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The Problem with Polybutylene

What Is Polybutylene?

From 1978 – 1995 polybutylene pipes, also known as “Quest pipes”, were manufactured and touted as the “pipe of the future”.  They were inexpensive, flexible, very easy to install, and resistant to freezing compared to standard copper pipes.  While in production, these pipes were installed in over 10 million homes in the United States.

Initially, reports of leaks at joints and fittings were reported and it was assumed these were due to improper connections made by the installing plumbers.  Over time, the pipes began to rupture and leak anywhere along the pipe.  Eventually class action lawsuits were filed, the two most notable were Cox v. Shell Oil and Spencer v. DuPont.  The total settlement from these lawsuits was around one billion dollars after hundreds of millions of dollars of damage was done to homes throughout the US.

It was found that these pipes deteriorate over time due primarily due to oxidants in the water, especially chlorine and other disinfectants typically found in public water supplies.  However, there are also many, many reports of failure in homes with private well water.  The greatest concern with the failure of polybutylene pipes is there is no warning when failure will occur.  These pipes begin to flake off and deteriorate from the inside out, there is no sign on the outside of the pipe when a rupture is about to occur.  These leaks can be quite large and have the potential to cause significant damage to your home.

Should You Be Concerned?

Polybutylene pipes were banned in the state of Virginia in the mid-1990’s, but are still found in homes built before the ban.  If you have these pipes in your home, we always recommend replacing those pipes as soon as possible.  Most of these pipes seemed to fail right around 12-15 years after installation, but it might take many more years for a leak to occur.  Assume polybutylene pipes are a ticking time bomb for water leaks.

It is also important to note that many homeowner’s insurance companies will not cover damages caused by leaks from polybutylene pipes.  With a significant leak from a burst pipe there can be tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home and your belongings, which insurance may not cover.

What To Look For:

If your home was built before the mid-1990’s, it is a good idea to check what kind of water line piping you have in your home.  Polybutylene pipe is typically grey in color, but might also be found in other colors.  To be certain the pipe is polybutylene, what you are looking for is a stamp printed on the pipe that says “PB2110”.

If suspect you have polybutylene pipes in your home that you think might need replaced, or if you have any water line leak, give Trident Plumbing a call at 540-642-0023!

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