Ins and Outs of Polybutylene Piping

Polybutylene piping, also known as “poly” or “quest” piping is a plastic piping system used as a cost-effective alternative to copper and PVC water distribution systems in houses and some commercial buildings. Popular in the late ’70s through the mid-’90s, polybutylene plumbing products offered quick, clean, low-skill installation, greatly cutting down on building plumbing costs.

Sounds great, right? Turns out, there were some serious problems!

What is the Problem with Polybutylene Pipes?

A combination of high chlorine, plastic fittings, and valves, along with poor workmanship led to system failures with polybutylene pipes These pipes have caused multiple issues for homeowners over the years due to oxidants (like chlorine found in municipal water) breaking down the material.

Over time, this can cause the pipes to scale, flake, and become brittle. Breaks or leaks can often happen, compromising the integrity of the entire system and causing substantial damage to your property.

Many homes were piped with this material, along with a variety used for water mains buried in the ground. We have since found that homes piped up with metal fittings, metal valves, and quality workmanship are a lot less likely to have problems, although they are not guaranteed. And it’s more likely that homes with all plastic fittings, cut-offs, and below-average install practices could have multiple issues.

The Poly B™ Pipe Lawsuit

Subsequently, there was a $950-million-dollar Poly B Pipe lawsuit that covered system replacement; however, this expired years ago. Polybutylene pipes were banned from new construction projects after 1995, but if they’re already in your home, there is no requirement to remove them.

This is important to know if you decide to purchase a home that was built between 1978 and 1995. If this is the case, your home inspector should thoroughly check for polybutylene plumbing to get ahead of any issues.

Polybutylene Pipes

Risk Factors of Polybutylene Piping for Homeowners

Since a class action lawsuit was filed and settled several years ago, the only alternative (if you suspect you have polybutylene pipes in your home) is to consider having them replaced before misfortune strikes. In addition to avoiding water damage brought on by leaks or breaks in your home, other good reasons to consider replacing the polybutylene piping in your home include:

  • Some insurance companies have been known to cancel homeowners’ policies or refuse to insure homes built with these pipes
  • Polybutylene piping can also affect a home’s value on the real estate market

How to Know if You Use Polybutylene Pipes in Your Plumbing System

If you believe your home was built using polybutylene pipes, you should consult with a licensed plumber immediately and have the system inspected. The following tips can help you find and detect whether your pipes could be made of polybutylene:

Signs Your Property Has Poly Pipes

  • Interior polybutylene pipes typically enter the home through a basement wall, concrete slab or crawl space.
  • Check your water heater, sinks, tubs and toilets. The interior pipes are usually ½” – 1” in diameter and gray (or white) with a dull finish.
  • External polybutylene is usually light blue, but it could also be gray or black.
  • Good places to examine the exterior pipes would be the basement or crawl space underneath, main water shutoff valve or water meter.

Keep in mind that even if you have copper fittings, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have polybutylene. Some plumbers continued to use copper fittings with these pipes.

The Solution: Repipe Your Plumbing System

Re-piping the old system brings it up to code, keeps buyers, bankers and insurance companies happy, and only takes a few days to complete if performed by an experienced professional plumbing company.  Some homes can even be done in a day with minor wall/ceiling openings. 

Others are more complicated and may take several days along with substantial drywall and paint repairs. The best way to find out what your situation is, and whether or not you have polybutylene pipes today is to schedule a site visit.  

Schedule a Pipe Evaluation

A site visit is required to determine exactly what kind of system you have and if a re-pipe is recommended, as not all homes with this system have had problems. Any water pipe system can have a leak, however the poly system was found to be of inferior quality, a life of about 10-15 years, and multiple issues, some of which turned out to be pretty severe.

Action Plumbing offers re-pipe service after a site visit, complete with a consultation permit and inspections.  Keep in mind other contractors may also be needed to enter walls, then patch and paint after the job is complete.  

We work with many contractors on the Outer Banks, and can recommend several from which you can interview and obtain estimates.

Choose the Right Replacement Pipes

In the wake of polybutylene pipes’ notorious failures, homeowners and builders have turned to more reliable alternatives for plumbing needs. Among the modern options, PEX (Cross-Linked Polyethylene), CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride), and copper stand out, each offering unique benefits and considerations.

PEX Pipes

PEX is known for its flexibility, resistance to scale and chlorine, and ease of installation. Its ability to bend around corners reduces the need for fittings, minimizing the risk of leaks.

However, it cannot be used outside due to UV sensitivity and may have limitations in hot water applications.

CPVC Pipes

CPVC, a step up from PVC, boasts higher temperature tolerance, making it suitable for hot and cold water delivery. It is easy to cut and join, offering a cost-effective solution with good chemical resistance. Nonetheless, CPVC can be more brittle than PEX, particularly in colder climates, and requires careful handling during installation.

Copper Pipes

Copper, the traditional choice, is known for its durability, longevity, and resistance to bacteria. However, copper is the most expensive option and requires soldering for installation.. Its susceptibility to corrosion in certain water conditions can also be a drawback.

When selecting plumbing materials, consider water quality, climate, budget, and the specific needs of your project. PEX is ideal for its versatility and ease of use, CPVC offers a cost-effective and resilient choice, while copper provides a durable, though pricier, solution. Each material presents a viable path away from the pitfalls of polybutylene, tailored to different priorities and applications.

4 Common Myths About Polybutylene Pipes

Don’t be fooled by the myths!  The risk of damage to your home due to cracking, leaking, old polybutylene piping in your plumbing system is far worse than actually updating your home’s plumbing system to one that complies with the guidelines of today.  

Here are 4 popular myths that are easily de-bunked!

4 myths about poly butylene pipes

#1: My Home Inspector Says They Look Fine

Home inspectors perform a visual and operational check, looking for visible leaks, signs of failure, or irregularities. However, certain conditions might be missed during these inspections, which can affect the determination of whether polybutylene pipes need replacing:

  • Internal Condition: Home inspectors typically cannot inspect the inside of pipes. Polybutylene is prone to degradation from the inside out, primarily due to the chemicals in the water, such as chlorine. This internal deterioration can lead to sudden failures, without external indications that an inspector could identify.
  • Hidden Sections: Pipes often run inside walls, under floors, or above ceilings, making it difficult for inspectors to examine their full extent. If the visible sections appear in good condition, it might falsely reassure homeowners, even though inaccessible pipes could be near failure.
  • Previous Repairs: Sometimes, previous repairs can mask underlying issues. Home inspectors might see a recently replaced section and consider it resolved, not realizing it could be indicative of a larger, systemic problem with the polybutylene piping.
  • Comprehensive Testing: Most home inspections do not include the type of comprehensive pressure testing required to reveal weaknesses in a polybutylene system. Such testing can be invasive and beyond the scope of a standard home inspection.

#2: It Will Destroy My Home

The extent of disruption in your home during a re-pipe largely depends on the location of the pipes, the chosen replacement method, and skill level of the team doing the work.. Here are some points to consider:

Easily Accessible Areas 

If the pipes are located in areas that are easy to access, such as a basement or a crawl space, the replacement process can be less invasive. However, pipes running within walls, ceilings, or under concrete slabs pose more of a challenge. In such cases, some degree of cutting into these structures may be necessary.

Materials Used 

The use of flexible materials like PEX can reduce the need for extensive demolition. PEX can often be snaked through walls and around obstacles without opening large sections of drywall.

Scope of Replacement

Partial vs. Full Replacement: In some instances, only a portion of the plumbing may need to be replaced, limiting the disturbance. However, a full replacement can require more extensive work.

Professional Approach

Hiring experienced plumbers or contractors who specialize in polybutylene replacement can minimize the impact on your home. These professionals can assess the best method for replacement, potentially saving time, reducing damage, and ensuring a smoother process.

To minimize the impact on your home’s infrastructure, be sure to consult with experts. A thorough evaluation by a plumbing expert can provide a clear understanding of what the replacement entails and the least invasive approach. Discuss the possibility of less invasive methods such as trenchless pipe replacement or rerouting and ensure that the areas of your home subject to work are well-prepared and protected. This might include moving furniture, covering floors and belongings, and setting up dust barriers.

Due to these limitations, homeowners might consider engaging a plumber specializing in polybutylene systems or a service that offers more invasive diagnostic tests for a thorough evaluation. Recognizing these potential oversight areas can guide homeowners in making informed decisions about replacing polybutylene piping before facing unexpected failures.

#3: I’m Selling My Home So I Don’t Have to Worry

When selling a home with polybutylene pipes, transparency is key as most jurisdictions require sellers to disclose known defects, including problematic plumbing. This disclosure can impact the sale, potentially affecting the home’s marketability, sale price, or even deterring buyers. Home inspections and appraisals are likely to flag polybutylene piping, influencing negotiations and possibly affecting the buyer’s ability to secure financing or insurance, as some lenders and insurers may have strict policies against these pipes.

 #4: Re-Pipes Cost a Fortune

Deciding whether to replace the pipes before selling hinges on various factors, including the cost of replacement versus potential return on investment. While replacing the pipes can enhance your home’s value and appeal, leading to a quicker sale, it’s a significant investment. Alternatively, offering a credit to the buyer for the replacement cost might be a more feasible option. Consulting with a real estate professional can help gauge local market reactions to polybutylene piping and determine the best course of action.

Understanding the financial considerations of a re-pipe project is crucial for homeowners to budget effectively. Here is a breakdown of costs:

  • Labor: This is typically the largest cost component. Rates vary by location, scope of work, and the contractor’s experience.
  • Materials: The choice between PEX, CPVC, or copper affects the cost significantly. PEX is generally the least expensive and easiest to install, whereas copper is on the higher end both in material and labor costs due to the skill required for installation.
  • Accessibility: If pipes are behind walls or under slabs, the cost to access them (including cutting into drywall or concrete and repairing those surfaces afterward) can increase the total expense.
  • Home Size and Layout: Larger homes or those with complex plumbing systems will incur higher costs due to more materials and labor hours.
  • Permits: Depending on your locality, you may need permits to replace plumbing, adding to the project cost.
  • Potential Hidden Expenses:.  After replacing the pipes, repairing drywall, painting, and fixing any damage caused during the replacement can add unforeseen costs.  Building codes may have changed as well since your home was built. Meeting current standards might require additional work, such as installing new shut-off valves or upgrading fixtures.

Another unwelcome surprise might come once walls are opened.  You may find other issues needing attention, like mold, asbestos, or outdated electrical wiring, which can extend the budget.

Your Guide to Budgeting for a Polybutylene Re-pipe Project

By thoroughly understanding and planning for the costs associated with replacing polybutylene pipes, homeowners can make informed decisions and budget effectively for this significant home improvement.

  • Get Multiple Quotes: Consult with several plumbing contractors to get a range of estimates. This will give you a better idea of the expected costs and allow you to budget more accurately.
  • Plan for Extras: Set aside an additional 10-20% of the estimated cost to cover unexpected expenses that arise during the project.
  • Assess Value: Weigh the cost of replacement against the increased home value and peace of mind. In many cases, the investment can be justified by the avoidance of potential water damage and by making your home more marketable in the future.
  • Consider Financing Options: If out-of-pocket payment is not feasible, explore financing options.

Outer Banks Polybutylene Pipe Inspections

Are you concerned that your vacation home or rental could have polybutylene pipes? Are you unable to conduct a DIY inspection on your own? 

Call Action Plumbing today. We determine what kind of pipes you have and help you with all of your plumbing needs. 

Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a visit.

For additional information visit: or call us (252) 441-9992 to schedule a site visit.