I recently purchased a new home. Circumstances meant that I didn’t get a proper look at the place before I bought it, and I now face a few more renovations than I was planning. Thankfully, all the work is cosmetic. Anything structural or infrastructure-related would have been a nightmare discovery.
Polybutylene pipes would fall into this category of nightmares, and if you are looking at a home with polybutylene pipes, you have to make your decision very carefully.
Houses with polybutylene pipes will require re-plumbing. It may be in stages as sections break, or it may be all at once as the system fails. This fact can mean expenses on top of the purchase price and can also affect insurance cover. Avoid the house or offer less to account for the cost of pipe replacement.
The Problem With Polybutylene Pipes
Chemicals such as chlorine are added to water supplies in water treatment facilities to disinfect the water, thereby preventing disease.
Unfortunately, compounds within polybutylene pipes react badly with the chlorine in the water supply, resulting in a chemical reaction that causes the pipes to scale, flake, chip, and weaken.
This degradation occurs from the inside out, so even if the pipes look fine, they are wearing out internally.
Ultimately, it is only a matter of time before the pipes fail as these reactions cause the pipes to narrow, thin, and become more brittle, resulting in cracks and eventually leakages and burst pipes.
Another result of the flaking of polybutylene pipes is that drinking the water flowing through them exposes you to microplastics, which may be detrimental to your health in the long term.
As polybutylene pipes degenerate and develop cracks, there is a higher probability that water leaks will begin to damage your house.
The first and most obvious consequence of a water leak is staining and discoloration on the ceiling and walls in close proximity to the leak.
As drywall and other materials absorb water from a leaking pipe, it is likely that they will begin to swell and warp.
If left untreated, this warping could become dangerous as it compromises the structural integrity of the house in question, especially with regard to structures such as support beams.
If water leaks into electrical circuits, it can cause rusting and corrode the wiring, which in turn may create a fire hazard due to increased resistance (and, therefore, heat) in a corroded circuit.
Finally, water leaks promote the proliferation of mold and fungus, which can have negative impacts on your health.
Burst pipes can have devastating consequences, especially if they occur when no one is around to turn the water supply off.
This is because, depending on pipe dimensions and water pressure, 50 to 3,400 gallons of water can be lost from a broken pipe per minute.
Hence, burst pipes can cause flooding and extensive water damage, and in some cases, can result in the disturbed water supply to surrounding areas.
Aside from structural damage and damage to furniture and appliances, fire and electrocution risk is elevated when electrical wiring gets wet in the process.
Overall, this damage can be a risk to human safety and could result in extreme costs for repairs and water bills.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not cover polybutylene piping.
While this depends on the insurance provider, the general trend is that most policies exclude polybutylene pipes because of their high failure rate.
If an insurance company does provide cover, it is likely that there will be a very large deductible or high premiums.
It may be advisable for you to re-plumb the house instead before acquiring insurance.
Alternatively, it might be possible to purchase a policy that has a water loss exclusion. This means that if there is water damage as a result of failed polybutylene plumbing, it will not be covered by the insurance company.
This option is obviously not ideal as you could incur high expenses if (or rather when) the pipes fail. However, it will allow you to satisfy mortgage requirements so that you can buy the house and save money to replace piping later.
Replacing the Pipes
If you have a leak in polybutylene pipes, even if you repair it at the leak site, it is likely that more leaks will follow.
The best option is, therefore, to replace all of the polybutylene pipes with more reliable piping.
Although this can be pricey, damages caused by polybutylene leaks (coupled with difficulties acquiring insurance policies) are more expensive, so it is worth it to bite the bullet and get it done.
The cost of re-plumbing an entire house depends on factors like the type of piping material used, the number of plumbing fixtures and their accessibility, as well as variations in labor and material costs, depending on where you live.
Generally, copper and PEX are the most common piping options used currently.
Some sites suggest that you can expect to pay around $4,500 to $15,000 for re-piping.
Avoid Polybutylene Pipes
While polybutylene was originally desirable because it was inexpensive, easy to install, and resistant to damage from freezing, it is evident that its disadvantages far outweigh its advantages.
Overall, it is probably best to avoid polybutylene pipes altogether since they are unreliable and will inevitably lead to problems down the line.
Avoiding them will save you hassles finding and negotiating with appropriate insurance providers and will save you time and money needed to replace polybutylene piping.
Offer Lower Than Asking Price
If you are set on purchasing a house that is suitable in every other way except for the fact that it has polybutylene pipes, an alternative is to offer the sellers a price lower than what they asked.
You can motivate this by explaining the numerous disadvantages associated with polybutylene pipes.
A fair suggestion would be to acquire quotes for replacing the pipes and subtract this amount from the asking price.
Going by the range of costs mentioned above, this could mean offering to pay $4,500 to $15,000 less than the asking price.
Then, you can replace the pipes before moving in.
This will prevent you from spending extra fees on top of property purchase costs in order to protect your new home from damages.
Do Sellers Have to Disclose Polybutylene Pipes?
There is no law that requires polybutylene pipes to be disclosed by property sellers.
However, it is required in most states that material defects in a house on the market should be disclosed.
Luckily, polybutylene piping does qualify as a material defect since it is well known that it will fail at some point, so you should be made aware of it when investigating the purchase of a house.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that home inspections may not cover polybutylene, and that a seller is not liable if they did not know that the pipes are made of polybutylene.
Similarly, it is always possible that things like this will get “lost in the paperwork”, so it is best to make sure of the facts before deciding to buy a property.