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Replacing "Big Blue": Polybutylene Pipe Replacement

plumbing repair Alexandria va

Polybutylene was once thought to be the U.S. plumbing industry’s revolutionary “pipe of the future” due to its low material cost and installation ease. This specific form of plastic was implemented in high volume for plumbing pipes and fixtures from the mid 70’s through the mid 90’s. In fact, polybutylene plumbing pipe systems were installed in millions of homes before they were discovered to be highly defective.

Unfortunately, though, there are no laws that state a home seller is required to disclose the presence of polybutylene pipes. The responsibility instead falls on the potential buyer to perform due diligence on the home’s plumbing. That means you may have a defective system and not even know it.

So, how do you know if you have polybutylene pipes? What should you do if you suspect you have them? How do you know when it’s time to call in plumbers in Alexandria? To help you understand your situation, we broke down what you need to know about polybutylene pipes in your plumbing system.

Here’s why polybutylene pipes are bad.

You can find the problem with polybutylene pipes in their high rate of failure in standard operating conditions. The experts link pipe deterioration to chlorine additives added to the water to sanitize, but issues have been reported by customers with private water supplies as well. In North America, polybutylene has become unacceptable due to its history of failure over its decades of use.


Typically, you will see a surge in plumbing pipe replacement when the seasons change. The change in temperature causes “Big Blue” (a nickname Americans gave it due to its blue color) to expand or contract, further aggravating its weakness and potentially causing damage to the exterior or interior of your home.


Plumbers used polybutylene pipe in many significant areas throughout the country, including the Washington DC metropolitan area. It’s not a matter of if this style of piping will fail, but rather when. Therefore, it’s crucial that you perform polybutylene pipe replacement before a break or burst (since it usually costs less to repair or replace if it hasn’t broken).

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Does my home use polybutylene piping?

If you don’t know how to detect polybutylene piping, you’re not alone. Here‘s what plumbers in Alexandria say you can check:

  • Your home’s exterior. Typically, polybutylene underground water mains are blue -- but they can also be gray. If you have visible blue or gray plastic pipes (about 1/2" or 1" in diameter), you most likely have polybutylene piping. To check for visible pipes, look where the water service enters your home at your basement floor, crawl space or near your water heater. 
  • Inside your home. Similar to your home’s exterior, you can look for these blue/gray pipes inside your home. To see if your home uses this piping, look by the water heater, in unfinished basements or coming out of the walls to meet sinks and toilets. 


  • Copper connectors. If you can’t see blue piping -- you should still be wary of these pipes that have copper. Polybutylene connectors are barbed with a crimp or compression ring, and manufacturers can make it out of copper or plastic. 
  • Monitor your water usage. In many cases, you may find that the ground hides the polybutylene and you cannot see it. There are the other ways you can tell if your home has polybutylene piping. If you have an unusually high water bill, your sump pump is constantly running or you have a wet yard that refuses to dry, you may have polybutylene piping.    
  • Do your research. Take a look at your home’s records -- if it was built between 1975 and 1995, there is a good chance it has polybutylene pipes. It’s also a smart idea to ask around if your neighbors have it, since it wasn’t uncommon for developments to use the same plumbing methods.


Here’s why you should replace polybutylene pipes

Even though polybutylene pipes can take 10 to 15 years to deteriorate, they can cause severe damage when they eventually do. If a break occurs in the foundation wall, or near it, you could have water damage which could include personal property damage like your carpets, furniture, walls and even AC and heating equipment.  There is also a risk of mold developing in your walls or under your carpet which can get into your duct system and spread throughout your home causing health risks.


Since these pipes break down from the inside out, it’s hard to assess the extent of the damage. If you suspect your home has polybutylene pipes, it’s best to call in the Alexandria plumbers. A licensed professional can access the internal system to determine the material and age, enabling you to make the right decision to replace the polybutylene pipes in your home.

Say goodbye to Big Blue.

Don't risk your family's health for another day. It's time to say goodbye to Big Blue. If you're unlucky enough to need plumbing pipe replacement, talk to the team at John C. Flood — our Alexandria plumbers can get out and service your Northern Virginia home. We want you to be safe. Call us at (703) 783-0247 or schedule service online now.