A friend asked if I could help repair the marble side panel on the Jacuzzi bathtub, explaining the panel cracked in two when the plumber removed it during the replacement of leaking polybutylene pipe. The marble panel repair is covered in the next project, but first an overview of the polybutylene pipe water damage and the whole house plumbing replacement.
The homeowners were away one day in December 2010 and returned home to find the house was flooded. A polybutylene pipe in the 1st floor ceiling had burst!
Water poured from the ceiling and flooded the carpet and sofa, continuing to the basement. An expensive nightmare!
The homeowner said it took about 3 weeks to have a flood restoration company dry out the carpets with large fans and dehumidifiers.
Polybutylene Pipe Leaks
The house was built in 1989 during a period when polybutylene pipe was commonly used for hot and cold supply water plumbing. The homeowner had been plagued by numerous leaks in the polybutylene plumbing system. Most leaks were spot repaired by splicing in a new section of white PEX tubing (see the photo below). After a big leak flooded the house only two weeks after making another spot repair, the homeowner was fed up and decided to tear out all the polybutylene plumbing.
The plumber said chlorine in municipal water systems attacks polybutylene pipe which causes it to become brittle and crack lengthwise, resulting in massive leaks. The homeowner believes the polybutylene pipe becomes so brittle that any movement during a splice repair causes new leaks a short distance away.
This home also had the blue polybutylene underground pipe that ran from the water meter to the house. The homeowner said the yard line had been replaced a couple of years earlier after they noticed the driveway always stayed wet.
The interior polybutylene pipe in this home is a gray colored slightly flexible tube. The pipe connections are made with barbed brass connectors secured with copper crimp bands. The identification marks are on the pipe are:
- PB 2110 – material designation that identifies this as polybutylene pipe
- SDR 11 – Standard Dimension Ratio 11, which defines the pipe size
- CSA B137.8 – Canadian Standards Association mark and CSA standard B137.8 “Polybutylene (PB) Piping for Pressure Applications”
In the above photo, a length of white PEX polyethylene tubing was spliced in to repair a leaking section of polybutylene. The PEX tube is connected to the gray polybutylene pipe segment by a barbed brass connector secured with copper crimp bands which have tarnished over the years to a black color. Scratching or filing the band reveals bright copper metal underneath the tarnish. By the way, PEX tubing is a quality product that is completely unrelated to polybutylene pipe.
Here’s a closeup of the PB 2110 polybutylene pipe:
I asked the homeowner if they were aware of the class action polybutylene pipe lawsuits and product recalls. They filed a claim but the class action settlement fund had run out of money. Their insurance company covered the water damage but not the cost to replace all the plumbing.
Polybutylene Pipe Plumbing Replacement
The homeowners hired a local plumber to replace all the polybutylene pipe in the home with CPVC pipe. The cost to remove all the polybutylene plumbing and install CPVC pipe was $2,600.00 plus another $1,000.00 for the drywall contractor and required a week to complete the work for this 2 story, 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath home. The plumber planned the work so the homeowners had water at the end of each day.
Replacing the polybutylene plumbing is a messy and difficult effort because the pipe are sealed inside the walls and ceilings. The plumber started by cutting away large sections of drywall with a utility knife to expose the plumbing and remove the damaged areas.
Cutting away the drywall ceiling to expose the leaking pipes:
Two runs of gray polybutylene pipe are exposed in the living room ceiling. Click on the image for a full size view.
The leak occurred when this section of PB 2110 polybutylene pipe that serves the upstairs bathrooms developed a hairline crack. The water is under pressure and quickly flooded the house.
The gray polybutylene pipe was removed and replaced with Spears® Coastline Plastics® EverTUFF CPVC plastic pipe. This required following the pipe runs and removing large sections of the drywall from the ceilings and walls throughout the house.
Numerous access holes in the drywall are necessary to access the plumbing and locate joints. Every pipe run has to be located and replaced.
If you plan on buying a home that was built between 1978 and 1995, always have the home inspector check if it has polybutylene plumbing in the house or yard line from the water meter. If so, you could be in for problems, costly repairs and have difficulty obtaining homeowner’s insurance.
In the next project, I explain how I repaired the broken marble side panel for the Jacuzzi bathtub.
Thanks for reading,
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