I recently lost a sale on one of my listings because it had polybutylene piping. There were no problems with the pipes in this particular unit, but the buyer was not comfortable buying a home with this type of piping, so she exercised her right to back out of the contract at the time of the home inspection.
Because this happened to me, I thought it would be a good idea to let you know what polybutylene piping is and what you can do if your home has it. When it comes time to sell your home, you don’t want to lose any possible buyers.
If you own your home, chances are you know whether or not it has polybutylene pipes. If you had a home inspection when you bought it, your Home Inspector should have told you if you have them.
For those of you who are not sure what it is or if you have it, the rest of the article will help to describe it, how you can find out if you have it, why you should be concerned, and what you can do about it if your house was built with it.
What is polybutylene pipe?
It’s a non-rigid, plastic resin, sometimes curved, usually gray (or possibly white or black) plastic pipe used in water supply systems from 1978 until 1995. If your house was built during this time, you may have it. Approximately one in every four homes was built with it during this time frame. It is not used for drains, waste or vent piping. It is not PVC or CPVC, which is a rigid white or off white plastic pipe.
Polybutylene is still in use today (sometimes called PEX Pipe), but it’s a different class of pipe that does not demonstrate the same problems the original piping encountered. Some builders prefer to use this type pipe because it’s cheaper and easier to install than the regular copper plumbing.
The problem with the pipe was that it encountered an unusually high rate of failure at the pipe joints where two pieces of pipe were joined together. If you’ve ever had a pipe rupture inside a wall, you know it can do a lot of damage. Especially if it’s on the second or third floor when it ruptures or if nobody is home at the time. There was a $1.073 billion dollar settlement of a class action lawsuit (Cox vs Shell Oil Company) entered in November of 1995. Qualifying homeowners that had pipe failure could make a claim through this lawsuit, but the time frame in which a homeowner could file a claim has since expired. For more information on the lawsuit you can go to www.pbpipe.com.
How to determine if you have polybutylene pipes.
As an example of what it looks like, you can see the picture in this article. Polybutylene used inside your home can be found near the water heater, running across the ceiling in unfinished basements, and coming out of the walls to feed sinks and toilets. Warning: Some builders used copper "stub outs" where the pipe exits a wall to feed a fixture, so seeing copper here does not mean that you do not have polybutylene. If you have looked, but cannot determine whether you have it or not, you can contact a local plumber or Home Inspector to make the determination.
What remedies do you have today?
Since the class action lawsuit has expired, there’s only one real remedy if you have these pipes. Call a couple of local plumbers to get estimates on replacing it with regular copper piping. This can be an expensive process, so it will be up to you whether you want to risk the possible damage or fix the problem and have peace of mind. I will say that just because you have polybutylene pipes, does not mean you will have a problem, but the older it gets, the more likely you are to have a problem.
If you bought a home warranty when you bought your home and it is still in effect, check with the warranty provider. Most warranties will cover (to an extent) damages that occur due to this type piping. Some warranty providers will treat this piping the same as copper piping, but some specifically mention polybutylene piping and what it does or does not cover. To be sure check with your provider.
If you know you have polybutylene piping and are planning on selling your home soon, rather than replacing the entire piping system (costly), you can offer a home warranty to perspective buyers as peace of mind.
Here are some warranty providers:
2-10 Home Buyer’s Warranty