During the late 1970’s the Shell Oil Company developed and was the sole producer of polybutylene piping. At the time of its creation, it was considered to be a breakthrough in lowering the cost of plumbing installations in new homes, and businesses. Up to that point most home construction utilized copper plumbing. Polybutylene was considered an excellent replacement. It could be molded in to various shapes, was flexible, didn’t crack under pressure, and had properties that resisted chemicals like fats, alcohol, acids and oils. In addition, it didn’t corrode, or calcify and offered reduced noise characteristics. All things that made it a very desirable replacement for traditional copper piping.
What’s Wrong with Polybutylene Piping?
It seemed that polybutylene piping offered a wonderful alternative to traditional piping materials. Except for one thing.
- It was discovered the hard way that polybutylene piping had the tendency to have high rates of failure under typical conditions. The culprit was degeneration of the pipe from the inside due to contact with oxidants like chlorine found in typical public water systems.
- As these oxidants move through the pipe they slowly start to wear away from the inside. This makes it extremely difficult to detect as the pipe may look perfectly normal from the outside.
- As polybutylene pipe reacts with the oxidants found in normal tap water, it tends to become fragile, will start to scale and flake and can lead to leaking pipes causing extensive and expensive structural damage to your home.
Where is Polybutylene Pipe Used in the Home and How Long until I have a Problem?
Polybutylene piping was used extensively in home construction from the late 1970’s till about 1995. Its typical application was in moving water in to a home from the main city water system.
- Indoor Applications – Within the home itself, polybutylene piping was used to supply water to sinks, toilets, showers and bathtubs as well as water heaters.
- Outdoor Applications – It was also used to attach to a home’s water meter, main water shut off valve, and in places where the piping entered the home through walls or basements.
- Mobile Home Applications – Because of its perceived versatility It was also used in the plumbing of mobile homes and manufactured housing.
It takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years for homes to experience major deterioration. Here are some factors that can influence that timeline:
- The chlorine and mineral levels of the water in your area
- The quality of the initial plumbing installation
- The age and type of pipe fittings
- Degeneration of Pipe Fittings
Why You Should Replace Polybutylene Piping
Polybutylene Pipe is normally blue, black, or grey and found in diameters of ½” to 1”. If you suspect your home was constructed using polybutylene pipe, you should contact a licensed plumber who can determine if polybutylene piping was used in your home. A skilled plumber can also help determine the age of the pipe. The cost of replacing the pipe by hiring a professional re-pipe specialist is far less than the cost of structural damage you could face from a system failure.
- It Will Make It More Difficult to Sell Your Home While it’s not required when selling a home that the seller disclose the home has polybutylene pipes, the awareness these days of the problem can make it extremely difficult to market a home.
- Obtaining Insurance Coverage Could be a Problem Many insurance companies will be very hesitant to insure a property where it’s known the plumbing was completed using polybutylene piping. The longer and older the home the more difficult it may be to obtain coverage. If coverage can be obtained it’s likely to be very costly.
If you suspect your current home has polybutylene piping or you’re considering purchasing a property that has it, call the team at The Clean Plumbers. We can perform a comprehensive inspection and outline any problems you are likely to encounter and the solutions to remedy the situation.