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What is Polybutylene?

What is Polybutylene Plumbing?

Some people think that polybutylene plumbing carries a high level of risk. For others, it is more economical since it comes in rolls, and when it is time for maintenance, the labor is more affordable. On the downside, when in contact with chlorine in the water, it can become a headache for homeowners as it can cause leaks in the ceiling and the wall. In this post, we will show you that there are replacement options. We will discuss the different issues associated with it and examples of its use, and why you can choose it as a viable plumbing alternative.

What is Polybutylene?

Poly-b is flexible plastic water supply piping that comes in rolls. The pipes had fewer joints, were economical in material and labor while being less noisy. Its use in the 1970s in the United States, then in Quebec from 1983 onwards, gradually gained the confidence of builders and consumers through their many advantages. However, the crumbling of the material under the effect of chlorine and heat precipitated the abandonment of this type of pipe. Manufacturers stopped producing this tubing in 1995.

In Quebec, it is estimated that approximately 225,000 homes are equipped with polybutylene plumbing. After 30 years of experience with this product, there does not appear to be any significant degradation or any case of leakage suggesting premature wear of the product. Home insurance companies also ignore the presence of poly-b plumbing.

In 1999, in Mon Toit de LaPresse, consumers were warned about the risks of leaks associated with polybutylene plumbing. However, the problems encountered in the United States were associated with the high rate of chlorine located in certain American cities. In Canada, the levels of chlorine are much lower. In this sense, the presence of polybutylene plumbing does not seem to represent a risk.

After the production of Poly-B stopped, a new product has carved out a niche in the plumbing market: Kitec. Similar to its predecessor, it was appreciated for its flexibility and ease of installation. Installed until 2007 in Canada, it is present in several houses and condos in Quebec. Kitec is not a bad product in and of itself. The main problem is the scarcity of fittings. As the product is no longer sold, only a few plumbers still have in stock the brass fittings needed during modifications.

What Were the Previous Issues?

Polybutylene plumbing

Since its use in the 1970s in the United States, polybutylene (poly-b) water supply piping has gradually gained the confidence of builders and consumers. The advantages of this gray plastic pipe were multiple compared to traditional copper piping. Flexible and coming in rolls, it had fewer joints, was more cost-effective in material and labor, and was quieter. However, leaks appeared systematically from the 1980s in the United States but very little in Canada.

In 1995, Shell Oil and Du Pont de Neymours were ordered to create a fund of 950 million dollars to pay to replace pipes by consumers. In 2004, in Quebec, a class action initiated in 1998 ended with a monetary settlement between the parties.

The second problem in the 1980s was with hot water central heating systems using poly-b (polybutylene) pipes as conduits. In this case, it was the permeability of the pipe to outside oxygen passing through the wall of poly-b and mixing with the water. This oxygen in the water then came into contact with the heating system and rusted the pumps, exchanger, and the system’s other metal components in just 3 or 4 years. After the problem was identified, the pipes produced in 1993 were modified to block the passage of oxygen.

A third issue was product quality control, which has been reported in cases where the pipe cracked with age. On this point, however, it can be said that all products, even copper pipes, can be subject to manufacturing defects. Due to the bad publicity given to the product, the manufacturers stopped production in 1995. As the product was now considered safe, the accumulated stocks were installed until the end of the 90s. Moreover, the National Plumbing Code (modified for Quebec) allowed its use until 2008.

In the late 1990s, Poly-b was replaced by polyethylene (commonly called PEX). PEX is more flexible, more resistant to heat and pressure, its brass fittings are resistant, the hose blocks the passage of oxygen, and it has been used for 30 years in Europe without problems. 

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the presence of polybutylene piping in a house should not be a reason not to buy a property or reduce its price. Suppose you want to purchase a home or already have a home. In that case, you should also buy full insurance coverage, just in case you run into any of the problems discussed above.  

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