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What is Polybutylene (PB) piping and what are the problems with it?

The Home Inspector has only found Polybutylene piping twice. In one case the PB was in a house that hade already experienced some breaks and leaks. Some of the Polybutylene pipes had been replaced but others were still in place. In some parts of the country PB piping was more popular. What are some problems associated with polybutylene (PB) piping?

Polybutylene piping in a crawlspace.
Polybutylene piping. "PB " is clearly printed on the pipe.

Nationally Polybutylene (PB) piping was once a popular choice for residential plumbing systems due to its low cost, flexibility, and ease of installation. However, PB piping has been associated with several significant issues, which have led to its widespread disuse and replacement in many cases. Some of the main issues with polybutylene piping include:

  1. Susceptibility to Leaks and Breaks: Polybutylene pipes are prone to developing leaks and breaks over time. This is often attributed to degradation of the pipe material, which can occur due to exposure to oxidants in water, chlorine disinfectants, and high temperatures.

  2. Premature Degradation and Failure: PB piping has been known to degrade prematurely, sometimes within just a few years of installation. The degradation can lead to cracks, fractures, and brittle piping, resulting in leaks and water damage.

  3. Class Action Lawsuits: In the 1990s, numerous class-action lawsuits were filed against manufacturers of polybutylene piping due to the widespread failures and damages associated with this type of plumbing system. Many homeowners incurred significant repair costs and property damage as a result of leaks and failures in PB piping systems.

  4. Incompatibility with Chlorine: Polybutylene is sensitive to chlorine and other oxidants commonly found in municipal water supplies. Exposure to these chemicals can accelerate the degradation process, leading to an increased risk of leaks and failures in PB piping systems.

  5. Insurance and Real Estate Issues: Homes with polybutylene plumbing systems may encounter difficulties obtaining homeowners insurance, and the presence of PB piping can be a red flag for homebuyers during real estate transactions.

Due to these issues and the high risk of failure associated with polybutylene piping, many homeowners and plumbing professionals recommend replacing PB piping with more durable and reliable materials, such as PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) or copper. Replacing PB piping can help prevent costly water damage and ensure the long-term integrity of a home's plumbing system. If you suspect that your home may have polybutylene piping, it's advisable to consult with a qualified plumber to assess the situation and explore options for replacement or remediation.


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