Friday, April 26, 2013

Polybutylene - Is it a problem?

Acetal fitting shows signs
 of flaking
As a home inspector, I often run across polybutylene plumbing.  Home buyers and home owners always ask, “Is it a problem?”   The facts are polybutylene pipes have an unusually high rate of failure under normal operating loads.  Deterioration linked to water additives like chlorine and fluorides react with the polybutylene piping and acetal (a strong stiff plastic) fittings causing them to scale and flake and become brittle.  Micro-fractures result and the basic structural integrity of the system is reduced.  The system becomes weak and may fail without warning causing damage to the building structure.

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was used extensively in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were viewed as "the pipe of the future" and were used as a substitute for traditional copper piping.

  • Polybutylene pipe is grey, black or blue.  Interior polybutylene plumbing is almost always grey and exterior polybutylene plumbing is mostly blue.
  • Polybutylene pipe was installed and manufactured from the late 1970's till the mid-1990's, however, stockpiles of polybutylene pipe at supply vendors, such as supply risers were still known to be available up to 1999.
  • The most common sizes for polybutylene pipe are 3/8", ½", ¾" and 1".
  • Polybutylene piping was easy to install and often used as a replacement for copper.
  • Polybutylene was often routed through the attic, a disaster in waiting.
  • Polybutylene piping was used for both residential and commercial water distribution piping.
  • Polybutylene pipe connectors can be copper, brass, or plastic. The connector types are barbed with a crimp ring or compression with a plastic or metal ferrule.

Polybutylene pipe with plastic fittings or metal fittings will ultimately suffer damage; polybutylene piping is not reliable under any circumstances. If a pipe has been leaking for some time without the knowledge of a homeowner, severe structural damage to the home can result, making repairs extremely difficult.

Damage from polybutylene pipe leaks can be costly, in some cases more than the original cost of the house.  Insurance companies require a home inspector to note any polybutylene plumbing on a four point inspection report.  Policies may be cancelled or refused for homes with known polybutylene problems, and it is difficult to market a home that has such an unreliable plumbing system.

You can get a good deal when purchasing homes with polybutylene plumbing but have a plumber estimate the cost to replace the plumbing.  Factor in the cost of replacement of the plumbing system into the offer for the property.  Make sure you replace the plumbing system sooner than later.  Polybutylene may be stable for years or it my burst at any time.

In the opinion of this home inspector, the only good polybutylene is no polybutylene.  Polybutylene is unstable and could burst at any time.

Frank Carr is the Owner / Inspector at First Choice Home Inspections in Deltona, FL serving Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Lake Counties.  Formerly in the building trades, Frank’s focus is a safe home and building FCHI. We believe that consumers have the right to expect the highest standards of thoroughness, fairness and effectiveness from their home inspector and that is exactly what we provide.

First Choice Home Inspections
Phone:  (386) 624-3893
Website:  Http://




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