Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your house

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your houseMost people don’t think about their plumbing until they have a plumbing problem. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, you have a plumbing problem! Polybutylene pipe (PB) is a plastic plumbing product that was commonly used between the early 1970’s and the mid-1990’s. PB was an attractive plumbing option because it was resistant to freezing. It could be used for either interior or exterior applications. It was flexible, and it was inexpensive.

The problem with PB plumbing is that the plastic deteriorates over time. Every material deteriorates over time, but PB plumbing breaks down much faster than it was supposed to. Materials engineers also discovered that the pipe deteriorated randomly when it came into contact with some water treatments. Over time, small fractures caused by water additives can grow. Eventually, these fractures compromise the pipe. That leaves homeowners with PB plumbing vulnerable to sudden bursts, leaks and the resulting damage.

You might think that PB plumbing sounds ripe for a lawsuit. And it was. Lawyers in Tennessee filed Cox v. Shell Oil Co., in 1995. In that class action case, the courts awarded a settlement of $950 million, which allowed affected homeowners to replace their PB plumbing with something else. Homeowners who had PB plumbing installed between 1978 and 1995 were eligible to collect.

So far, so good – except that many homeowners with affected plumbing did not file claims under Cox. To complicate matters, new home buyers may have purchased homes with PB plumbing, not knowing that their properties contained faulty plumbing. Home inspectors may not have recognized PB plumbing for what it was, but insurance companies did not make that mistake. In other words, insurance companies will not pay to replace PB plumbing today because it is known to be defective.

Homeowners currently pay for polybutylene plumbing replacement

This “perfect storm” left unsuspecting homeowners with PB plumbing on the hook for major plumbing repairs, simply because they did not know that their homes had faulty plumbing, or that any potential claims they – or a previous owner – could have filed under Cox were already barred.

In late 2017, lawyers in Arkansas filed a second lawsuit on behalf of homeowners who had PB plumbing, but had been excluded for one reason or another from filing a claim under the Coxsettlement. Unfortunately, the court threw out that suit in such a way that it cannot be resurrected. In short, homeowners who still have PB plumbing in their homes are on the hook for the repairs.

So, how do you know that you have PB pipe? PB pipe is a plastic gray, blue, white, silver or black pipe. It’s stamped with “PB2110” and it was available in sizes between ½” and 1″. It is not rigid, like conventional copper, galvanized steel or even PVC piping. You might see copper or other metallic fittings on the ends or near joints in the pipe. PB pipes were used only on the “clean” side of a plumbing system, so they would be attached to the meter, sinks, showers, exterior hoses, pool plumbing and laundry equipment. It wasn’t used on the “dirty” side of a plumbing system, so you will not find it attached to drains or toilets. It was also not used on vent stacks.

Should you opt for polybutylene plumbing replacement?

You may have purchased a home with PB pipe unknowingly. No laws require home inspectors to identify PB plumbing, and there’s no good way to test the integrity of the pipe. If you have PB plumbing in your home, getting it replaced is a good way to protect yourself from unexpected water damage that won’t be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. The cost of replacing your plumbing won’t be cheap, but it will cost less than repairing the damage from an unexpected plumbing leak out-of-pocket.

If you think (or know) you have PB pipe in your home and would like an estimate on replacement costs, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy recommend high quality replacement options.

Photo Credit: ilovebutter, via Flickr