Polybutylene is a gray plastic water supply line pipe that was developed in the 1970’s and promoted as “the pipe of the future.” At the time, the perceived advantages of poly were the low cost over copper and the ease of installation. But in the 1980’s structures with poly started reporting leaks. And when poly pipes were replaced, it was noticed that the interior walls of the pipes and fittings were breaking down and flaking apart.
Polybutylene Pipe - The Pipe of the Future?
It’s in up to 10 Million Properties Nationwide.
From 1978 to 1995, up to ten million homes, mobile homes, apartment buildings and commercial structures were built with poly or had poly installed during remodeling. It’s commonly found in properties in the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Pacific Northwest.
“Not every PB system leaks, but the material is susceptible to corrosion when it comes into contact with chlorinated water, resulting in breakage and splitting of PB piping.”
Martin Schneider, The Baltimore Sun
The Problem with Poly.
Poly systems may fail without warning, damaging properties and personal belongings, and disrupting lives. Factors that may contribute to poly’s failure include: chemicals in our water supply, such as chlorine, that slowly destroy the structural integrity of poly pipes and fittings; the age of the pipe – the older the pipe, the more likely a problem will occur; and faulty installation.
Your Underground Water Main
Underground poly pipes can be blue, black or gray. They are found entering properties through the basement wall or floor, concrete slab, or coming up through a crawlspace. They most often enter properties near the water heater. Your main shutoff valve is attached to the end of the outside water main.
So You Have Poly Pipes. Now What?
Even if you know you have poly pipes, you still can’t tell what condition they’re in just by looking at or squeezing them because the problems occur on the inside of the pipes. Failures may occur in systems with plastic fittings, metal fittings, and manifold-type systems that look fine even to the trained eye.
You must prioritize your home maintenance requirements and budget accordingly. Unlike most other maintenance issues, delayed replacement of poly may have substantial consequences. Due to the many documented cases of leaks, plumbing experts recommend replacing poly pipes.
You should also be aware that you may face higher insurance premiums, limited coverage, or may even be denied coverage. In addition, homes with poly often take longer to sell, and sell for less.
Replacement of Poly Pipes.
Although replacement can be done at anytime, it’s easier and less expensive if you replace it while the house is vacant. You may even be able to roll the cost into your mortgage.
Replacement entails abandoning all poly pipes and installing a new system. You should look for a company that specializes in poly replacement, not just plumbing in general. A suitable company will offer a turnkey job and the entire process including drywall and paint repair should take about five days. But most importantly, you need to confirm that the company is licensed properly.
For example, in South Carolina, plumbers have a contractor’s license that says plumbing is their specialty. But, unless a company also has a listed specialty in building or home improvement, they cannot legally provide a turnkey job – they cannot repair the drywall and paint. You should always call the licensing authority in your state to confirm that a company offering repair services is properly licensed. Any legitimate contractor will be happy to provide you with contact information for the applicable state licensing board.