Polybutylene (PB) pipes are made from a plastic resin and were a cheap and easy solution to the sunbelt building boom from 1975-1995. They provided easy to install home plumbing systems on millions of homes with the idea that they would last longer than most other piping materials.
Unfortunately, polybutylene proved to be disastrous. It turns out that the plastic used reacts to oxidants and disinfectants in public water supplies, like chlorine. The result is scaling and flaking from within that creates microfractures in the pipes that will eventually burst. Do you have polybutylene pipes in your home? We’ll tell you how to identify them and what you should do about it.
What is Polybutylene Pipe?
Three major companies developed and produced polybutylene pipes: Vanguard, Qest and Shell Oil. The pipes were marketed as “the pipe of the future” because they were strong, versatile and resisted cold temperatures.
Home builders found them to be a boon because they were less expensive than other materials like copper plumbing and required less time and expertise to install. It’s estimated that 6-10 million homes were built with PB piping during the 80s and early 90s. Most of them were in the Southern United States, including Texas.
In 1995, two major lawsuits shut down the use of polybutylene and the material was no longer allowed by building codes. The $750 million settlement was used to pay families across the country for damaged homes where pipes had leaked or burst.
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How to Identify Polybutylene Pipes
Polybutylene pipes are ½” or 1” flexible pipes that are usually gray or blue in color but can be silver, cream or black also. A surefire sign that you have PB piping in your home is a stamp on the side of the pipe that says “PB2110.”
Polybutylene pipes were installed as water supply lines only. You won’t find them as drain, waste or vent pipes. Common places to identify them are:
- Attached to your water heater
- At your main shutoff valve
- Attached to sinks and toilets
- Along basement ceilings where pipes are exposed
It’s important to note that main waterlines to homes during the period in question were often made of polybutylene. Because these are underground, you have no way of identifying them or knowing if they are ruptured. If you have other polybutylene piping in your home, chances are, your waterline is too.
Another important consideration is that copper plumbing near sinks and fixtures doesn’t exclude the possibility of PB pipes. Plumbers often made “stub outs” where they attached more attractive copper fittings to the exposed portions of a home’s plumbing. There may still be PB in your walls or ceilings.
Do I Need Polybutylene Pipe Replacement?
If you discover polybutylene plumbing in your home, we recommend replacing your system. At the minimum, you should have a licensed plumber inspect your pipes to determine their integrity. This will involve shutting off your water and looking inside your pipes to check for wear and cracking. You should also check your home insurance to make sure there are no provisions against polybutylene piping if something does go wrong.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors recommends that all homes with polybutylene piping in the home get their plumbing replaced. While there are no regulations against buying or selling a home with PB plumbing, the risk of leaking or bursts is high. A home inspector can identify PB pipes but does not examine the inside of them like a plumber will.
It is expensive to repipe your home, but the alternative is also costly and, unfortunately, the funds from the legal settlements against PB pipe companies dried up long ago. Beyond having a pipe burst in your home and damage your property, the biggest risk is unseen leaks. Water leaking from old pipes can pool up inside walls and ceilings and breed harmful mold. If you observe water stains or notice leaking, it’s time to have your pipes checked.
It’s a good investment to replace polybutylene pipes. It will extend the life of your plumbing for 50 or more years and increase the value of your home.
Polybutylene Pipe Replacement Experts in Dallas Texas
If you’re worried that your old pipes may be made of polybutylene, call or contact Ben Franklin Plumbing today. One of our punctual plumbers can give your plumbing a thorough inspection to make sure your home isn’t at risk for a plumbing catastrophe. If your pipes do need to be replaced, we can recommend options to fit your budget and offer financing, so your bank account doesn’t burst too!