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Polybutylene (PB) Pipes

Polybutylene (PB) is a material made of plastic resin that was used to make water supply pipes between 1978 and 1995. Polybutylene pipes were used both inside and outside the home for water mains and interior water distribution pipes. Polybutylene used outside the home is usually blue in color but may also be gray or black. Interior pipes are gray or white in color with a dull finish.

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Most polybutylene piping was used in residential construction in several regions of the United States including the Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Northwest, and especially the Sun-Belt states.

Advantages of Polybutylene (PB) Pipes

Polybutylene was thought to be the ideal material and was used to replace traditional copper pipes used in plumbing. It was used in more than 6 million homes and many thought it was the plumbing pipe of the future because it was lightweight, easy to cut, easy to install, and less expensive (most of the cost savings were in the installation of the pipes, which used semi-skilled labor.) than traditional copper plumbing pipes by about half.

Downfall of Polybutylene (PB)Pipes

Unfortunately, this soon proved to be untrue. Shortly after PB pipes were used, homeowners noticed that the pipes began failing, and that it wasn't so ideal after all. In many places, the polybutylene piping became degraded or broke down, causing floods and structural damage to homes to the tune of $4,000 on average.

Causes of Deterioration in Polybutylene (PB) Pipes

The cause of failure in PB pipes is thought to be a reaction between substances in drinking water such as chlorine that react chemically with the polybutylene, causing it to weaken or corrode, eventually leading to micro-fractures and failure. In many instances, the joints between pipe connections were thought to be at fault.

As more and more homeowners realized the problem that PB pipes posed in their homes, they began to file one lawsuit after another until a national class action lawsuit was initiated in 1993.

Current Ramifications of Polybutylene (PB) Pipes

Although the manufacturer of polybutylene piping did not admit to liability or responsibility for damages, there eventually was a settlement in the amount of $750 million. The money is to be used to replace PB plumbing pipes in existing homes and to pay for damages caused by the leaks.

The implications for homes containing plumbing pipes made from polybutylene are enormous. Homes take much longer to sell. Some insurance companies refuse to insure homes that use PB plumbing lines, or if they do, cancel the homeowners insurance or refuse to pay for damages when they occur.