled pipes that have a tendency to burst.

Kitec pipes were used across the city a decade ago, but they quickly corrode and can cause flooding

Plumber Anton Cronin says there are buildings all over the city with the faulty Kitec plumbing and many owners aren't aware until the pipes begin to leak. (Paul Borkwood/CBC NEWS)

New homeowner Preety Keith was thrilled with her condo purchase, until she was hit with a plumbing bill for thousands of dollars because her building was filled with recalled pipes that have a tendency to burst.

"It was just very shocking news to get as a condo owner that you're responsible for this massive project that's going to cost thousands of dollars out of pocket," said Keith.

Kitec plumbing — a plastic pipe with an aluminium lining — was introduced to the market in 1995.

At the time, Kitec was considered an innovation and used in condominiums, homes and commercial buildings in Toronto and across Canada. The pipes were touted as durable, easy to install and cheaper than the popular copper alternative. But soon, homeowners and contractors realized the pipes corroded at an accelerated rate.

Class action lawsuit against Kitec

The product's failure rate sparked lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit in Canada and America. The problem is, even though the plastic tubing was recalled around 2005, plumbing expert Anton Cronin says it was used in the Greater Toronto Area until 2011.

"We've seen some serious issues created by [Kitec]," said Cronin, owner of Southern Cross Plumbing in Toronto. "Imagine you're on the top floor and it fails. There's a lot of floors that are going to be damaged below you. From a half inch pipe, there's a lot of water coming very fast."

Downtown condo owner Preety Keith was shocked when she learned she'd have to replace all the plumbing in her unit, even though her building is only about 12-years-old. (Paul Borkwood/CBC NEWS )

In Keith's case, nothing burst. Rather the Kitec plumbing was discovered when a contractor was renovating another unit, came across the blue and orange tubes and knew they needed to be replaced as soon as possible.

The King Street West building is not the only one with the faulty tubing, Cronin says the problem is widespread.

Homeowners don't know they have it

"We've done roughly 800 to 1000 suites a year… for the last four years and there's more buildings," said Cronin. "Liberty Village has an extensive amount of it. Yonge and Sheppard has a really high quantity of it too."

Real Estate Broker Andrew Ipekian says most condo boards and property management companies don't know it's lurking behind the drywall, and when you don't know something exists, you can't inform a new buyer.

(Anton Cronin, Southern Cross Plumbing )

"That's the problem with Kitec plumbing, there's no issue whatsoever until a pipe bursts," said Ipekian.

He warns that people whose building went up around the year 2000 should assume they have Kitec plumbing.

Some experts say Kitec has a 15-year life span, but Cronin believes it's closer to 10.

For that reason, Keith says she's lucky that none of the pipes in her building failed, even though the condominium is just past the 10-year mark.

After learning about the problem, her condo board held a meeting in March to inform each owner that they'd have to change their plumbing. 

Condo owners can get own contractor 

"The pricing that they gave us just seemed really, really high. So I did some of my own research," said Keith.

Even though every unit in the building had to be done at once, Keith was able to pick her own contractor to complete the job.

"I found out that there were contractors out there that were much more reasonably priced."

Depending on the size of the unit, replacing Kitec pipes can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000. Cronin says people who discover Kitec pipes should inform their condo board and property manager immediately.

In the end, about 90 of the 300 owners in Keith's building decided to go with the contractor she chose over the one picked by her condo board.

About the Author

Natalie Nanowski

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Natalie is a storyteller who spent the last few years in Montreal covering everything from politics to corruption and student protests. Now that she’s back in her hometown of Toronto, she is eagerly rediscovering what makes this city tick, and has a personal interest in real estate and investigative journalism. When she’s not reporting you can find her at a yoga studio or exploring Queen St. Contact Natalie: natalie.nanowski@cbc.ca