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Oftentimes an issue that we see on home inspections, is a house that is plumbed with Polybutylene supply piping. Many of you may already be familiar with this particular type of plumbing material, but many home buyers— especially first time home buyers— are unfamiliar with Polybutylene and why they should be aware of it.
Polybutylene (also known as PB) was a type of plastic that was manufactured between 1978 and mid 1995, and it was made to be used as piping in residential plumbing systems. It was relatively inexpensive and offered many advantages over some of the other plumbing materials: it was flexible, it was easy to install, it had resistance to freezing temperatures, etc. It was so popular, it was installed in almost 10 million homes in the US during its time period. However, in 1996, production of Polybutylene came to a halt, and was completely discontinued, leading many to ask the question: WHY?
After a period of time, many houses that had polybutylene installed were experiencing some pretty significant issues. There were allegations that pipes were rupturing, which caused significant property damage. So what was causing them to fail?
Studies have shown that certain disinfectants that are in a home’s water supply can react with the polybutylene, causing it to flake apart at any location within the pipes. Micro-fractures that result from the flaking basically make the pipes so brittle that they will eventually become useless, and even worse— fail without warning, causing expensive damage to the home and personal property. Some manufacturers also claim that many of the failures of polybutylene occur at the joints and the unions, which would be where a leak would likely occur in the event of pipes being improperly installed. There were some serious class action lawsuits that have been filed against polybutylene manufacturers, and many have resulted in successful payouts that reach upwards of $1 Billion Dollars.
How do you know if you have polybutylene in your home?
Polybutylene pipes are usually gray, and have brass fittings. They are flexible, sometimes curved, and they are usually stamped with blue lettering with “PB2110” somewhere on them. It is not used for drainage, waste, and vent piping, so you will only find it as supply piping in your home. The locations you can look to see if you have polybutylene are: protruding from walls to feed sinks and toilets, in the attic running across ceiling joists, near the water heater, at the water meter, and at the main water shutoff valve.
What to do if you have polybutylene?
Typically, most plumbers recommend complete replacement of the plumbing materials if a home is piped with polybutylene. This can cost homeowners a few thousand dollars, but it can save them much, much more in the long run if and when the pipes fail. Pipes that fail behind drywall can go unnoticed for quite some time, and can result in the development of mold and other significant water damage. Some insurance companies may also charge a higher rate if a home has polybutylene, or even worse, not insure the home at all. If you are considering buying a home that was built in the time frame polybutylene was used, you definitely want to make sure you have the home professionally inspected. Your home inspector will be able to identify the type of plumbing materials your potential home has, and this will give you peace of mind knowing that your home does not have polybutylene, or if it does, you can negotiate repairs or replacement into the contract, if you desire.
Southern Source Inspections, LLC is your premier home inspection company for Baton Rouge, Mandeville, Covington, Slidell, and New Orleans.