The type of material used to manufacture your water lines is a crucial part of your plumbing system. Some types of piping are extremely strong and durable and have a much longer lifespan than other types. One option that used to be quite popular but is no longer used is polybutylene piping. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about polybutylene piping, why it’s no longer used and what to do if you have this type of piping in your home.

What Is Polybutylene Piping?

Polybutylene is a special type of plastic resin that was used to manufacture hot and cold-water pipes. Polybutylene pipes, also commonly referred to as poly pipes, were used in several million American homes that were built between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Poly pipes first started to be used in the US in 1978 and continued to be common up until the US federal government banned their use in new construction projects in 1995. Polywater lines were most used in Florida and other states in the Sun Belt, and some homes in these areas that were built in the early 90s still have poly piping.

At the time, many people touted poly piping as a superior alternative to copper pipes. This is because poly pipes were much less expensive to manufacture and much easier to install, which made them a cost-effective substitute for copper water lines. This led to poly pipes being used in approximately one out of every five homes that were built between the 70s and 90s and also in quite a few commercial buildings.

With copper piping, the joints and elbows in all of the water lines have to be soldered to ensure there are no leaks. This process is quite time-consuming when installing a full plumbing system in a home that is under construction. Poly pipes use basic plastic fittings that are then crimped with a metal ring to prevent leaks, which drastically cuts down on the installation time.

Why Polybutylene Piping Was Banned

The main issue with using polybutylene for water lines is that it corrodes extremely quickly. Most municipal water treatment plants use chlorine or chloramines to treat and sanitize water, and all chloramines react with polybutylene. This leads to the pipes becoming much more brittle and causes chemical residue to begin flaking off into the water.

When exposed to chlorinated water, most poly pipes will fail and begin leaking in 10 to 15 years. Leaking poly piping was responsible for millions of dollars of water damage in the US alone. This led to numerous lawsuits being filed in the 1980s against the companies that manufactured and installed poly pipes. The manufacturers of poly pipes have never openly admitted that their products were defective. However, they did eventually agree to a nearly $1 billion class action settlement to compensate property owners for the damage caused by leaking poly pipes.

How to Know If Your Home Has Polybutylene Pipes

Polybutylene pipes were used for both main water lines and interior water lines. Most poly pipes are blue, but they can also be black or gray. If the main water line near your water meter is blue or gray, you can be fairly certain that it is a poly pipe. If the water line is black, it could be either poly or polyethylene. In this case, you will need to have a plumber check to see which it is, as polyethylene is safe to use.

If any of the exposed water lines in your house are blue, black or gray, it also almost certainly means that they are poly piping. This includes the lines running to and from your water heater and those that stick out of the wall and supply water to sinks and toilets. However, sometimes plumbers used a copper stub that stuck out of the wall and connected to a poly pipe inside the wall. As such, checking your main water line and the line that runs to your water heater are the best ways to know if your home has poly pipes.

What to Do If Your Home Has Polybutylene Piping

If your home has any poly pipes, you must replace them as soon as you can. Although some poly pipes can last for much longer than 15 years, there is a much higher risk of them breaking and leaking compared to any other type of water lines. If you don’t replace your poly pipes, they are also guaranteed to break in the near future.

A leaking water line is an extremely serious issue since it can cause extensive water damage. A leaky pipe hidden inside of a wall or ceiling can also cause wall studs and floor joists to rot. Any time there is a leak in your home, there is also a major risk of a mold infestation. All of these issues are why experts recommend replacing poly pipes immediately. While having to replace your main water line or all of the hot and cold water pipes in your home isn’t cheap, it can help you avoid having to spend even more to repair all of the water damage and tackle mold issues.

Best Alternatives to Polybutylene Piping

Copper is still the most commonly used material for interior hot and cold-water lines. Although copper is fairly soft, it is extremely durable and doesn’t have issues with rust and corrosion. Depending on the thickness, copper pipes can last for anywhere from 20 to 100 years or more.

PVC pipe is often used for underground main water lines and can potentially last for upwards of 100 years. However, the local building codes in many places don’t allow the use of PVC for any pipes that carry potable water. Some places also allow PVC to be used for interior cold water supply lines, but PVC piping is generally never recommended for hot water supply lines.

One option that is becoming increasingly popular is PEX piping, which can be used for both underground main water lines and interior hot and cold supply lines. PEX pipes are made of polyethylene plastic that is cross-linked to make it extremely strong and flexible. Compared to copper, PEX piping is much stronger and much less prone to being punctured or leaking. PEX pipes are also less expensive and much easier to install than copper.

PEX piping is an especially popular choice in cold climates where the interior water lines can be prone to freezing. This is partly because copper is a poor insulator, which means cold air can penetrate through copper pipes and make them freeze more easily. Not only is PEX a better insulator, but PEX piping also shouldn’t ever rupture. PEX pipes still have the potential to freeze, but they can expand so that they don’t rupture or break. Copper piping, on the other hand, is fairly rigid and can easily burst if it freezes.

If you’re dealing with a plumbing leak or have poly pipes in your home that you need to replace, you can trust the team at Plumbing & Cooling Nerds for help. We specialize in leak detection, repiping and the full range of plumbing, sewer and drain installation, repair and maintenance services. If you need any plumbing service in the Bonita Springs, Naples, Cape Coral, or Fort Myers area, give the experts at Plumbing & Cooling Nerds a call today for a complimentary whole-home repipe quote.

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