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A Public Service Message
What You Need to Know About Polybutylene Plumbing

This website will help you better understand poly plumbing, and how it can impact your home and property.

Polybutylene PlumbingPolybutylene—The Pipe of the Future?
Polybutylene is a gray plastic water supply line pipe that was developed in the 1970’s and promoted as “the pipe of the future.” At the time, the perceived advantages of poly were the low cost over copper and the ease of installation. But in the 1980’s structures with poly started reporting leaks. And when poly pipes were replaced, it was noticed that the interior walls of the pipes and fittings were breaking down and flaking apart.

The fitting pictured above was still holding up despite the internal decay and flaking. It looked fine on the outside, but fortunately the homeowner decided to replace the poly system before the problems started.

It’s in up to 10 Million Properties Nationwide.
From 1978 to 1995, up to ten million homes, mobile homes apartment buildings, and commercial structures were built with poly or had poly installed during remodeling. It’s commonly found in properties in the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Pacific Northwest.

“Not every PB system leaks, but the material is susceptible to corrosion when it comes into contact with chlorinated water, resulting in breakage and splitting of PB piping.”
—Martin Schneider, The Baltimore Sun

The Problem With Poly.
Poly systems may fail without warning, damaging properties and personal belongings, and disrupting lives. Factors that may contribute to poly’s failure include: chemicals in our water supply, such as chlorine, that slowly destroy the structural integrity of poly pipes and fittings; the age of the pipe — the older the pipe, the more likely a problem will occur; and faulty installation.

Check Your Pipes.
Inside Your Home — Any gray plastic pipe could be poly. Look at pipes near the water heater. See what kind of pipe runs across the ceiling in an unfinished basement. Check the pipe that comes out of walls to feed sinks and toilets. Many properties have a combination of copper and poly pipes.

Your Underground Water Main — Underground poly pipes can be blue, black, or gray. They are found entering properties through the basement wall or floor, concrete slab, or coming up through a crawlspace. They most often enter properties near the water heater. Your main shutoff valve is attached to the end of the outside water main.

Polybutylene Plumbing“In some cases, homeowners are finding that homeowners insurance companies will either cancel their coverage when extensive damage is caused by [polybutylene] or refuse coverage to homes piped with PB.”
—Arizona Water Resource, the University of Arizona

So You Have Poly Pipes. Now What?
Even if you know you have poly pipes, you still can’t tell what condition they’re in just by looking at or squeezing them because the problems occur on the inside of the pipes. Failures may occur in systems with plastic fittings, metal fittings, and manifold-type systems that look fine even to the trained eye.

You must prioritize your home maintenance requirements and budget accordingly. Unlike most other maintenance issues, delayed replacement of poly may have substantial consequences. Due to the many documented cases of leaks, plumbing experts recommend replacing poly pipes.

You should also be aware that you may face higher insurance premiums, limited coverage, or may even be denied coverage. In addition, homes with poly often take longer to sell, and sell for less.

Replacement of Poly Pipes.
Although replacement can be done at anytime, it’s easier and less expensive if you replace it while the house is vacant. You may even be able to roll the cost into your mortgage.

Replacement entails abandoning all poly pipes and installing a new system. You should look for a company that specializes in poly replacement, not just plumbing in general. A suitable company will offer a turnkey job, and the entire process including drywall and paint repair should take about five days. But most importantly, you need to confirm that the company is licensed properly.

For example, in Virginia plumbers have a contractor's license that says plumbing is their specialty. But, unless a company also has a listed specialty in building or home improvement, they cannot legally provide a turnkey job—they cannot repair the drywall and paint. You should always call the licensing authority in your state to confirm that a company offering repair services is properly licensed. Any legitimate contractor will be happy to provide you with contact information for the applicable state licensing board.

polybutylene plumbingClass Action Lawsuit Settlements.
Throughout the 1980’s lawsuits were filed complaining of allegedly defective manufacturing and defective installation causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Ultimately, the class action suits were settled and hundreds of millions of dollars were set aside to help consumers. However, strict qualification guidelines make participation in the benefits of a fund uncertain. You should contact the appropriate settlement facility to find out if you qualify for assistance.

Not all homes have had leaks, but the problem is, it’s impossible to tell if a home will have problems, or when.
Unlike most other home maintenance issues, delaying poly replacement may have devastating consequences. While pipe replacement is a “hidden” investment, it will increase the value of your home, unlike many other home improvements.

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