Polybutylene Pipes: a ticking time-bomb for plumbing leaks

From the early 1980s until the mid-1990s, many homes across the country were plumbed with plastic tubing called polybutylene, aka PB. It looks like PEX tubing, can have similar crimp rings at the fittings, and is installed in a very similar manner. All was good with this stuff… until it wasn’t.

Homeowners all over the country started experiencing leaks in their plumbing systems, both at the PB fittings and the PB tubing itself. This led to a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of PB tubing, and this became a “thing” for home inspectors to report as a known defect.

How to Identify PB Tubing

I’ve heard this material comes in several colors, but I’ve only seen one: grey. The photos below show what it looks like.

Polybutylene Tubing 01
Polybutylene Tubing 02
Polybutylene Tubing 03
Polybutylene Tubing 04
Polybutylene Tubing 05
Polybutylene Tubing 06
Polybutylene Tubing 07
Polybutylene Tubing 08
Polybutylene Tubing 09

And to be 100% sure you’re looking at PB tubing, look for a marking that says “PB2110”.

PB2110 01
PB2110 02
PB2110 03

What to do about PB Tubing

Today, there are still tons of homes throughout the Twin Cities with PB piping; my company alone runs across this material about once a month. Just because this material is still in use and hasn’t leaked yet doesn’t mean it won’t leak in the future. Mark Jerde at RightMark Plumbing told me he deals with PB leaks and repairs several times a year. When a home experiences a leak, it typically turns into an insurance claim for the damage caused to the home. The repair always involves the complete replacement of the PB tubing, typically in the $5,000 – $10,000 range.

If you’re buying a home with PB tubing, your best option is to have the tubing replaced. It’ll cost some money initially, but it’s less expensive and far less disruptive to your life than dealing with a leak. If you choose not to have the tubing replaced, you might have a difficult time getting homeowners insurance. And for the record, there is no more money available from the class-action lawsuits.

Written By

Reuben is a second-generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben grew up thinking he was going to be a school teacher because he enjoyed teaching others so much. In a sense, that’s a lot of what home inspections are about, so Reuben truly does what he loves. Sharlene has worked with Structure Tech since 2000 and Reuben has been contributing to her blog since 2008.

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