The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
October 28, 2009

Fantastic Letter from PolarSolar to Fake Plastic Fish

While I was away this weekend, I received this email from a San Francisco company that installs solar water heaters:


from Joseph Wright
to Beth Terry
date Sun, Oct 25, 2009 at 5:05 PM
subject Thanks and Question

Hi Beth,

I wanted to write to let you know what a hero you are of mine and I want to thank you for the positive influence that you have on the lives of others and the environment…I also have a question…I am a fellow Bay Area native and I operate a sustainable water heating business -– after reading your recent blog post I have decided to eliminate PVC from our materials list (obviously very common plumbing material) and we will never look back… I have reposted your entry on our blog and was wondering if you would prefer some other way for us to refer to your information. I hope that all is well and I look forward to more of your inspiring ideas and calls to action…

Highest Regards,


Joe Wright
1812 Polk Street | San Francisco, CA 94105
510 604 4511 tel
888 525 4121 fax

The point? You never ever know who is watching, listening, and taking note. You don’t know what kind of influence you have unless people tell you. Usually they don’t. So just keep going and don’t give up! Yay team go! (No, I never was a cheerleader. Just learning now.)

Anyway, I asked Joe what the company would use instead of PVC. His answer was quite thoughtful and expresses his concern that all pipe materials produce some environmental impact. The company uses hard copper pipe rather than PVC:

Typically, a short extension of PVC is used to pipe out the run from the temperature and pressure relief valve on conventional water heaters – you likely have a short run of PVC on your water heater. There have been some advancements in the way PEX is now manufactured, but extremely far from ideal…I like copper, though that itself is no silver bullet given the hazards of mining. I would love to be using bamboo, but getting that integrated into state and municipal codes is nowhere close…As we push forward in convincing people how nonsensical it is to continue to pipe, truck, and burn natural gas from west Texas, we continue to look for ways to push our actions further in the right direction – thanks again for your help in this.

This company can now be an example to other plumbing companies showing one way in which we can avoid toxic materials for building our homes.

By the way, you may have noticed a whole new set of Menu Items on Fake Plastic Fish, many of which do not lead anywhere yet. It’s my version of a Halloween haunted house. And also just that I am working on creating the pages that will be linked.

I’ll be putting up Joe’s story in the Successes section under “Business” along with Laundry Tree Soap Nuts, for eliminating plastic packaging, Brita for creating a filter recycling program, and other companies that have been inspired to make plastic-free changes. If you know of any businesses that have made changes as a result of grassroots action (like blogs, letter-writing, customer requests, etc. rather than legislative mandate) please let me know their story!

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12 Comments on "Fantastic Letter from PolarSolar to Fake Plastic Fish"

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6 years 23 days ago

Just more proof that the green plumbing movement continues to gain popularity.

Wow Beth that is awesome!! My grandpa owned a plumbing supply store long ago and there is TONS of PVC in there barn left over from it. It always has me wondering how we could use less of it in our homes.
.-= Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green´s last blog ..The Great Tree Debate =-.

6 years 27 days ago

Update: I have tracked down a rep based in Sacramento…
.-= Joe Wright´s last blog ..The Top 5 Reasons to Join PaloAltoGreen Today =-.

6 years 30 days ago

Hi Mo! Funny bumping into you here!…Thanks for the kind words…

To answer Anna’s question it would be best to see the application before giving a definitive answer. I dont want to give my full endorsement just yet, as I am still on a big auditing mission with regard to various plumbing materials that is not yet concluded. That said, I am very intrigued by a company called Knauf Insulation … (US website is down right now for some reason). They use much better alternatives in their products…and for pipe insulation they use glass wool that is molded under high… Read more »

6 years 1 month ago

This is so exciting! Joe and the Polar Solar team are coming to my house on Monday to instal a solar water heating system! For some reason I blanked on asking about their use of PVC, but I’m thrilled to know that just because I forgot doesn’t mean I’m having PVC installed on my property.

I’d already been happy I found Polar Solar, because they’ve been so responsive and professional with our million questions.

We’re having a heat pump installed in a couple of weeks (to replace the frightfully inefficient 1952 gas wall heaters) and the contractor has been really… Read more »

6 years 1 month ago

I’m grew up in Canada and my dad’s cattle farm used a lot of PVC pipe to bring water to the cows in the winter. Copper was not an option because of the freezing temperatures. We always carried buckets of hot water to the barn after a windy January night to thaw the pipes.

I have been living for the past 4-5 years in a warmer climate and I am still amazed at how many plumbing strategies rely on the lack of freezing. I LOVE solar water heaters and I can imagine plastic-free versions would be possible… Read more »

6 years 1 month ago

Beth, I am so happy for the you getting this recognition. Your passion for your cause is contagious. Thank you for stressing the point to continue working toward your cause because you never know who is watching or reading unless they tell you. As a passionate blogger myself, I needed to hear those words of encouragement.

Keep up the good work! :-)
.-= Zoe V.´s last blog ..The Interconnected Tree of Life =-.

6 years 1 month ago

I would consider making a menu item for “links” or “recommended sites” and moving the super long link list on the right side to a separate page.

6 years 1 month ago

As a plumber I never understand why so much PVC is used. Copper is my pick! LOL I undesrstand the mining issue and such. But good letter and I am glad you asked him what he uses instead of PVC. Of course, I heve never come across bamboo plumbing pipes in the field, but I sure could understand why they would work!
.-= Rob´s last blog ..WTF? Bottled Water- Bullshit! =-.

6 years 1 month ago

This is great! I actually had a similar conversation with a rain water collection system and told them to change their PVC piping to something else. PVC is all over the building industry. Lots of plumber are using PEX due to its ease of installation. Plastic carrying my drinking water. Not for me.

I wonder how he would insulate the cooper tube it in a cold weather climate? Joe?
.-= Anna @Green Talk´s last blog ..Give your Unused Swing Set a New Purpose =-.

6 years 1 month ago


I had a solar hot water heater installed on my roof in September in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and my hot water was coming out of the taps for days hotter than my water heater setting!

I WAS dismayed to see them install a giant grey plastic pipe down the side oif my house, and wished they had at least used copper piping on the inside of this insulated plastic tube.

Polar Solar ROCKS for having thought through the plastic problem.

If you want to see my solar hot water heater, the slideshow can be seen here. As you can see, mine’s primarily made… Read more »

6 years 1 month ago

That is fantastic Beth!
.-= Kellie @ Greenhab´s last blog ..You know how people say… =-.