What is Polybutylene Piping?

how to identify polybutylene piping

Polybutylene piping was a plastic plumbing material made and installed from 1978 to the mid-1990s. Like many new and innovative building materials, it was touted as the pipe of the future. Plumbers loved it because it was cheaper and flexible making it quicker and easier to install.

Polybutylene advertisers claimed installation took half the time of copper pipes.

However, the hype did not match the reality. Polybutylene water pipes experienced a high failure rate causing a lot of water damage. Eventually, home owners filed a class action lawsuit which resulted in a 950 million dollar class action settlement.

Quick Facts About Polybutylene

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin.

Polybutylene plumbing is also known as “PB pipes”, “poly pipe”, and “quest” pipe. However, Quest was just one brand of polybutylene pipes.

You can identify it by its gray color and the “PB 2110” stamp.

Although many theories circulate on the internet, there is no known definitive cause for its higher rate of failure.

It is not true that the copper fittings and other metal fittings are fine and the plastic fittings are not.

It is not true that the pipes do not experience failure in well water systems.

Polybutylene Myths

Myth: Only the acetal fittings were defective.

This myth might stem from the fact that polybutylene manufacturers conceded there were some issues with the acetal fittings that had been addressed. Plus, they started manufacturing metal fittings. However, the class-action lawsuits were not limited to the fittings. The pipes fail as well. It is believed that the chlorine in the water oxidizes and degrades the fittings and the pipes which causes small cracks and pinhole leaks.

Myth: If it hasn’t leaked yet, it’s not going to leak.

The prevailing theory is that chlorine and other additives in the water oxidate and degrade the pipe. Hard bends and turns accelerate this deterioration. Polybutylene piping still develops leaks today.

Myth: Only polybutylene pipes on public water supply leak.

The settlement did not exclude homeowners on well water, because homes on well water also had high rates of failure.

How to Know if You Have PB Pipes?

Look around your water heater, under your sinks, around your toilet, or in your crawlspace for exposed stub outs and piping. PB piping is gray and often has “PB2110” stamped on it. Do not confuse it with early PEX pipes that were an off-white color.

Should You Replace PB Pipes?

Obviously, if the pipes leak, you should replace the pipes. You could have just the leaks repaired, but your risk for more leaks is high.

If your pipes aren’t leaking, it’s not as clear cut. Polybutylene pipe failure is not absolute. In other words, it’s not guaranteed that old polybutylene pipes are going to leak.

There are two major considerations. The first is that one leak can easily cost more than replacing the pipe in the first place. Small leaks lurk for months before being noticed. Meanwhile, they cause extensive rot, mold, and property damage.

The second consideration is how home insurance companies handle these piping systems. If your insurance company knows you have PB pipes, they may not cover you, or charge higher premiums. If they don’t know, and you do have a leak, they will likely drop you after the leak. Obviously, replacing your insurance will be more expensive.

Even if your polybutylene pipes aren’t leaking, it is usually cost effective to be proactive and replace the pipes.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Polybutylene Pipes?

It generally costs $2500-$7500 to replace polybutylene pipes with pex piping. Of course, the price depends on factors such as the size of the home and the accessibility of the piping. Replacing pipes in smaller homes with crawlspaces, or unfinished basements is a lot cheaper than a large home where the plumbing pipes are in a concrete slab.

Do home inspectors check for polybutylene pipes.

Most inspectors are aware of, look for, and report on the presence of polybutylene. However, InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) does not require home inspectors to report on the presence of polybutylene pipes.

Even if a home inspector does inspect for polybutylene pipes, it’s possible that all visible PB has been replaced, and all hidden PB still remains in the walls.

Should you buy a home with polybutylene pipes?

Polybutylene pipes do not need to be a deal killer. If you love the home, and it has everything else you wanted, just contact a licensed plumber to replace the pipes. Every home is going to have issues.

Can you be reimbursed for polybutylene repairs?

From 1997 to 2009 homeowners could submit claims and be reimbursed for repairs and replumbing the home. The class is closed now and there is no recourse for homeowners who have issues with their plumbing.

How to know if you have hidden leaks.

The easiest way to know if you have any hidden leaks is to use your water meter. First, turn off all the water fixtures in your home. Next, go outside and find your water meter. The water meter will have a little red triangle or silver disc. Those are the leak indicators. If either of those is spinning, then you have a leak.

you can use your water meter to find hidden leaks

Bottom Line

Polybutylene pipes were plastic pipes installed from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. Extensive pipe failures resulted in a class-action lawsuit. A settlement was reached and paid out over 1 billion dollars.

If you have these pipes, it’s a good idea to consult with a professional plumber and have your pipes replaced with new pipes.