Repairing Polybutylene Pipes


I own a 19-year-old, 1200 sq ft, frame house that we rent out.  The home has polybutylene plumbing and has had two leaks recently. One required breaking into the concrete slab, the other into a wall for repairs.  The two bathrooms abut each other, and the kitchen and laundry area abut. What is your advice on having the polybutylene plumbing replaced? The breaks are definitely an annoyance and inconvenience to the renters and costly for me.  The current occupant has requested release from the lease, so it would be good timing to do a replacement between occupants. Any idea of the cost?  Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Polybutylene plumbing has a long and sordid history of leak problems!  It was originally developed in the 1970’s and promoted as a technology that was easy to install and less expensive than copper.  Unfortunately by the 1980’s, many structures started reporting leaks and upon closer examination, it was found that the interior surface of the pipes as well as the metal or plastic fittings were breaking down and flaking apart.

As you may have guessed, the lawsuits followed and the largest one (Cox vs. Shell) resulted in a billion dollar settlement that was entered on November 17, 1995.  Claim administration was handled by the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center.  Unfortunately however, your home may not be covered.  According to Jan Chase, Claims Administrator for the CPRC, to make a claim for polybutylene (PB) pipes with plastic fittings, they need to have been installed no more than 13 years ago and leaked no more than 14 years ago.  For metal banded pipe, the pipe has to have been installed no longer than 16 years ago and leaked no more than 17 years ago.  Since your home is 19 years old, it sound’s like you are out of this window.  You can check with CPRC directly to be sure though.  Also, it may be possible that some of the repairs could be covered, if you can prove when they happened and those are in the eligibility window.

So, the best thing I can tell you is that it is only going to get worse.  Therefore, the sooner you can get the PB pipe replaced the better.  If you are between tenants and have the money for the repairs, now seems like the perfect time to get it done.  The cost is going to be directly proportional to the amount of work it will take to get to the areas where the pipes are, as well as the cost to repair those areas once the plumber is done with the replacement.  As with all home improvement jobs, choose your contractors carefully and be sure they are insured before letting them step foot inside your home.

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