PB piping comes in two forms: (a) piping that is leaking or (b) piping that is going to leak. With PB plumbing it is not a question of whether or not the piping will leak, it is a matter of when the piping will leak. PB piping deteriorates from the inside out. Since home inspections are visual inspections this is the reason that many home inspections will not reveal any deterioration occurring. Free Available Chlorine (FAC) in the water is what causes the piping to deteriorate. As you may (or may not) know chorine is added to municipal water for purification so the component that causes PB pipe to deteriorate does exist in many homes in the Las Vegas Valley.
Use of poly pipe was largely discontinued after 1996. If the home was built before 1996 and plastic piping is installed, there is a significant chance that the piping is polybutylene since it was the piping of choice for a period of time. After 1996 cross-linked polyethylene piping (also referred to as “PEX” pipe) came on the scene. PEX piping has significantly different characteristics and thus far has proven itself to be a superior product. You need to know the difference between the two in order to protect yourself.
Conduct a preliminary investigation for polybutylene pipe to prevent your deal from disintegrating later on in the transaction. Start by looking for a plumbing manifold in the home. Many people refer to these as Manibloc’s™ but Manibloc™ is a trade name and there are many different types of plumbing manifolds out there. Generally you can find the plumbing manifold in the laundry room but it could be located in other locations in the home. Just because there is a plumbing manifold installed it does not mean that there is PB pipe in the structure but it does mean that there is plastic piping installed. Look for wording printed on the piping, “Vanguard Thermoguard" or "Quest”. If you see these words on the piping or any numbers containing “PB” there is a high probability that the piping is polybutylene. Vanguard also produces “Aquapex™” which is not polybutylene.
Sometimes you may be able to look at the piping under the sinks in the bathrooms or kitchen and read the wording on the piping. You may even be able to see it on the plumbing to the toilets. Often there will be drywall mud or paint on the piping in these locations that obscures the wording on the pipe. If you are unable to ascertain the wording on the piping in any of these locations you should have a home inspection conducted because some homes have the plumbing routed through the attic and the home inspector will be able to read the piping in the attic.
When PB piping fails it nearly always causes damage. In several cases the damage has been catastrophic and has amounted to over $100,000. The seller of a home containing PB piping should be prepared to replace the piping or to offer a reduction in the sale price of the home to offset the cost of re-plumbing the home. The cost of re-plumbing a home in some parts of the country is roughly equivalent to the cost of re-carpeting the home but this is only a rule of thumb. Generally re-plumbing a home will take about two weeks and may involve opening walls.
A full and complete written disclosure should be made to any buyer of a home that contains PB piping. The buyer should have a full understanding of what they are buying and the ramifications involved. Broker/Owners are advised to take the issue to their attorney and have an ironclad disclosure and liability release form drafted for their agents to utilize in the instances where PB piping is found or suspected.
Additionalinformation regarding PB pipe is available at: http://www.pbpipe.com or http://www.polybutylene.com.