What is a Polybutylene Repipe?
The presence of Polybutylene pipe can severely affect a home’s value on the real estate market
WHAT IS POLYBUTYLENE
Polybutylene is a plastic resin used to make water pipes. Polybutylene Pipe, (a Polymer) was manufactured for installation in the United States from the late 1978 to 1995. Polybutylene was the next big wonder product; cheap to produce, easy to install and no maintenance. It became a popular substitute for traditional copper tubing. It was used for the piping of both hot and cold potable water. It is estimated that Polybutylene pipe was installed in over 6 million homes; experts believe it could have been installed in as many as 10 million homes. Polybutylene Plumbing Systems were used for home interiors, underground water mains, in mobile homes, apartment buildings and commercial structures. It is typically gray in color when used in the interior of a home. Exterior Polybutylene underground water mains were typically blue, but could also be black or gray. While there were several fittings (joints) made specifically for Polybutlene, the most common were insert fittings that went inside of the pipe and were held on by means of a metal band that was crimped onto the Polybutylene. The insert fittings were either Acetal, (plastic), or metal, (usually copper), and the crimp bands could either have been copper, or aluminum. The most common sized for Polybutylene pipe are 3/8”, 1/2”, 3/4”, and 1” tubing.
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL
There are two fundamental flaws with the Polybutylene. First, Chlorine and other oxidants are leached into the pipes, which will react with the Polybutylene piping causing them to become brittle. As the pipes become brittle, micro-fractures result reducing the structural integrity of the pipe. The process of leaching chlorine and other oxidants from the water can be sped up by many circumstances,such as the pipes having been kinked, or even that it simply was left outside in a supply yard exposed to the Ultra-violet rays of the Sun while waiting to be delivered to job sites.
Second, some pipes simply were installed incorrectly, usually involving insert fittings that were used to secure the pipe by means of a crimp band that pinches the pipe. If the tool used to crimp the band was not properly calibrated on a regular basis, the band could have been too tight causing the pipe to be stressed or the band could have been too loose, causing the pipe to become disconnected from the fitting. Whichever the case, if the pipe system becomes weakened, it can fail without any warning causing damages to building structures and/or personal property.
You can’t tell what condition the pipe is in by looking at it, as all deterioration will occur on the inside of the pipe. One thing is for sure, a leak is a symptom of a system wide failure. When the pipes have deteriorated to the point where they are about to spring a leak, conditions such as high pressure or a shock to the system such as shutting off the water and turning it back on can be the last straw. The damages can be obvious and occur in varying scopes from little leaks that are caught quickly with minor, if any, actual damage, all the way up to catastrophic floods. The hidden damages can be even more menacing and can lead to infestations of toxic Black Mold, especially behind sheetrock walls where airflow is non-existent.
Whatever the circumstance, the problem with Polybutylene is so pervasive that one of the largest class settlements in U.S. history was handed down against the makers of Polybutylene. Unfortunately, many structures either did not qualify for class action status, or the allowed time limits of coverage have expired.
The presence of Polybutylene pipe can severely affect a home’s value on the real estate market. When a home containing a Polybutylene Plumbing system is placed on the market, it is the law that it must be disclosed that the home has the defective material and buyers will often discount the price. Even if the Polybutylene has not yet shown any leaks, it is known that Polybutylene piping will leak eventually.
MY POLYBUTYLENE LEAKS
The main valve should be shut off if your system develops a leak until a temporary repair can be made. When a Polybutylene water main breaks under the house, that line needs to be abandoned and by-passed. Small leaks can be the most problematic because much of the damage is done before leak symptoms are visible. Polybutylene pipe can take up to 10-15 years to begin to show signs of failure. Any repair to the piping is strictly temporary.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION
If you have Polybutylene pipes in your home, it is a matter of when, not if you will have leaks. The only real solution to the Polybutylene problem is to completely repipe the Potable water system in yourhome. Unlike some home maintenance issues, delaying Polybutylene replacement may have devastating consequences. While pipe replacement is a “hidden” investment, it will increase the value of your home.
THE POLYBUTYLENE CLASS ACTION
One of the largest suits in U.S. history was the Cox vs. Shell, et al. settlement in 1995. When all was said and done, the settlement was well over 1 Billion dollars. (Manufacturers of Polybutylene have never admitted that Polybutylene is defective). The Polybutylene Class Action lawsuit applied to homes with polybutylene installed between January 1, 1978 and July 31, 1995. As of May 1, 2009, the lawsuit, Shell v. Cox, managed by the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center, ( www.pbpipe.com ), has shut down. No more claims can be filed.
For more information visit: http://polybutylenerepipe.com and for Atlanta area click on http://www.deltamechanical.com/polybutylene/atlanta/