Polybutylene Water Piping Found During Home Inspection
When asked about the probability of polybutylene water pipes leaking, Steve Stenros of First Choice Inspections says, "It's not IF it is going to leak, it's WHEN! If your home was built between the late 1970's to mid-1990's, you may have polybutylene in your home."
Polybutylene is a plastic resin that was used in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. It was inexpensive and easy to install. It was widely believed that polybutylene was going to be a great substitute for traditional copper piping. It is most commonly found in the Southwest where residential construction was booming through the 1980's and early-to-mid 90's, but it can also be found in the Mid Atlantic and Northwest Pacific states. Polybutylene piping was used for both underground water mains and as interior water piping. Estimates say it was installed in 6 - 10 million homes.
Many lawsuits were filed against the polybutylene manufacturers in the 1980's when hundreds of millions of dollars in damages occurred due to leaks in the polybutylene piping systems. Chlorine and other oxidants in the public water supplies reacted with the polybutylene piping and acetal fittings causing them to become weak and fail without warning. Catastrophic water damage occurred to building structures and personal property.
The manufacturers never admitted that poly was defective, but they agreed to fund a Class Action settlement with an initial and minimum amount of $950 million. Free re-pipes were available through the settlement fund until May of 2009 when it expired. A common misconception is that if a home has polybutylene piping and it has not leaked yet, then it never will. That is not true! The longer poly piping is in use, the more likely it is to fail.
Polybutylene piping is usually gray in color and may be visible at the water heater or in the attic area. Plumbers installing polybutylene often used copper "stub-outs" through the walls, so if you see copper piping under your sinks or toilets it does not mean you don't have poly piping in your home.
If polybutylene water piping is found during a home inspection, there are many companies that specialize in residential re-piping. A complete copper re-pipe of an average-size home here in southern California can cost between $6000 - $10,000. Steve Stenros is a CREIA inspector with the MCI designation (Master CREIA Inspector). He provides quality home inspections throughout San Diego, Orange, and Riverside Counties. Steve can be reached for appointment at 888-335-3040. Clients of First Choice Inspections receive a FREE lifetime appliance RecallChek with every standard home inspection.