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Polybutylene Pipe - What's the Big Deal?

Lynes Home Inspections - Thursday, June 07, 2012

Polybutylene plumbing supply pipe - the “wonder product of the 1980’s” has left many homeowners, home buyers and Realtors scratching their heads and in some cases, emptying their wallets. Is there such a thing as good Poly and bad Poly? The answer is both yes and no...

Polybutylene was one of those wonder products that were going to make our lives better; unfortunately it didn't work out that way. Used in this market between 1983 and 1997, Polybutylene plumbing pipe has a number of problems; in the earlier years of use - between 1982 3 and 1988 - plastic fittings were used to connect the sections of pipe together. These fittings were very brittle and failed dramatically. The later use of copper fittings after 1988 reduced the rate of system failure just as dramatically however, by then it was already too late. When the dust had settled on the law suits resulting from system failures, culminating in a class action suit against Shell Oil, the manufacturer of the polymer from which several manufacturers made the pipe, the writing was on the wall and the fate of Polybutylene was sealed.

So here’s the short answer on the good or bad Polybutylene question; houses plumbed with Polybutylene  using plastic fittings – BAD – total plumbing system replacement is the only acceptable resolution. Polybutylene plumbing systems where copper fittings were used is significantly more reliable however be aware – the class action suit lost by Shell centered on the polymer’s reaction to oxidants such as chlorine which is used in the local municipal water system therefore, at some point the Polybutylene pipe will likely break down from the inside and fail. When? Anyone’s guess.

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