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  • Writer's pictureTyler Weed

What is Polybutylene Piping AKA Poly-B and Why it Problematic?

What is Polybutylene (PB) or also know as Poly-B by the plumbing industry? This first generation of plastic plumbing water pipes were once popular in residential plumbing and hydronic floor heating systems, the pipe is typically Grey in color for domestic water systems but can also come in other colors such as Red which is more commonly used for in floor hydronic heating systems. Due to their low cost and ease of installation compared to previous systems such as copper piping. However, over time, these pipes have been found to be highly problematic and have caused significant damage to homes and properties. PB pipes were manufactured from the late 1970s until the late 1990s. They were marketed as a cheaper alternative to copper pipes and were commonly used in residential plumbing systems. PB pipes were easy to install because they were lightweight, flexible, and required fewer fittings than traditional plumbing systems.

(Polybutylene with copper fittings)

The problems with Polybutylene pipes stem from the material they are made of. PB pipes are made of a plastic resin that is highly susceptible to degradation when exposed to chlorine and other chemicals commonly found in municipal water supplies. The degradation of the pipes can cause them to become brittle and crack, leading to leaks and burst pipes.

The damage caused by PB pipes can be extensive and costly. Leaks from PB pipes can go undetected for years at times, causing significant water damage. Burst pipes can lead to flooding and damage to the structure of the home. In some cases, entire plumbing systems must be replaced, which can be a major expense. In addition to the problems with the pipes themselves, there are also concerns about the legal and financial implications of PB plumbing. Many homeowners have found that insurance companies are hesitant to provide coverage for homes with PB plumbing either leading to no coverage at all or to very high rates or deductibles in relation to having Polybutylene in your home.

(crimp fittings detail)

Two types of fittings used to connect and branch the pipe were plastic Polybutylene fittings and copper fittings, these two commonly used materials for plumbing fittings. While both materials have their advantages and disadvantages, there are some key differences that homeowners should be aware of are:

Polybutylene plastic fittings have a historical problem with being the main contributor to leakage within the PB plumbing system, their susceptibility to degradation when exposed to chlorine and other chemicals commonly found in municipal water supplies. This degradation can cause the fittings to become brittle and crack, leading to leaks and burst pipes. This can result in significant damage to the home and can be expensive to repair.

Copper fittings, on the other hand were know to be more durable and long-lasting. They are somewhat more resistant to corrosion and can withstand high temperatures and pressures. Copper fittings are also compatible with a wide range of plumbing systems and can be used for both hot and cold water. However, copper fittings were known to be more expensive and were not used until the later years of polybutylenes existence to help prevent the failing of the plastic fittings. Ultimately, the copper fittings preformed much better than the plastic PB fittings but they are still prone to failure and the PB pipe itself is problematic as well depending on the chemistry of your water running through the pipes and the amount of chlorine present.

(Polybutylene with plastic fittings)

If you suspect that your home may have PB plumbing, it is important to have it inspected by a professional plumber. In many cases, it is recommended that the entire plumbing system be replaced to avoid the risk of future damage and to ensure that the plumbing system meets current building codes. In conclusion, PB pipes may have been a popular choice for residential plumbing in the past, but their many problems have made them a liability for homeowners. If you have PB plumbing in your home, it is important to address the issue promptly to avoid costly damage and to ensure that your plumbing system is safe and reliable.

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