Polybutylene is a type of supply plumbing pipe used extensively from 1978 to the mid-90’s. It was “the pipe of the future” because it was inexpensive and easy to install. However, problems began to arise when polybutylene pipes began to fail. The pipe’s failure could be from improper storage of material prior to installation, poor installation practices, lack of support, chemicals in water supply (i.e. chlorine), and/or exposure to excessive temperatures.
The Class Action Lawsuit
A class action lawsuit was filed in 1993. The manufacturers paid out nearly $1Billion dollars to property owners that had a leak in their polybutylene that was installed between January, 1978 and July, 1995. There was a window of opportunity for claiming part of the settlement if certain criteria were met. Claims should have been filed before 1997.
The Limitations of an Visual Inspection
A home inspector can only look at the surface of a supply plumbing system. If improper storage or installation occurred or if the water source has high chemicals it could be deteriorating from inside. If the buyer has any concerns it may be prudent to have a trustworthy plumber further evaluate the plumbing system to help bring peace of mind.
Key Questions about Polybutylene
- Will my insurance company cover polybutylene or problems that may arise with it?
- Some insurance companies do not cover homes with polybutylene pipe. Some companies may exclude the pipe from their
- policy. It is important to know if your insurance company will cover this system.
- Are there repairs indicating possible previous failure?
- If the pipes show signs of repair without replacement of other polybutylene in the system this could be a possible red flag. A home inspection is only a visual inspection of the exterior of the pipe. Failure of these pipes may begin from inside the pipe and work towards the exterior. If previous repairs appear to be present confer with the seller for more information. If the seller is not aware of the reason for the previous repair the buyer may desire to consult a plumber for further evaluation.
- Are there signs of leaking on ceilings and walls within the home?
- A leak can come from a variety of sources (roof, waste line, faucet connection, etc.). When a home with polybutylene pipe shows signs of past or present leaking it is important to know the source. Polybutylene pipe could deteriorate inside a wall without the property owner being aware until it reveals itself in walls or ceilings. The buyer should confer with the seller to learn more about the origin of the leak and how it was mitigated. If a seller can not satisfactorily explain the source of the leaking it may require further exploration.