What is Polybutylene Pipe and Is Polybutylene Pipe Bad?


Answers to Your Questions from Your Friends at Liberty Plumbing

Polybutylene (PB) pipes were used extensively in home construction from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. PB piping was heavily marketed and extensively used during that time period as a low-cost, easy-to-install option for plumbing systems in new home construction.

Because it is flexible, plumbers could easily install PB piping, and for good measure, it was considerably cheaper than copper piping. At the time, its promoters claimed it would last as long as copper. Some even said it would last a lifetime, but those claims proved to be colossally wrong. So wrong, in fact, that some have called PB piping “the danger lurking behind your walls.”

The Problems with Polybutylene Pipe

So, what’s wrong, is polybutylene bad? The short answer is, yes it is, and there are several things that contribute to the problems associated with it. These could include:

  • Improper installation of the pipe.
  • Rapid deterioration of the pipe caused by chlorine used in municipal water supplies, as well as the widespread use of various household disinfectants that also contribute to deterioration and failure of the pipe.

One of the most unfortunate things about PB pipes is that they tend to deteriorate from the inside out. That means that because there is often no exterior sign of damage, the pipes may have been leaking for a long time, inflicting considerable damage to property, before the leaking was even detected.

Finally, it should be noted that while deterioration in the pipe is frequently associated with the chlorine used in municipal water supplies, some customers who get their water from private sources have also reported problems with polybutylene pipes.

Polybutylene Pipe Lawsuits

There were so many problems associated with the use of polybutylene pipe, that two successful class action lawsuits were filed in the1990s.

One of these was Cox vs. Shell Oil Company, which settled for $950 million and allowed homeowners to get their pipes replaced.

The second, Spencer vs. Shell Oil Company, allocated an additional $120 million to assist affected homeowners.

The time allowed for filing claims under these two class action lawsuits has long since expired, but a third class action suit was filed in Arkansas in November 2017, Hurt vs. Shell Oil Company. Unfortunately for any homeowners still affected by polybutylene pipe problems, that case was dismissed “with prejudice,” a legal term meaning the class action lawsuit cannot be refiled.

How to Identify Polybutylene Pipes

If you live in a home built between the late 70s and the mid-90s, or you’re considering buying a home built during that time period, here are a few ways to identify PB pipes.

  • It’s most often gray, but it can also be white, silver, blue, or black.
  • It tends to be ½ to one inch in diameter.
  • It’s used for water and not waste, drain, or vent piping.
  • It’s often marked with a stamp that reads “PB2110.”
  • It’s non-rigid and sometimes curved.
  • It is not PVC or CPVC, which is a rigid plastic pipe that is white or off-white in color.

Replacement and Your Homeowner’s Insurance

We’re often asked if your homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost of replacing the pipe, and the best answer we can give is, it depends. Honestly, there is a good chance the cost of repairs will not be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, but it never hurts to ask, and we encourage you to do that.

Replacement of Polybutylene Pipes by Liberty Plumbing

If you live in a home or you’re thinking about buying a home with polybutylene pipes, we strongly recommend completely replacing those old pipes. They can burst at any time and without warming, and the resulting damage can be extensive and very expensive to repair.

As a homeowner or company owner needing to replace your PB pipes, it’s logical to ask, how much to replace polybutylene pipes? A fair question, of course, and the cost would depend on a number of factors including:

  • The type of pipe you want to use to replace your polybutylene pipes.
  • How much needs to be replaced.
  • Do you need to replace interior or exterior pipes or both?

At Liberty Plumbing we’re always glad to provide a quote on pipe replacement or any of our other plumbing services. So give us a call today, and we’ll be right over to help you correct any plumbing problems you may be experiencing.