How Much of a Problem is Polybutylene Plumbing

House flipping was popular before the last recession, and this year is approaching pre-recession highs. However, while that “completely remodeled” house might look terrific and hit all of your I-Wanna spots, there can be hidden hazards that a simple inspection might not cover or detect. We’ve talked previously about buyers needing to beware of certain hazards when buying a home, but this really bears repeating – no polybutylene piping.


Polybutylene piping should be a straight-up dealbreaker unless the seller is willing to give enough of a discount to pay for a complete re-piping job either in copper or in copper and CPVC. If the house has been remodeled, they may not be willing to do that at all, as the repipe can require the removal of drywall, fixtures, and even a lot of digging. It doesn’t matter if “the pipe looks fine” from the outside, it’s what’s going on inside the pipe that is going to cause problems.

Buyer Beware

Polybutylene pipes were used starting in the late of the 1970s until the product was withdrawn in 1996. Originally, homeowners faced with the failure of this type of plumbing blamed faulty installation, defects in materials or workmanship and the use of chemicals in household water supplies that caused the pipes to become brittle and unstable. Used in over 10 million homes, this type of piping was supposed to provide better performance at lower cost – we’ve heard that before.

Where to Look for Polybutylene

Naturally, you’re not going to rip out the walls to find this in your home, but there are some key areas where you should be looking.

Inside the Home

  • Coming out of the wall to supply water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers, sinks, and toilets.
  • In unfinished basements or in crawlspaces.

Outside the Home

  • At the shut off valve for the house’s water main.
  • Going into or coming out of the water meter.
  • Entering or exiting the basement or crawlspace wall.

If you are buying an older home from twenty to forty years old, it would make sense to have a real Q&A with the seller and the seller’s agent about the whole plumbing system and what work has been done on it. We do not mean to tar all house flippers with the same brush, but there are flippers who either through ignorance or greed do not disclose the presence of this kind of potential flaw. It would also be good advice to consider a 4-point inspection.

“But It Looks Okay to Me!

As a metaphor, New Orleans looked good before Katrina. Afterwards, it took a long time to get the city back on it’s feet. Even if the pipe appears sound, that might change abruptly and possibly in the middle of the night, flooding your home with water or sewage. You could experience significant damage and incur a great deal of expense in trying to get your home back to normal. Talk to your E&L independent agent about your future house and its vital systems, and how to make sure you’re covered.