Polybutylene is a type of supply plumbing piping that was installed in homes all across the United States roughly between 1978 and almost to the 2000s. It is estimated that up to 10 million homes were fitted with polybutylene during construction. The reason this material was so widely used was because it was a lower cost material and is much easier and quicker to install than it’s typical copper counterpart because it is flexible, is made of a plastic-resin and doesn’t require extensive soldering or bracing.
Can You Identify Polybutylene Piping?
There are a few fairly simple and typically easy ways to identify this piping material. Here are a few ways to tell if you have polybutylene in your home.
- They are usually a grayish-blue color. This is the most common type. But it is important to note that they can also be a cream color, white or black.
- Pipes are only used for water supply. They are not used for drains or vents. This means that it will be connected to the water supplies and not the underside of sinks, tubs or showers.
- They are typically about 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter. That’s about the size of a dime or a quarter.
- They are very flexible, can curve and feel like smooth plastic.
- The only way to know 100% is to find the tag stamped on the pipe that says “PB-2110”
Where Do You Look To Find Polybutylene?
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine what type of piping is in your home. However, there are a few places to check that may help you find out.
Places To Check
- The piping runs through the walls and then comes out at specific locations called “stub-outs”. This would be at laundry connections, toilet connections and connections under the sinks.
- Many times you can find the plumbing material at the water heater where the pipes connect to the top.
- Sometimes you can see piping material in unfinished areas such as garages or under stairs.
- Usually there is some sign of the plumbing material in the attic or crawlspace, or both!
- On the exterior of the home at the main water shutoff.
- At the water meter in the meter base. These are often near the street or sidewalk.
Be careful! Because there are certain cases where the stub-outs are a different material then the plumbing inside the walls. Many times the stub-outs are copper and it is very difficult to see the piping inside the actual wall.
If you think you have polybutylene in your home, you should consider having a home inspection performed or contacting a plumbing specialist.
What Is Wrong With Polybutylene?
Polybutylene has been known to fail due to the chemicals and minerals put into the municipal water. As a result, these additives can cause damage over time to the piping on the inside. Which in turn can cause cracking leading to leaks.
There is no guarantee that polybutylene will leak. It is just like any other system in your home and will wear out over time. It is just more likely than other materials.
Lawsuits & Claims Related To Polybutylene
There are a large number of claims, lawsuits and many more allegations involving polybutylene piping. A class action lawsuit was even in effect at one point. Learn more here.
Should You Replace Polybutylene?
This really depends on the situation, if the home is in the middle of a sale. You may have to. Again, there is no guarantee the piping will fail, there is just a high likelihood.
Should I Buy A Home With Polybutylene?
This again depends on the situation. Because due to the uncertain nature of this material, many buyers will ask for the piping to be replaced or for a credit to replace it themselves after they have bought the home. You should ask your Realtor and Home Inspector about their advice on the material itself and about what is in your current contract. Ultimately it is your decision.
Home Owners Insurance & Polybutylene
In many places insurance companies actually require the polybutylene to be replaced before they will approve your policy. This is especially true in Florida. On occasion the insurance will offer a very high rate if it is not replaced. Buyers and homeowners should always be completely honest with the insurance company about the presence of polybutylene. Especially because many will require a 4-Point Inspection before they will even write the policy which will most the time reveal the presence of polybutylene anyway.
When this piping was in use it had many benefits including cost and ease of installation. Unfortunately however, there are still many issues tied to its use.