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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Plumbing Repair
13 years ago

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

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

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.

Joe Wright
13 years ago

Update: I have tracked down a rep based in Sacramento…

Joe Wright
13 years 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 pressure. It comes in 3′ sticks in sizes from 5/8″ to 6 1/2″ in wide range of wall thicknesses. The jacket is a white kraft paper bonded to aluminum foil, and it is reinforced with a fiberglass scrim (but they should be using unbleached paper or at least offer it, in my opinion).

I am getting some of this insulation from the US flagship in Indiana (haven’t found any closer distributors unfortunately…It is a German company) and I’m really excited to test the stuff out. I know that the rigidity is probably a reason why most plumbers wouldn’t use it. Its convenient to be able to bend insulation and push it together along the ready-glued seams. Apparently they haven’t figured out the fittings issue – the insulation comes in 3′ straight tubes that dont seem to accomodate the fittings (“connecting” pieces in plumbing: 90 degree pieces referred to as “90s”, 45 degree pieces as “45s”, unions, bushings, etc… ) To deal with this, Knauf offers what it calls “fitting covers” that are PVC jacketed, similarly molded covers that fit over the fittings themselves, so Im still thinking of a hack for this issue.

As pointed out earlier in the thread, plumbing is tough when it comes to “ideal”, sustainability-wise, but I am determined to do my best and hopefully shake things up along the way…

One other concern I have to check out in regard to this new insulation is the resin that must be used in the pressure molding – the site that has the spec sheet for download is seemingly unavailable, but I’m gonna get to the bottom of this…Anyway, chances are that the product is MUCH better than the conventional alternatives…Im sure Ill be posting about all of the above on our blog, so feel free to drop in on us over at PolarSolar…keep pushing it forward, everyone!

13 years 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 receptive to finding non-PVC solutions to the duct work and the drainage pipe. But we had to ask for it. It will be a great day when the default isn’t PVC.

13 years 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 for warm climates. Here in Tunisia I have noticed heaters that are locally built. The design and materials make me suspect that they aren’t efficient enough to work in cooler, less sunny climates.

Zoe V.
13 years 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! :-)

13 years 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.

13 years 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!

Anna @Green Talk
13 years 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?

13 years 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 of glass tubes and metal and sits on a rack because my peaked roof facing south is very small. It cost me $1000 after rebates and will pay for itself in two years.

I believe that solar hot water heating is doable for anyone who lives in a place with a roof long term.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

Kellie @ Greenhab
13 years ago

That is fantastic Beth!