Polybutylene Pipes: What are they and why is it a big deal?
From the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s an estimated 10 million homes in the US were fitted with what was then thought to be the pipes of the future: Polybutylene.
Polybutylene, a kind of plastic piping, was used so heavily because it was inexpensive, flexible, easy to instal and resistant to freezing but it did not stand the test of time. Here's why:
Why is polybutylene no longer used in the US?
In 1996 the production use of polybutylene was stopped in the us because of allegations across the country that the pipe was rupturing and causing millions in property damage.
The damage, according to studies done at the University of Illinois, was caused by certain chemical disinfectants found in water that would have a reaction to the plastic causing it to flake. This flaking over time would get worse until it “ate” through to the outside causing leaks.
The manufacturers fought these allegations but lost many class action lawsuits in the process, totaling 1 billion dollars.
Do you have polybutylene pipes?
If your home in Florida was built between 1978 and 1995 or was repiped during this period, it is possible you have the polybutylene. You can check the visible piping in the home. Look at your sinks, the pipes going to and from your water heater,
Here are some ways to identify them:
Usually a bluish grey in color but can also be white, silver black or blue
1/2”-1” in diameter
Flexible and often curved
Look for the marking “PB-2110”
Should you buy a home with polybutylene pipes?
It is not advised by plumbers to purchase a home with polybutene pipes. Although there is no requirement to replace the piping, which can cause thousands of dollars, if pipes were to fail and it go unnoticed the damage could be much worse.
Another reason against purchasing a home with polybutylene would be many insurance companies will not even cover a home with the pipes. Home Owner’s insurance is required in Florida and needed to get a home loan.
Pipes are often installed being walls or in attics where they are rarely if ever seen by the home owner.
How to check if polybutylene in failing?
Polybutylene is very difficult to test as it degrades from the inside out. In order for you to see if the pipe if beginning to fail, when no visible leak is present, would be to take it apart and look on the inside. We do not recommend doing this for anyone other than licensed plumbing contractors.
Will my home inspector find polybutylene during an inspection?
It is not required by the standards of practice to call out the presence of polybutylene but most inspectors will do so anyway for your safey. Home Inspectors, however, will not perform any sort of strength test which would pose a risk of damaging the pipes.
Polybutylene pipes should be replaced if possible as they are prone to failure. If you are purchasing a home be sure to know if the home has these pipes and what it would cost to replace if it does.