Buy-and-Hold with Polybutylene Pipes?

7 Replies

I just got the inspection report back on a house I am considering. The house has polybutylene pipes and I have been reading a lot of nasty things online about this type of pipe. I plan to get quotes from some contractors to replace all of the pipes, but wanted to see if you guys have any experience with these pipes. The house is a 4-2 located in North Charleston, SC and was built in 1996. The report says the pipes have brass fittings (rather than plastic) and there are no apparent leaks at this point. Is it worth replacing the pipes now, or should I wait to replace them if/when they break? Any idea of a cost range to replace the pipes? Would you buy a house that has polybutylene pipes as a long-term buy-and-hold? The seller is already bringing money to close, so I think it will be difficult to get them to cover the cost or to lower the purchase price. (House is $160k, rent between 1,400-1,500, needs new HVAC and water heater sooner than later, plus $1000-2000 to make rent ready)

I have two townhouses in Charleston with them.  My contractor said they are fine as long as they are not being moved.  I did have one crack in an unusual cold spell a few years back, but don't worry about them much.  I'd leave them as is.    

The one-stop-shop for REI
Find Local Home Improvement Pros!
Check out our network of trusted, local contractors for all of your home improvement projects.
Find a Contractor

I have a client in Mount Pleasant whose house was built in 1990 and had polybutylene piping. A joint failed and flooded the lower floor. He had a quote from a plumber for about $8,500 I believe but that didn't include repairing all the sheetrock and so on that the plumber would have torn out.  That house had five bathrooms so your house would probably be considerably cheaper. it wasn't really that hard to replace. A lot of insurance companies will not insure a house with polybutylene plumbing.

Regarding "The report says the pipes have brass fittings (rather than plastic) and there are no apparent leaks at this point." From my experience (I don't have a statistical reference) the failure rate for the brass fittings is a lot lower than for the plastic fittings and elbows. My company owns property with PB pipe and the brass elbows/fittings and failures in the last 15 years have not been an issue. That's not the case with the plastic elbows. Those are a ticking time bomb. The good thing is that when PB leaks occur, they usually (90% of the time from experience) start as a small spray that tenants will notice. Sometimes that goes on for days (wet floor, water stain on ceiling, etc.) without exploding into a gusher. I've experienced both. Life sucks when that happens.

Our primary residence has polybutylene pipes and it's not a matter of if they'll crack it's a matter of when. We had a major leak last year which flooded our downstairs in 10-12" of water.

Make sure the pressure and temp is not too high, invest in some water alarms as well. FYI they form micro cracks from the inside out so hard to tell the condition from inspection of the outside of the pipe. We are eventually planning on replacing pipes throughout our 4/2 and quotes have been in the 10k range