Have you ever heard your home inspector mention that your home that was being inspected had polybutylene plumbing? Or perhaps your realtor mentioned that the home you were considering purchasing had this type of plumbing.  Or maybe you own an older home and are wondering if your home has polybutylene plumbing and should you be concerned.  We are here to help you understand what this type of plumbing is, which types of homes have this plumbing and details regarding the potential issues with these types of pipes.  

First let’s begin with the basics:

What is polybutylene plumbing?

Polybutylene pipes are made out of a type of plastic containing polybutylene.  This was the standard type of plumbing put into many homes from the 1970’s through the mid 1990’s.  The pipes were cheap to make and had many advantages, such as resistance to freezing, flexibility and easy installation compared to many of the other piping material at the time.  In fact, it was so popular by in the building industry that over 10 million homes in America had this type of plumbing installed. However, from around the late 80’s through the mid-1990’s, so many complaints from homeowners had circulated about the pipes failing and rupturing that use of these pipes ceased in homes in 1996.

What causes polybutylene plumbing to fail?

The most common reasons to why this type of plumbing can fail is due to either installation defects or chemical reactions between polybutylene and certain chemicals such as chlorine, causing it to become brittle and fail over time. Once this reaction happens, cracks in the pipes can begin inside the pipe and eventually expand all the way through the pipe, leading to water leakage.  

How can I find out if my home has this type of plumbing? What does it look like?

These are some areas that you can look in your home to see if you have polybutylene pipes:

  1. 18” above the water connection at the hot water heater
  2. Under the kitchen or bathroom sinks, below the shut off valves
  3. In the crawlspace
  4. Water supply connection to the toilet before the shut off valve

These are the common characteristics of polybutylene to look for:

  1. Stamped with the code “PB2110”
  2. Most are grey color, although some can also be white, silver, black or blue
  3. Brass or plastic crimp connections (location of the connection between two pipes)

It is recommended to have a plumber look at your home to accurately determine the type of plumbing installed in your home.

What are some of the issues that can occur with this type of plumbing?

It can be difficult to tell if your home plumbing has active problems as many times the cracks begin inside the pipes and are not visible from the outside.  This can lead to the pipes functioning normal one day and leaking the next. Because of this, it can be difficult to tell if your pipes are subject to the many damages that can occur with this type of plumbing. If left unchecked or unnoticed, leaking pipes can lead to water damage, structural issues, mold and failure of the plumbing system.

What should I do if my home has this type of plumbing?

Most experts would agree that if your home has this type of plumbing it is best to go ahead and get it replaced.  While the cost can often be steep for a complete overhaul of the plumbing system, failure to replace these pipes can lead to bursting of pipes and potentially devastating water issues within your home. Many plumbers specialize in expertly replacing these pipes with more suitable plumbing systems.

What are some reasons to replace this type of plumbing?

One of the most important reason to replace these pipes is to avoid large structural issues or significant water damage due to leaking pipes at any time, without warning.  Water damage can destroy homes, furniture, family heirlooms and cost the homeowner thousands of dollars or more to fix the damage.  In addition, homes with polybutylene pipes are less attractive to home buyers.  When and if you decide to sell your home, home buyers may be wary to purchase the home with this type of plumbing. This could lead to your home not selling as quickly, a decrease in home value or you having to pay to have the plumbing replaced while your home is on the market.  In addition, insurance claims due to water damage from these pipes could cause your insurance premiums to increase.  

Am I eligible for the class action suit against the makers of the polybutylene pipes?

Because of the huge influx of lawsuits against manufacturers of polybutylene material, a class action suit was created. Homeowners participating in the suit received payouts of almost $1 billion dollars in total.  However, the class action suit has since been settled, thus not allowing additional lawsuits or payouts to occur.  Thus, homeowners that are just now aware of the plumbing issues are no longer eligible to join the lawsuit.  Homeowners are liable to pay for the replacement of these pipes at their own expense.