Should You Repair or Replace Your Old Polybutylene Piping?

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Updated November 1, 2021
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If you have polybutylene pipes, repair is possible, but replacement is more likely

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When polybutylene pipes break, they have the potential to cause expensive damage. Polybutylene pipe (also known as poly pipe) was used in home plumbing systems from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. 

But plumbers quickly recognized that the plastic couldn’t stand up to elements like chlorine and fluoride that are common in municipal water supplies. Major design flaw! The pipes became brittle and cracked. 

As you know, cracked pipes are no good and lead to expensive property damage. So if you have poly pipes and are wondering if you should repair or replace them, keep reading.

Polybutylene is no longer used in plumbing systems, but some homes from that era still have poly pipes. A local plumber can help assess and repipe your home. 

Polybutylene pipes deteriorate after about 10 to 15 years, so if you still have them, it’s past time to look into replacing them. At a minimum, watch for signs of a hidden water leak.

The Problem With Polybutylene Pipes

Polybutylene became a popular pipe choice in the mid-1970s because it was flexible, resistant to freezing, and inexpensive. But plumbers quickly noticed that polybutylene wasn’t as amazing as they thought. It was prone to defects and led to more pipe bursts than it should have. As a result, there was a class-action lawsuit and the material is no longer used. 

You might notice a leak in the house like in a cabinet or water stains in the ceiling below a bathroom. Another sign of a polybutylene leak might be a wet spot in the yard when it hasn’t rained and no pools have been drained.

How to Recognize Polybutylene Pipes

Polybutylene pipes were most commonly used in southern states, but also in the mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest. They were popular in modular and mobile homes. Pipes will be stamped with a code beginning with “PB.” 

They might also have a distinct blue, gray, or black color. If you have these pipes, they are past their expected lifespan, so hire a plumber to explore your options for pipe replacement. 

Reasons to Repair Polybutylene Pipes

If the polybutylene pipes are below the house, like in a crawl space, you might be able to repair a leak rather than replace the pipes. Most of the time, a leak will happen under the home and not damage the actual home. But, some regions require that damaged pipes be replaced rather than repaired after a leak. Your local plumbing professional will know. 

If the home is built on a concrete slab, though, replace polybutylene piping. Poly pipes are going to fail eventually, so proactively replacing them is going to be more cost-effective than having to fix damage now and still have to replace the pipes later.

Reasons to Replace Polybutylene Pipes

Leaking pipes is a serious problem that could lead to expensive repairs. Replacing polybutylene pipes before they break can save the cost of water damage cleanup and repair. 

Pipe leaks can lead to mold and rot. It can destroy drywall and floorboards. Repair and clean-up from a leak can cost $5,000, depending on the extent of the damage. Because polybutylene pipes are known to fail, putting off repiping the house is risky. 

The cost of installing or replacing pipes in a house costs between $2,500 to $15,000, depending on how many bathrooms or floors are in your home.

The Pipe Replacement Process

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Your home’s pipes can be replaced in a day or two, depending on the size of your home. The plumber might need to cut into walls in order to access and replace the pipes. 

Expect a couple more days of work for drywall repair and painting to get the home back to the original appearance. After they’re done, though, your new pipes (compare PEX and copper pipes) will have a lifetime guarantee.

Repair vs. Replace Polybutylene Pipes: Either Way, They’re a Risk

Polybutylene pipes typically become brittle and leak within 15 years. If you have them in your home, replacing them can help prevent expensive damage from a pipe leak.

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