There are words that strike dread into the heart of a real estate agent and one of them is polybutylene. Once touted as the longer lasting and cheaper alternative to copper pipes, this material was installed in millions of homes throughout the later decades of the 20th century. The problem was that these pipes shortly began to fail in astounding numbers. Of course, individual homeowners didn’t know that. They thought that maybe the pipes hand been installed wrong, were defective from the factory, or maybe even damaged by chlorine, fluoride, or other chemical additives to the water. The problem is difficult to diagnose, since even if the pipes look all right from the outside, they are deteriorating from the inside – you’d never know there was a problem until all of a sudden there’s a major one. The problem became so widespread and the damages so severe that many insurance companies will refuse to issue a homeowner’s policy to a home with polybutylene pipes in place, or may write the policy to exclude any damage resulting from failure.
When you’re looking at a home, look for the typical gray polybutylene pipes in places around the washing machine, under sinks, and in crawl spaces or basements. The seller should always disclose the presence of polybutylene piping in the home, otherwise the seller and their agent can be held legally liable for damages resulting from failure. Buyers, when faced with a home with polybutylene piping have the choice of the following:
- Asking if the seller plans to replace the current piping with copper or;
- Asking for a reduction in price that will cover a copper piping replacement once the home is purchased or:
- Looking at a home copper or up to code piping already in place.
Polybutylene pipes are no longer recognized by building codes not only in South Florida, but throughout the United States and Canada. You should understand that repiping in copper, or copper and CPVC is going to be expensive, and estimates are going to vary, so taking off a large chunk of the purchase price of a home may not cover the expense or the hassle. The seller may not want to take the home off the market to have the work done, which includes ripping out a lot of drywall, and there are a lot of properties with this kind of problem. Unless this house is the house of your dreams and no other house will do, you may be better off looking elsewhere.
Just because a house has polybutylene pipes in place that have not yet failed doesn’t mean everything’s good and fine. These pipes were last used in new construction in the mid 90’s and are now around 20 years old. If they have not failed yet, that’s hardly an endorsement of their condition. Remember, you can’t tell what the inside of the pipe looks like. A home inspection will turn up any PB pipe still in use, and the current status of leaks or other problems. If you think you may have a problem of this type, talk immediately to your insurance agent.