Polybutylene Pipes

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was used extensively in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were viewed as “the pipe of the future” and were used as a substitute for traditional copper piping. It is most commonly found in the “Sun Belt” where residential construction was heavy through the 1980’s and early-to-mid 90’s, but it is also very common in the Mid Atlantic and Northwest Pacific states. Florida was the predominate State where it was used widely.

The piping systems were used for underground water mains and as interior water distribution piping. Industry experts believe it was installed in at least 6 million homes, and some experts indicate it may have been used in as many as 10 million homes. Most probably, the piping was installed in about one in every four or five homes built during the years in which the pipe was manufactured.

Will the Pipes Fail?
While scientific evidence is scarce, it is believed that oxidants in the public water supplies, such as chlorine, react with the polybutylene piping and acetal fittings causing them to scale and flake and become brittle. Micro-fractures result, and the basic structural integrity of the system is reduced. Thus, the system becomes weak and may fail without warning causing damage to the building structure and personal property. It is believed that other factors may also contribute to the failure of polybutylene systems, such as improper installation, but it is virtually impossible to detect installation problems throughout an entire system.

Throughout the 1980’s lawsuits were filed complaining of allegedly defective manufacturing and defective installation causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Although the manufacturers have never admitted that poly is defective, they have agreed to fund the Class Action settlement with an initial and minimum amount of $950 million. You’ll have to contact the appropriate settlement claim company to find out if you qualify under this settlement.

“A series of reports have suggested that increased use of choloramines accelerates corrosion and degradation of some metals and elastomers common to distribution plumbing and appurtenances.

With regard to elastomers, the study showed that with few exceptions, solutions of chloramines (either monochloramine or dichloramine) produced greater material swelling, deeper and more dense surface cracking, a more rapid loss of elasticity, and greater loss of tensile strength than equivalent concentrations of free chlorine.”
—-Steven Reiber, HDR Engineering, American Water Works Association Research Foundation

In summary Insurance Companies throughout the US have taken huge hits on this piping. Many associations condo, cooperatives and others have engaged in the practice of voting in special assessments for the replacement of this piping.

The key issue here is that there is no predictability to when, where or why the pipe fails. The aging process and the minerals and chlorines and acids that are out into the public water supply are likely the main contributors.

The early Greeks and Romans use clay pipes for water supplies that are literally still in tact but in those days pressure was supplied by gravity and there was no significant internal plumbing. Many excavations in NYC have found water supplies in wooden pipes that have lasted over a century and a half. Obviously these historic applications were not as sanitary and prone to sweating and slow leaks but were highly effective underground.

Bottom line is it is what it is and like any aging process it need replacement.

John Varsames
President, Certified General Contractor #1515995
Gulfshore Remodeling & Design, LLC.