There are many different types of pipes used in American homes for plumbing purposes. Plastic, copper, lead pipes, and polybutylene are just a few. While there’s not necessarily a favorite type, the United States plumbing industry once viewed polybutylene pipe as a revolutionary “pipe of the future.”
With low material costs and an easy installation, this “poly piping” became hugely popular from the mid-70s through the mid-90s. It was installed in millions of homes, cheaply and efficiently. It was easily the growing favorite.
So what’s changed?Since the pipe’s reign of popularity, experts have found polybutylene plumbing pipe to be highly defective. This is incredibly unfortunate since the piping can still be found in so many American homes, even when the homeowner is unaware. If you’re a homeowner and you have polybutylene plumbing, you may want to consider calling in an expert to see about replacing it!
Why Are Polybutylene Pipes Bad?
Polybutylene pipes have an unusually high rate of failure under even normal operating conditions. This means they degenerate quickly even when there is no plumbing issue present. Experts link exposure to chlorine water with polybutylene plumbing failure, but homes and businesses with personal water supplies, such as well water, have also reported a high amount of polybutylene plumbing issues.
In North America, polybutylene plumbing is deemed unacceptable by experts due to its substantial history of failure over only a few decades of use.
Most plumbing problems occur when pipes are fitted improperly. Major plumbing issues occur when the pipe itself is worn away. Experts find that poly pipe tends to wear away after contact with oxidants in water, something that obviously happens a lot in plumbing pipes as water continually runs through them. This can make it hard to tell if a polybutylene pipe is in good working condition from a simple external examination since the damage is all internal. The damage is only visible once a leak occurs.
A polybutylene pipe leak should be taken extremely seriously due to the high amount of deterioration that must have taken place for a leak to begin. Poly pipe leaks are unpredictable and there are no signs to warn of coming leakage, but once a leak begins, it’s certain the pipes have substantially deteriorated.
How Can I Tell If My Home Uses Polybutylene Piping?
If you’re not a plumbing expert, then it’s likely you don’t know how to recognize polybutylene piping. Here are some of the easiest ways to recognize polybutylene:
- Check your pipe color. Blue, silvery gray, and black pipes that were ½ inch to 1 inch in diameter were most common for polybutylene, so if you see this in your plumbing, they are most likely poly pipe. Blue ones were typically used outdoors for cold water while silver-gray and black were interchangeable.
- Check for copper connectors. If you don’t see any blue piping, then look for copper connectors since polybutylene piping often has a copper compression ring.
- Check for an identification stamp. See if any of your pipes have identifiable stamping on them. Most polybutylene pipes were stamped with the letters “PB” with a subsequent set of numbers.
- Check your water usage. It’s possible for polybutylene piping to be hidden in the ground where you cannot see it. If this is the case, you will want to monitor your water usage, checking for unusually high water bills, a constantly-running sump pump, or even wet sections of your yard that never dry. These are all signs that you might have polybutylene piping deteriorating underground.
- Do some research. Look into what areas most commonly used polybutylene piping and see if your home is in one of those areas and find out if your home was built between 1975 and 1995. If either of these are the case, it’s highly likely that your home has polybutylene plumbing.
Why Should I Replace Polybutylene Piping?
Polybutylene pipes can take upwards of 10 years to fully deteriorate and leak. However, when the time has passed and they’ve deteriorated, they can cause severe damage to your home. Cracks in your foundation, leaks and mold in carpets, damage to furniture, walls, and even your HVAC unit are all possible expenses of polybutylene pipe issues.
If a leak occurs unnoticed, it can easily develop into mold and mildew growing in your walls, under your carpets, or even in your air duct system, which presents serious health risks.
Remember that these pipes wear away from the inside out, meaning it’s difficult or impossible to know the extent of the polybutylene pipe issue without removing them. If you suspect your home might have polybutylene pipe issues, call in an expert to get a professional assessment of your system and determine if the safest decision is to replace them.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace Polybutylene Piping?
Polybutylene pipe replacement is not a cheap project. The cost to replace polybutylene plumbing can vary anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000, or possibly even more. The price varies depending on how many pipes need replacement, where they are located, how many bathrooms you have, if you want a full or only visible pipe replacement, etc.
While that is certainly an investment, you must keep in mind that damages from polybutylene pipe leaks are also expensive. The cost to replace polybutylene plumbing is often comparable or less than what it would cost to recover from damages caused by a leak, not to mention that the presence of polybutylene piping can negatively impact your home’s value.
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