Polybutylene Awareness

There are several different types of pipes that are used in your home. Do you know what you have?

Some piping that is used in homes are plastic, copper, galvanized, Polybutylene, cpvc, PVC, polyethylene, etc……

But in this article we are going to talk about one specific pipe and some of the problems with this pipe.

That pipe is Polybutylene piping, better known as “POLY” pipe. If you’re asking yourself, “What is Polybutylene?”, you maybe worried that your home or business was built with them. If your building was built between the late 1970′s and mid 1990′s, polybutylene pipes may have been and may still be there. If you had a home or business plumbed by Jordan & Sons Plumbing you don’t need to worry because we never used this pipe, nor fittings.

So, you may be asking what’s wrong with polybutylene pipes? To put it simply, they have an unusually high rate of failure under normal operating conditions. Deterioration linked to chlorine water additives has been linked to the failures. However, customers on private water supplies such as well water have also reported many problems.

So what does Polybutylene look like?

Polybutylene pipe is grey, black or blue. Inside a home or business 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.

What makes Poly so Bad?

Although some poly piping problems come from improper installation, most complaints are with the integrity of the piping itself. Polybutylene pipe is known to deteriorate due to contact with oxidants normally found in public water supplies. The failure can occur in the plastic fittings or in the pipe itself. A main concern regarding poly pipe is that, since the oxidants are carried in the water, the pipe deteriorates from the inside. Making it very difficult to determine if the pipe is truly in good condition from just an outside inspection. Most plumbing inspectors cannot give a reliable assessment on the condition of poly piping unless there is a visible problem with the exterior of the pipe or its installation. In addition, when a leak occurs, it may be extremely severe because the deterioration occurs from within.

Poly pipe leaks are unpredictable and there are no symptoms to warn of an impending leak. Some factors that affect polybutylene piping adversely can include:

  • Poor installation by contractors
  • Water quality (however in some cases this did not matter)
  • Age of the pipe and fittings
  • Tools used for installation were calibrated for proper tolerances.
  • Chlorine and mineral levels
  • Deterioration of fittings (both metal and plastic)

When polybutylene pipe reacts with the oxidants in normal tap water, it becomes brittle, sometimes scaling or flaking. This results in a fracturing of the interior surface of the pipe, which allows for more deterioration. Eventually the pipe will begin to leak, causing damage throughout a home. Poly pipe with plastic fittings or with metal fittings will eventually incur damage; poly piping is not a reliable piping 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.

What could happen if Poly is left in the home?

Damage from polybutylene pipe leaks can be expensive. Insurance companies sometimes cancel or refuse policies for homes with known poly piping problems, and it is difficult to market a home that has such an unreliable plumbing system.

The presence of polybutylene pipe can also severely affect a home’s value on the real estate market. Poly pipe generally takes 10-15 years to begin to show signs of severe deterioration; therefore it is important to know what problems can be caused by its presence, and what can be done about it before it does pose a risk.

What about cost?

Well let’s look at a few things that effect cost.

  • Multiple floor homes will of cost cost more due to the amount of area that will need to be covered.
  • Accessibility of the existing lines.
  • Ability to reroute the new lines to each fixture.

However, none of these will be as costly as a pipe, fitting, or valve that has failed and leaked causing damage in the home. We have seen some cases where a ruptured line has caused 30-50 thousand dollars with of damage. If you think you have Poly pipe in the home isn’t it time you have it inspected to prevent such a cost?

Call anyone of our offices to get a Polybutylene expert out for a inspection.

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