Part One of Three: Polybutylene Piping
We have all heard about Polybutylene piping. But what is it? Why do we always hear about problems with it? And is it still a problem? Polybutylene piping has caused a lot of headaches, but still has come a long ways since it was initially introduced. Let’s take a closer look at it and see what all the fuss is about.
What is it?
Polybutylene piping is a gray or blue non-rigid water supply piping. Production and sale of this piping began in 1977. It was and still is widely used because it is relatively inexpensive and easier to install than traditional copper or even C-PVC water piping. The original joints utilized an acetal resin (an adhesive) with crimp rings to secure the pipes to the metal fitting.
What is the problem?
The problems started surfacing in the early 1980’s in the form of leaks and ruptures of the piping. The majority of these leaks occurred at the pipe joint fittings. The manufacturers of Polybutylene piping concluded that the majority of the leaks were the fault of improper installation. They believe that many plumbers used improper fittings to join the pipes and that the use of semi-skilled laborers has led to improper pipe joint installation. This may have contributed to the problem, but given the amount of problems seen, many feel strongly that there is more to it than shoddy workmanship. One current theory is that chemicals in the public water supply react with the piping and acetal resin in the fittings, weakening the pipes and joints..
What was the result of the problems?
Class action lawsuits against the Polybutylene piping manufacturers began in the 1980’s. The largest lawsuit to date was Cox vs. Shell Oil, in 1995, which resulted in a settlement fund near $1 billion. The manufacturers started a third-party administrator known as the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center to handle the individual settlements. Additionally, the manufacturers sponsor the Plumbing Claims Group, which replaces the plumbing in homes with Polybutylene pipe leaks.
What have the manufacturers done to correct the problems?
There were two major design differences created to correct the problems. First they changed the design of the pipe joint fittings. Now they are joined with a piece of copper tube with the pipe affixed to it by means of a crimped copper ring at each end. Also, the manufacturers changed the plumbing schematics to eliminate the majority of the “T” unions, since most problems occur at the joints. The new method utilizes a central manifold from which all the pipes originate. However, some in the industry are still leery about this product and suggest that these design alterations are not enough to solve the problem.
How does Polybutylene Piping affect the home buying process?
Unfortunately it makes the decision to buy a house that has Polybutylene piping a lot more complicated. It can not be overstated that the condition of a Polybutylene system cannot be determined in the course of a normal home inspection, since virtually all of the system is hidden behind walls. Even if the home has this kind of plumbing there is no single course of action that is yet recommended for consumers with a Polybutylene system. Homebuyers should be aware that problems might occur, and should arm themselves with as much information as possible about the Polybutylene system in the house.
Click here for more information from the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center Web site.
Article published with permission from: U.S. Inspect