Do I have Polybutylene Plumbing in My Home?

Polybutylene Plumbing – Be aware Home Owners and Home Buyers.

Polybutylene piping was a low-cost piping formed of plastic resin and is a very common negotiation strategy for home buyers looking for home in my part of Colorado.  It is commonly gray, white, blue, black and ivory  in color and is flexible as the photos show. Poly piping was used as a substitute for copper piping in both underground water mains and interior plumbing.  One of the easiest ways to identify this pipe is to locate the “PB” lettering on the printed label.  Because of the ease of installing poly piping, it was used in the construction of millions of homes throughout the U.S. between 1978 and 1995.  Not all polybutylene piping systems use polybutylene fittings; some use copper. Therefore, if you see copper fittings on a pipe, it does not mean that you do not have poly piping.  The following photos have been taken in my Home Inspections and are of Polybutylene piping.

Example of Polybutylene connection taken during home inspection in 80920 zip codePolybutylene in basement

Home Inspection Polybutylene discovered in basement during inspectionPolybutylene photo from home inspectionpolybutylene-piping example photos from inspection

It was discovered that as poly pipe ages and reacts with the oxidants in normal tapwater, it becomes brittle, sometimes scaling or flaking. This results in a fracturing of the interior surface of the pipe, which allows for more deterioration. Eventually the pipe will begin to leak, causing damage throughout a home. Poly pipe with plastic fittings or with metal fittings will eventually incur damage; poly piping is not a reliable piping under any circumstances. If a pipe has been leaking for some time without the knowledge of a homeowner, severe structural damage or Mold growth can result, making repairs extremely difficult.

Polybutylene piping was the subject of much attention because of the settlement of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.  Manufacturers of PB pipe have never admitted that it’s defective, but they have agreed to fund the class-action settlement.  Polybutylene pipe is no longer be manufactured and is no longer be available .   For more information visit The Polybutylene Pipe Settlement Fund      The Cox v. Shell settlement was one of the largest consumer settlements in United States history.

The only way to eliminate the possibility of problems that can come from deteriorating polybutylene piping is to replace the pipe itself.  Fortunately, this procedure is relatively inexpensive and can usually be performed by a certified plumber or  re-pipe specialist.
A reputable plumbing company can install water supply piping professionally, but can they do the whole job for a fair price and at the least inconvenience to me?   A few general plumbing companies will do the whole job by subcontracting the drywall and paint, but a re-pipe specialist is your best. They have the personnel to give you a quality job, and they will do it more efficiently, with less damage and inconvenience, and most importantly, for less cost.
In general, real estate agents tell us that homes with polybutylene piping sell for less and take longer to sell. Generally, a home inspector flags the problem, and the pipes are replaced before closing.  But we do not know how many prospective buyers simply ignore homes with poly because they recognize it as a potential problem from the start.
So if you discover your home has Polybutylene piping have it replaced, the possibility of a leak or rupture occurring will only increase with time. Make sure your home inspector is aware.  Contact me if you have any questions.


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