Twenty years ago a plumber installed polybutylene pipe under my 19th
Century house. Five years ago I had to pay him $100 to bring his
crimping tool so I could replace my water heater. He told me not to
worry about my polybutylene plumbing.
This week I found a joint dripping. I put a tub under it and in a
couple of days the dripping stopped. Apparently I'd disturbed the joint
by bumping the pipe, and it reseated itself. A neighbor told me that
I've read that polybutylene is still widely used because installation is
quick and doesn't require much skill. Modern installations don't use T
connections. The crimping tool must be kept in calibration because if
it's too tight the pipe can split later. The new system uses pairs of
copper bands. Lab tests have shown that chemicals in chlorinated water
can damage the plastic once used in connectors, but nobody has tested
the pipe in chlorinated water.
Should I worry about my plumbing?
They say you can't predict whether you'll have trouble.
According to the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center, to be covered, a
leak must occur within so many years of installation. That period
varies from 10 to 16 years depending on the type of dwelling and the
type of fittings.
I wonder if that reflects a consensus that installations that don't leak
within the designated period will probably be okay. I've read that
polybutylene was installed in 6 million homes and that, because pipes
usually run in walls, the average replacement costs $4,000. The
settlement was $1 billion, which would anticipate claims from 4% of
Some cities added polybutylene to their lists of acceptable plumbing for
new houses in the 1990s, after the problems surfaced. It seems they
still sell it in the UK. I wonder if that means it can be reliable.
Mine is under the house, which would make replacement cheaper. A drip
wouldn't cause rotting but could make the soil hospitable for termites.
A split could be very inconvenient.
I've read that plumbers preferred polybutylene because homeowners can't
get the crimpers. That's why I was unable to replace my water heater
myself. It would be nice to have pipes I could fix myself.
I see they have a manual for crimping PEX. I wonder if there are
different considerations for polybutylene.
The fact that they sell lots of PB hardware is assuring. If PB were
destined to fail, who would be repairing it?
Here's the source who said polybutylene was popular with plumbers
because homeowners would have trouble getting crimpers:
So if I have only two sizes of polybutylene pipe, I'd need to spend $300
to $350 on crimpers. I don't know how to calibrate them, which means I
could end up with a pipe splitting some night.
Why not just use the Qest (sp?) compression fittings? No crimper
required. I've used pb with compression fittings for at least 20
years. No leaks, no splits, no drips. Oh yeah, and no water hammer and
no pipe sweating but they're advantages of pb (and PEX), not the
You've made my day. I'm confident that I can work with compression
fittings. If I begin to have trouble with my PB, compression fittings
will allow me to replace it piecemeal, and I can replace a water heater
without calling the plumber.
Checking out Qest fittings led me to an faq that did a lot to assure me:
A master plumber says he has seen failures in every kind of pipe except
PB, and that's why so many love it. They don't dare defend it publicly
for fear of being sued. Lawyers and competitors produced a distorted
image. It's still popular in Europe.
I've wondered why it was hard to find any advice on PB written in the
last ten years. I've inferred that perhaps it's because few of the 6
million American installations have encountered problems.
Glad to be of help. BTW if you do continue with the Qest fittings
you'll find that you can make the transition to brass (or copper) by
using one half of a brass union (the non-moveable part) and just the
nut, stainless ring, and the bungee-thingee (technical term <g> --
it's the part that slips on the pipe and actually forms the seal) from
the Qest fitting. That way you buy one Qest tee and it gives you three
nuts to transition to the brass/copper.
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