Polybutylene Pipes: What to do if Your Home Has Them

From the mid-1970s through the late 1990s, polybutylene pipes were installed in 6-10 million US homes. They were inexpensive and easy to install–but homeowners and plumbing professionals have discovered one serious flaw: Over time, oxidation and exposure to chlorine in the water supply causes the pipes to swell and crack, leading to widespread flood damage throughout the home, usually without any warning. The problems led to a class-action lawsuit during the 1980s. If you have recently purchased a home and you are unsure whether your pipes are polybutylene, it is important to consult with a plumbing professional to find out before you are confronted with serious water damage.

How do I Know if my Home is Affected?

Many home inspectors will detect polybutylene plumbing lines, but they are not required to report this finding, and thus it may go unaddressed. Identifying polybutylene pipes can be tricky, as they appear similar to other plastic resin piping, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polypropylene. Polybutylene pipes, which are sometimes used in conjunction with copper piping, are described as:

  • white or gray in color
  • having a dull or matte finish
  • approximately 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter
  • often stamped with “PB2110”

If your home was built in the 1970s, 80s or 90s, it is possible that you may have this type of plumbing system installed, notes home inspector and author Nick Gromicko, writing for The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Inc. Your plumber will examine your entire interior and exterior plumbing system and look for signs of polybutylene piping.

What Should I do if Polybutylene Pipes Are Found?

You will need to replace the pipes, because the micro-fractures can rupture without warning. Even if your pipes have lasted a decade or more, they will eventually fail, and replacing the pipes now, before a major flood, could spare you the cost of repairing structural damage to your home. The repipe process can be costly, but your homeowners policy or home warranty may help pay for the replacement. Your plumber will remove all of the polybutylene and replace it with copper or durable PVC, including adapters and valves on appliances. You may also need to upgrade to new risers, manifolds and fittings.

If your home was built during the polybutylene era, it is better to investigate and remediate now, before you’re faced with an emergency. If you’re in any doubt about your plumbing system, don’t hesitate to call Ragsdale today for a complete evaluation and inspection.

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