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Polybutylene Pipe (PB)


hausdok
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Hi All,

I'm curious about PB pipe. Every once in a while someone will post about how terrible the stuff is, but around here nobody even raises an eyebrow over it. In over 10 years I've never had a case of PB plumbing leakage that wasn't related to poor installation practices.

I know all about the lawsuit and have all of the sites bookmarked, I'm just curious about what parts of the country seem to have had, or have had, problems with it and what kind of water is found in those areas. Here in Western Washington we apparently have few of the issues that some folks have. Would anyone from areas affected care to elaborate on the peculiarities of your water that have caused the product to fail?

OT - OF!!!

Mike

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I used to run into it a LOT in older manufactured homes but don't any more because I no longer inspect older manufactured homes.

Some of the systems used plastic fittings and aluminum crimp rings. They generally have leaked at the fittings in the past. You see lots of "repairs" with hose clamps. The brass fittings seem better, particularly with brass crimp rings. I think the aluminum rings expand and contract excessively and loosen (like aluminum wiring).

The best PB systems I have seen use a manifold. All of the shut off valves are on the manifold and the piping runs have no fittings between the manifold and fixture. I think that is a really good system.

Phoenix had a ton of problems in site built homes, but that was before my home inspection days.

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The home I just sold had it in it. It was built in 1992 and I never experienced a problem with it. I have looked at well over a 100 homes with PB pipe and have never seen a problem with the ones that had the copper crimp bands. All of the ones with the plastic crimp bands needed work.

As for the pipe itself, I think that the local supply has a big impact on the pipe. From what I have read and been told, the higher the chlorine and ammonia content the more problems you will have with PB pipe.

As for it being a problem when I sold my home, it never came into play. Of course the new owners never had a home inspection, even after I told them that they should have one. I'm sure if they had hired one of the new HI guys in town fresh out of school it would have been an issue!

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Originally posted by hausdok

Hi All,

I'm curious about PB pipe. Every once in a while someone will post about how terrible the stuff is, but around here nobody even raises an eyebrow over it. In over 10 years I've never had a case of PB plumbing leakage that wasn't related to poor installation practices.

I know all about the lawsuit and have all of the sites bookmarked, I'm just curious about what parts of the country seem to have had, or have had, problems with it and what kind of water is found in those areas. Here in Western Washington we apparently have few of the issues that some folks have. Would anyone from areas affected care to elaborate on the peculiarities of your water that have caused the product to fail?

OT - OF!!!

Mike

In my area PB failure has been a big and expensive issue. Service entrance usually fails first and more frequently. Low pressure service entrance has been upgraded to 180 psi and this has all but cured the service problem. The original PSI that caused so many failures was 150 PSI for service entrance.

As for interior branch water lines the joints have been up graded 3 times from plastic to copper and plastic to copper only pressure fittings. This has dramatically fixed the branch line problems. I have done several homes this year that have had PB replaced with copper.

Fact is did one yesterday.

Problems are dramatically less now than 10 years past because of upgrades metioned above. PB is not used anymore in my area except for service entrance and it is the higher pressure rating. CPVC, PEX and copper is used for branch lines.

Paul B.

Metro Atlanta, Ga.

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I wonder if pex is the next PB. Wait and see I guess. The pex I see is rated for 100 psi and often the street pressure is 120. Some builders don't bother with the pressure regulator. Even when installed, failure of the regulator will eventually occur. When this happens, it isn't usually discovered until a pipe bursts, or hopefully, discovered by a home inspector.

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Originally posted by paul burrell

Originally posted by hausdok

Hi All,

I'm curious about PB pipe. Every once in a while someone will post about how terrible the stuff is, but around here nobody even raises an eyebrow over it. In over 10 years I've never had a case of PB plumbing leakage that wasn't related to poor installation practices.

I know all about the lawsuit and have all of the sites bookmarked, I'm just curious about what parts of the country seem to have had, or have had, problems with it and what kind of water is found in those areas. Here in Western Washington we apparently have few of the issues that some folks have. Would anyone from areas affected care to elaborate on the peculiarities of your water that have caused the product to fail?

OT - OF!!!

Mike

In my area PB failure has been a big and expensive issue. Service entrance usually fails first and more frequently. Low pressure service entrance has been upgraded to 180 psi and this has all but cured the service problem. The original PSI that caused so many failures was 150 PSI for service entrance.

As for interior branch water lines the joints have been up graded 3 times from plastic to copper and plastic to copper only pressure fittings. This has dramatically fixed the branch line problems. I have done several homes this year that have had PB replaced with copper.

Fact is did one yesterday.

Problems are dramatically less now than 10 years past because of upgrades metioned above. PB is not used anymore in my area except for service entrance and it is the higher pressure rating. CPVC, PEX and copper is used for branch lines.

Paul B.

Metro Atlanta, Ga.

Ditto - what Paul said.

My son's PB line (13 years old) failed at the basement wall and flooded the recently finished basement.

He could not file under the class action suit since it was a yard line and past the age limit - not within 10 years of installation.

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Water pressure to the home should range between 40-80 psi. If it is higher a pressure reducing valve is needed. We should all be reporting when we find water pressure over 80 psi. It is so simple to test the pressure and could save you and your client a great deal of grief and money in the long run.

I speak from experience, I did not test water pressure until five years ago and that was after I bought a reducing valve for a client who had a leaking TPR and a blown seal at the refrigerator ice maker.

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Hi Scott,

I don't know that I can agree with that. I certainly wouldn't have ponied up for a pressure-related issue because I don't test for it and I'm not required to test for it by any standard that I use. I don't mind exceeding the standard for some things but this is one that I think is fraught with liability.

Pressure can vary from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. Pressure in a neighborhood can be less than 80psi this month and four months later, after they've made repairs to the system, can be over 100 psi. There's no way that I can predict how/when that will happen so why try?

Most of the homes that I have inspected over the past 10 years don't have pressure-regulators or restrictors on them and haven't suffered any ill effects. I'm not saying that a regulator isn't a good thing, I'm just saying that I think that they're optional, unless required by current codes, and testing pressures delves into technical analysis that is beyond the scope of even your own association's standards. Remember, we're supposed to inspect installed systems and components. If there is no regulator on the system and it isn't required, than it most certainly isn't part of the installed system whether desirable or not.

Excerpted from the ASHI S.O.P.

13.1 General limitations:

Inspections performed in accordance with these Standards of Practice:

are not technically exhaustive.

----------------------------------

13.2 General exclusions:

A. The inspector is not required to perform any action or make any determination unless specifically stated in these Standards of Practice,

B. Inspectors are NOT required to determine:

3. the strength, adequacy, effectiveness, or efficiency of any system or component.

6. future conditions including, but not limited to, failure of systems and components.

C. Inspectors are NOT required to offer:

2. or perform engineering services.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

6. Plumbing System

6.1 The inspector shall:

A. inspect:

1. the interior water supply and distribution systems including all fixtures and faucets.

2. the drain, waste and vent systems including all fixtures.

3. the water heating equipment.

4. the vent systems, flues, and chimneys.

5. the fuel storage and fuel distribution systems.

6. the drainage sumps, sump pumps, and related piping.

B. describe :

1. the water supply, drain, waste, and vent piping materials.

2. the water heating equipment including the energy source.

3. the location of main water and main fuel shut-off valves.

6.2 The inspector is NOT required to:

A. inspect:

1. the clothes washing machine connections.

2. the interiors of flues or chimneys which are not readily accessible.

3. wells, well pumps, or water storage related equipment.

4. water conditioning systems.

5. solar water heating systems.

6. fire and lawn sprinkler systems.

7. private waste disposal systems.

B. determine:

1. whether water supply and waste disposal systems are public or private.

2. the quantity or quality of the water supply.

C. operate safety valves or shut-off valves.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Don't see anything there that requires pressure testing. Do you?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I check it because it does vary alot in this area. Some have regulators, some don't. New construction requires a regulator here if over 80 psi. I like to document what it was at the time of the inspection, and it takes about 10 seconds. I often see homes with a pressure regulator and psi of 120 because the regulator has failed. So this is a case of failure of an installed system.

I agree that the pressure will vary day to day but I want my observation on that day in writing. An air conditioner that works today may fail tomorrow, I still check it and report on functionality.

Just what I do, not really my business if anybody else does or doesn't check psi.

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Hi,

I dunno Randy. Seems like a home without a backflow preventer is going to fluctuate with any increase/decrease of a municipality's pressure, but by the same token the backflow preventer would allow increased pressure in and then hold it there when the plumbing is in static mode, but really won't have anything to do with actual "pressure." Pressure is going to be relative to the source's means of getting the water to you and whatever type of pressure-reduction or pressure-increase devices you've got on the system.

My take anyway. Don't take it as gospel. I'm not much smarter than a trout after all.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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As far as the ASHI standards or any other standard, they are the minimum. Just like the building codes. I always like to provide the best service that I'm capable of doing, and a simple water pressure test falls into that under my scope of work.

As for a backflow preventer, if one is installed you need to be sure that the water heater has a pressure relief device installed on the supply line. If not the TPR will leak in just about every instance from my experience. As the water heats in the tank it expands and if it can't move back up the supply line, it will find another exit point.

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Yep,

Agree about the need for expansion relief. I've seen more than one home where the city came in and added backflow prevention but the homeowner never upgraded their water heater. Either they blew out old galvanized pipes, damaged selenoids or the TPR was dripping.

OT - OF!!!

M.

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I'm with those that test for static pressure and recommend a reducer (or repair if one already exists) when over 80 psi. Agreed that pressure can vary somewhat day to day, but when I see 120 psi I gotta report it. It's almost the first thing I do when I get to a house. I always run a little water first to make sure I'm not getiing a high reading from thermal expansion and usually try to read it at the rear hose-bib as some newer homes have the front bib feed before any reduction valve.

As for CMA, it is one of those "snapshots in time", and so I take and save a picture of it!

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif 0007.JPG

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Back to PB. :)

I call it out as a material with known issues/concerns, and should be further evaluated by a licensed plumbing contractor for need to repair or replace.

It's my understanding that its not a question of whether or not it IS leaking, but moreso WHEN will it leak. I put PB in the same type of concern ad FPE and Zinsco panels. I feel I would be lacking in my obligation to my clients to not alert them to the fact that there are 'numerous' concerns related to the use of this material.

Anyone want to enlighten me on other opinions?

Kirk

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Hi,

Yeah, I've heard the concerns about the PB mains before, but since I can't see the stuff to confirm that's actually what it is I don't really concern myself too much with it unless it's in new construction and I'm able to examine it before the trenches are closed or the slab is poured around it. It's the in-house tubing stuff I'm primarily concerned with because that's what I can actually see.

I don't know if I can state with absolute conviction that there are "numerous" concerns with PB out here. It's my understanding that the tubing hasn't got any issues and that it's the fittings that break down when exposed to certain types of water and the cheesy rings at connections that leak. Most of the stuff I see has the compression fittings like you'd see with a Manablok setup. In fact, the only place I've ever seen any of these crimp ring connections was in manufactured homes.

Many of the homes I see that have been built over the past 15 years have copper plumbing with PB compression stops and supply tubing under the bath vanities and kitchen sink. Asked a plumber about it once. He said that unless specified otherwise he does every home that way and hadn't ever found an older PB stop here where there was any sign of scouring damaging the valve.

What's the water like down Vancouver/Portland way? Lots of chlorine or alkalinity? Do you know anyone that's seen this stuff actually fail out here? Msr. Katen, what say you?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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In the Central Florida area, there are 10's of thousands of homes with PB installed. We call it out, explain all the issues, give links to more info, etc. etc.

Hard for most clients to complain about it if the house they're selling has it, and everyone they know also has it. Most every client will just accept it and wait for the failure. Around here, with plumbing problems so prevalent, you can have your house re-plumbed in a day for $2500.

I have family members with PB installed, and some have had no problems, some have had minor problems, and some just don't seem to care at all about their plumbing. I had my plumbing replaced with CPVC years ago.

I'm sure "I told you so" isn't too far off.

Dom.

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Originally posted by hausdok

. . . What's the water like down Vancouver/Portland way? Lots of chlorine or alkalinity? Do you know anyone that's seen this stuff actually fail out here? Msr. Katen, what say you?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Not lots of chlorine or ph problems. I see the stuff almost exclusively in manufactured homes. It's a problem. I've had several clients who've had to re-plumb the entire house. I used to report on it kind of softly. No more.

I say something like:

Polybutylene plumbing is a defective product that was the subject of one of the largest class action lawsuits in U.S. history. I didn't see any leaks today but, if you buy this house, understand there's a risk that the plumbing supply pipes might fail suddenly and catastrophically with no warning. Consider re-plumbing the house before that happens.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif PB_Leak_02.jpg

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Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif PB_Leak_44.jpg

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Interesting photos, Jim.

PB Leak02.jpg would not be covered under the class action suit due to the type of valve used - only the clamp type fittings, metal or plastic are covered.

The second photo with the metal clamp fittings would be covered only if is in a concealed place - since it is visible, it most likely would not be covered either.

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Originally posted by johnmcda

Interesting photos, Jim.

PB Leak02.jpg would not be covered under the class action suit due to the type of valve used - only the clamp type fittings, metal or plastic are covered.

Actually, PB_Leak_02 is a clamp-type fitting. It's hard to see in the picture because I exposed for the water spray rather than the pipe. Here's a picture of the same pipe & leak taken with 2 stops less exposure.

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif PB_Leak_02_-2.jpg

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The second photo with the metal clamp fittings would be covered only if is in a concealed place - since it is visible, it most likely would not be covered either.

It was in a concealed place, above the manufactured home's bottom board. Here's a picture of the way it looked when I first encountered it. It had been leaking for so long that the bottom board was entirely decayed with nothing but it's reinforcing strings left. You can't see the water spray in this picture because of the angle of the flashlight. I had to clear the strings away to get a good shot.

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif PB_Leak_44_a.jpg

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