Should Polybutylene Pipes be Replaced?

Polybutylene (PB) is a flexible plastic pipe used in the 1980’s and early 1990’s for water distribution systems within a home. Polybutylene was an inexpensive piping that offered ease of installation, resistance to freezing and versatile flexibility.

Research showed that oxidants within the water would cause the polybutylene to become brittle, and start to flake. This caused deterioration from inside of the polybutylene (PB) pipes which, in turn caused small cracks and eventually leaks. Because the damage to the piping was internal, it remained undetected until the piping ruptured under the pressure causing serious flooding problems and property damage.

Possible Cause of Leaks

When polybutylene piping was first installed, plastic fittings were utilized. The plastic fittings started to split and snap which initially was thought to be the culprit of the leaks. The fittings were changed to copper, which fit more securely around the pipes and had more resistance to splitting and snapping (see photo above) but the polybutylene pipes still leaked and many homes had catastrophic pipe failure. As a result, polybutylene piping was discontinued in new home construction.
Other issues that are believed to increase the potential for polybutylene pipe leak failure include:

• Polybutylene pipes left in the sun for longer than 30 days
• High levels of chlorine in the water
• High levels of solvents and oils in the water
• Pipe Dope (a thread lubricant that seals metal pipes to form leak-proof joints)

How do I know if I have polybutylene pipes in my home?

If your house was built during the time period that polybutylene piping was utilized; during the 1980’s and 1990’s and you can access your water distribution piping, you can check the pipe coloring.

Polybutylene came in three colors. If you have grey, you have polybutylene. If your pipes are black, it is rare, but could be polybutylene. If the pipes are white, like the pipes themselves have been painted, it is most likely polybutylene. If you are unsure it is best to have a certified plumber come out and take a look.
Okay, my home has polybutylene piping, now what?

The only thing to do if your home has polybutylene piping is to replace it. Most plumbers consider polybutylene piping a ticking time bomb and will explain it is not IF the polybutylene pipes will fail but WHEN. This is not meant to be a scare tactic to increase business, but a caution flag to homeowners with polybutylene piping.
Once the polybutylene piping is removed, it will be replaced with PEX or copper piping that typically comes with a nice warranty.

If you would like more information or you have any questions, please give Andy’s Pipe Dream a call. Andy and his team are expert plumbers are here to help you in any way they can.