Polybutylene plumbing also identified as PB, was a form of plastic material used for residential plumbing installations between the years 1978 to 1995. During those years, plumbing professionals wholeheartedly recommended using plumbing until the 1995 Cox vs Shell and Spencer vs DuPont $1 billion lawsuits. We have covered in depth regarding all the available plumbing fixtures.

PB was considered great to use as it was inexpensive, approved by building codes, and was also thought to be highly resistant to freezing temperatures. Installation of these pipes could save days or even weeks during installation and this was a very big advantage for builders at the time.

Polybutylene plumbing was so easy to install that some builders even trained other employees, who were not plumbers, to install the pipes in homes. It made work easier for plumbers as they no longer had to carry around acetyl or propane tanks to check copper pipes for sweating. They needed only one crimping tool and that saved them a huge amount of work. 

Unlike soldering for copper pipes or gluing together for CPVC pipes, PB was fastened together using bands called crimping bands. PEX piping also uses compression/crimping styles during installation. Nad being lighter than copper, PB was much easier to carry around to and on the job sites. 

During the years that polybutylene pipes were used, manufacturers often told builders and plumbers that the pipes had a lifespan of up to fifty years, but that myth was debunked .Polybutylene plumbing was learned that it took only about twelve years for problems with the poly pipes to show.

Most leaks were often found to happen at the fittings, and there were theories that this was mainly due to improper installation, UV light exposure, chemical reactions from the water, improper storage, as well as other issues. These issues led to changes in the fittings to try and resolve the reported problems with poly.

The biggest change was replacing the plastic fittings to metal fittings, which were often in the form of copper or brass, the compression bands were changed from aluminum to copper and initially seemed to work and decreased leaks. However, even these fittings began to fail, and then leaks started turning up at other points along the pipes, not just at the fittings. 

Polybutylene plumbing
Polybutylene plumbing

Polybutylene plumbing – Information

If you are looking to buy a home that has polybutylene pipes, it would be advised to either

  • Ask the seller to replace the pipes before you purchase the house because otherwise you will be stuck with them
  • Replace the pipes with PEX, which is a more reliable type of plastic pipe, and helps you to avoid spending extra money in the future especially towards water damage to your house.

Why is it not a good idea to have polybutylene plumbing in your house?

Polybutylene plumbing has a history behind it. From 1978 – 1995, polybutylene pipes (a type of plastic resin pipes) were substituted in place of the more commonly used copper piping for water supply piping.

Polybutylene pipes deteriorate when in the presence of chlorine as well as other disinfectants that are present in public drinking water. And in the 1980s this was unknown. We now have advanced testing standards to check the structural strength of plastic pipes used these days with chlorinated water, something that was unavailable in the 1970s.

What is polybutylene plumbing

These pipes were then referred to as the pipes of the future as the materials were low cost and the installation was much easier. This type of company plumbing was extensively used in the early ’80s right up to the mid-’90s and is commonly found in the “ Sun Belt” which saw heavy residential construction during this time. It was also commonly used in the Northwest Pacific and Mid Atlantic states. It is believed that these polybutylene pipes were used in at least 6 to 10 million homes during this time, for both interior water distinction piping as well as underground water mains. During the times that these pipes were manufactured it is believed that the pipes were installed in at 1 out of every four or five homes. 

Types of Polybutylene:

what is polybutylene plumbing – Polybutylene piping initially started with compression bands and plastic fittings. After the flaws were discovered, metal bands and fittings were installed with PB, such as copper or brass. The metal fittings are considered to be the least bad poly installation. Later, with the metal fittings, a home-run or manifold system was installed. Long flexible poly pipes were installed going directly to plumbing fixtures.

Why is polybutylene plumbing considered bad news for your home? 

PB was often recommended by most plumbing professionals during those times. Unfortunately, after being proclaimed as the pipes of the future, time ended up telling a very different story. Studies showed that these pipes could not withstand the common disinfectants, like chlorine, that were found in the public water supply and became fragile leading to them becoming brittle and cracking from the inside.

Over the years, once a pipe sees the formation of mini fractures, the pipe will get completely worn out and rupture leading to water leakage. Leakage due to damage in polybutylene plumbing can cause severe structural damage to the building since these leaks are very hard to detect as they are not visible due to the pipes being underground.

Sometimes the cracks develop on pipes which are not just horizontal, but also vertically installed in your home, thereby a leaking pipe inside a wall could lead to not just significant damage but also mold growth.

Polybutylene plumbing lawsuit

In the 1990s two class-action lawsuits were filed against Shell and DuPont, who happened to be two of the largest manufacturers of PB.

  • Cox vs Shell
  • Spencer vs Dupont

Polybutylene plumbing lawsuit had a settlement of $1 billion. However, these funds are now depleted and the case closed so any homeowners dealing with PB are now on their own.you can also find out for best plumbing.

How can you tell if your house has polybutylene plumbing?

Usually, when you are on the lookout for buying a new house, the building inspector will be able to tell you whether or not the building has polybutylene pipes. But you can also see for yourself if you look at the pipes directly. There are two things to look out for:

  • These pipes usually have the letters “PB2110” on them.
  • The pipes are usually blue, but can sometimes also be black or grey. Greyish blue is also common, although sometimes poly can also be cream, white, or silver. You can also find for reliable plumbing.

These pipes are usually located:

  • Across the ceiling in unfinished basements
  • At the connections for toilets and sinks
  • Near water heaters
  • At water meters or main shut off valves

Always do a thorough check regarding the pipes as later on during the years, plumbers often resorted to installing copper stub outs. Under sinks. These would disguise the cheap-looking poly and then innocent home buyers would end up thinking that the plumbing was all copper. Only later, after considerable damage, would they realize that they were duped.

One of the most obvious signs of poly piping, apart from visually seeing the pipes, is the presence of numerous water stains on the ceiling. Having a home inspector check moisture stains with a moisture meter is a good idea as it comes along with a sensor pad that can be used on flat walls as well as soft objects like carpets.

Even if the entire piping is replaced, removing signs of water damage is very difficult. It is almost impossible to cover up these spots without leaving any evidence, even with patching up or paint cover-ups. 

How does a plumbing leak cause damage?

A leak on drywalls and framing will often result in the growth of mold, not just inside the walls, but spores from the mold can also be spread throughout the building via the HVAC duct system. The furnace can also act as a centralized location in spreading the spores throughout the home.

Apart from mold, the framework of a house can also be damaged along with flooring, furniture, and appliances. This causes the structure of the wooden framework to weaken, resulting in sagging floors and joists.

Installation of an HVAC ultraviolet light is recommended and this can be installed at the air handler or the furnace. These ultraviolet lights usually come with airflow sensors which automatically turn on the UV light and are high in quality. If you want to know further information about quality plumbing.

How to identify polybutylene pipes

Polybutylene plumbing building already has PB pipes then you have 2 options available.

  • Replace the PB piping with plastic piping such as PEX, CVC, or PVC pipes, which are more reliable types of plastic piping now used for plumbing. If you want to know how to identify polybutylene pipes details below
    • However, PVC piping, which is also a plastic pipe, is only used for draining, waste, and venting piping and is not recommended to be used for drinking water.
    • PEX piping is usually colored as red for hot water and blue for cold water, although there are other colored pipes available as well as some clear pipes. The pipes can be identified with PEX stamped on the pipe.
    • CPVC pipes are cream-colored pipes, which have a yellow line running along the length of the pipe, and is very commonly used in newer houses as the cost of copper pipes is still high. 
  • Wait until the pipes rupture, and then pay a hefty bill for both repiping your home and water repair. 

The most sensible option would be to replace the piping as soon as possible, thereby saving money in the long run as you would not have to pay for water damage to your home as well as valuables and belongings. it is also advisable to negotiate with the seller to get them to replace the pipes so you don’t get stuck with them.

Polybutylene plumbing is highly impossible to pinpoint the exact location of these leaks as it is the interior of the piping that starts to get cracks and flaking, and these eventually work their way to the outside, and that’s where leaks occur. Leaks can happen either gradually, with small leaks at first, or at times they can just burst, thereby causing considerable damage to the building. 

What are PEX pipes and why use them?

PEX pipes are the choice of pipes instead of PB as they are easy to install as well as durable and inexpensive. They do not get affected by any disinfectants in the drinking water and thereby do not end up with scaling or corrosion. And unlike the copper pipes, they do not develop pinhole leaks either. you can also check out emergency plumbing.

Cost to replace polybutylene plumbing
Cost to replace polybutylene plumbing 

Cost to replace polybutylene plumbing 

Damages resulting from small leaks alone can end up costing you the equivalent of replacing the entire piping of your home. Depending on the size of your home, this could set you back a whopping $10,000 to $20,000 or more.

This very thing happened to one homeowner who was away on vacation during summer. The unfinished basement developed a small leak, and water leaked into the home. This went on for a while as the owner was in a different country and was completely unaware of what was happening back home.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, the owner had also turned off the air conditioning resulting in a dehumidifying result. Upon return, all the walls, ceiling, and floor of the basement were covered in mold. One small leak from old polybutylene pipes and no AC during summer. 

The entire basement had to be demolished, and the cost to replace polybutylene plumbing was roughly around $40,000 to get his basement and piping redone. 

So, if you have any plans on owning a house or building with polybutylene plumbing, ensure a home inspector, well experienced in checking for damages from PB piping, look over the building. its better to have a thorough check-up done at the start and spend a smaller sum as compared to blowing a hole in your wallet due to unchecked damage.  feel free to leave a comment below so that we can get back or just visit our page restoration service.